Africa Watch

Zambia: A deportation with consequences

Maimane’s Zambian protest
Maimane.jpg

Zambian president Lungu might still rue the fact that over-zealous officials deported DA leader Mmusi Maimane as it exposed his undemocratic leanings.

When news broke that Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane was manhandled, refused entry into Zambia, and then deported – preventing him attending the treason trial of opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema – one immediate reactions that came to mind was, ‘what did Maimane expect?’

Zambia is no different to any other country, and will not take kindly to any foreigner suspected of interfering in domestic matters.

 And, that is what happened to Maimane when Zambian officials deported him, without any explanation, after arriving at Lusaka’s Kenneth Kaunda International Airport.

Only later after mounting pressure, did the Zambian High Commissioner to South Africa tried to justify the decision. He claimed Maimane’s presence “was problematic” because he ”intended pressurising the courts to release Hakainde Hichilema and to mobilise Zambian opposition parties.” 

Maimane’s presence, according to the High Commissioner, “was going to undermine the sanctity, integrity and independence of the Zambian judiciary.”

It could be argued that Maimane’s action was intentional – that he must have known his somewhat unusual action would not go by unnoticed. It does not happen often that the leader of the opposition in one country, attends a treason trial of an opposition leader in another country to show “moral support.”

Defended

Maimane defended his action by explaining: “All I simply wanted was to stand side-by-side with a friend, a fellow comrade, somebody who stands with the rule of law in Zambia.”

It could also be argued that Maimane had every right to visit Zambia and attend the trial. He is chairman of the Southern African Partnership for Democratic Change.

The forum is an organisation of opposition parties in the SADC countries. Part of its aim is to stand up against perceived abuses by governing parties in the region.

Over reaction

The reaction of the Zambian authorities and the heavy handedness with which Maimane was treated – there was clearly an overreaction – gave credibility to the view that Zambia is slipping into an authoritarian state – its government increasingly intolerant towards the opposition and opposing views.     

It is disappointing that Zambia, once seen as a beacon of democracy, and the embodiment of ethnic and tribal tolerance in recent years, no doubt fostered by mediocre political leadership, is shifting towards authoritarianism.

The drift towards autocracy and repressiveness have reached such outrageous levels that the leader of the opposition is charged with high treason and even a possible death sentence if found guilty for not moving out of the way fast enough to allow the blue light brigade of President Lungu to pass! (Watch video clip here.)

It is common knowledge that there is little love lost between the two Zambian political leaders. Hichilema still refuses to recognise Lungu's victory in last year’s contentious election – claiming it was rigged.

However, it still came as a surprise when security forces stormed Hichilema's home, teargased his family, tortured his servants and then arrest him for treason days after the road incident.

As Stephen Chan wrote, “If Lungu was behind this, it was the ultimate in road rage. It seemed at the very least unpresidential, and at worst deeply intolerant and paranoid - and indicative of a disturbingly authoritarian turn...”

In a less publicized incident, another opposition leader and vocal critic of President Lungu, Chilufya Tayali, was arrested two days after Hichilema for a Facebook post attacking police over Hichilema’s arrest.

Little wonder the Zambian Catholic Bishop’s Conference is of the view that Zambia is now, in all except formal designation, ‘a dictatorship’.

Not only in Zambia but elsewhere, also in South Africa, the use of blue light brigades has reached ridiculous levels, bordering the insane. They act as if they are a law on their own with no respect to fellow road users in their eagerness to share in the arrogant self-importance of those they transport.

Blue light brigades have become symbols of the abuse of power by those incapable of handling with dignity and humility the power that comes with holding high public office.  In a way, it represents all that is wrong with democracy gone wrong and state capture – remember a blue light brigade commandeered to escort foreigners to a wedding at Sun City after landing under suspicious circumstances at Waterkloof Air Force base?        

Deafeningly silence         

It is rather interesting that both the DA and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), - although the latter politically disagree with Hichilema and his party – both criticised his harassment and arrest. The ANC, the South Government and the SADC, however, remained deafeningly silent.

 The only exception was the ANC Youth League, who only has praise for Lungu as “a democrat whose government has allowed the opposition to operate, (using) an ideal strategy of handling opponents, that political leaders in the region needed to emulate.”

Significance   

Of much more significance than the treatment and deportation of the DA leader, is that the incident exposed the political intolerance of the Lunga government internationally.

Maimane was also right on the button in his response to his booing by pro-Lungu protesters while addressing supporters at the Zambian High Commission in Pretoria. He pointed out that, while they were free to protest in South Africa, Zambians were not free to do so in their own country.

It is, however, worrisome that the SADC, in particular the South African Government, have not said or done anything about the unmistakable abuse of power in both the Hichilema and Maimane incidents.

As Rafael Friedman correctly wrote: ”Issues of democracy on the African continent, and especially amongst regional partners, require a clear stance from the government in order to continue South Africa’s commitment to human rights and democratic values as guiding our international relations.”

 Analyst and Africa expert, Greg Mills, was even blunter in his observation that it cannot be a coincidence that president Lungu may well have been encouraged down this path by the example of the “patronage regime” emerging in South Africa. The less leadership South Africa displays at home, the less it can project abroad.

Shamefully, how this incident payed out, is another example of the moral bankruptcy brought upon the South African Government by President Jacob Zuma.  

by Garth Cilliers

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