Zambia’s Episcopal Conference plans to meet with all political parties and their presidential candidates in a move to help curb politically motivated violence before the August 11 general election, according to Father Winfield Kunda, Communication director for the Catholic Media Services.
Zambians have expressed concern about clashes between supporters of political parties as the groups ready to begin official campaigning for the elections.
Local media organizations have often reported incidents of inter-party clashes often between the governing Patriotic Front (PF) and opposition parties including the United Party for National Development (UPND) and the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD).
Meeting with bishops
Incumbent President Edgar Lungu, and main opposition leaders Hakainde Hichilema from the UPND and Nevers Mumba from the MMD have agreed to be part of the meeting with the Roman Catholic bishops.
Zambia is officially a Christian nation with a majority Christian population.
“Usually when the church being the moral voice calls for [these meetings] almost everyone comes on board. ... The three major presidential candidates are on board because in Zambia still the church commands a moral voice,” said Father Kunda.
He says the Catholic priests want to ensure the elections are not marred by violence that could threaten the country’s peace and stability.
“Really it’s this worry that the church has with regards to the forthcoming elections that we are witnessing spots of violence. And it’s all about reconciliation, unity, so that the electorate and different political groupings may tolerate each other as we edge towards the elections. So, it’s really talking to the leaders so that the leaders can inculcate in their cadres, the spirt of tolerance,” said Kunda.
Zambians say pronouncements of some politicians appear to be stoking the tension that they say is to blame for the inter-party clashes. They called on the political parties to take action against the politicians in order to prevent any election-related violence.
Tone down rhetoric
In an episcopal letter early this year about the state of the nation, the Catholic bishops urged the political party leaders to tone down their rhetoric before the elections. The bishops urged the politicians to ensure their supporters don’t engage in violence.
Opposition and civil society groups have often accused the Zambian police of bias and violating the constitution after clamping on their rights to free speech and assembly as stipulated in the bill of rights. The groups said the police often use the controversial Public Order Act to suppress their meetings and their planned demonstrations against unfavorable government policies. They also said the police are to blame for the ongoing inter-party violence because of the preferential treatment they give governing PF supporters.
But the Zambia police say the Public Order Act underscores the importance of groups and political parties coordinating their planned activities with the police to ensure there is peace and stability. The law, police also say, regulates the holding of public processions or demonstrations.
“People don’t really understand the provisions of the Public Order Act. This law is actually very good when well followed and observed ... You will find that there are some political parties that would not give the necessary notification period … You find that at times they will notify you two days before the day,” said Chanda, adding that the intent of the act is to forestall violent protests.
“As Zambia police, we are also ready to apprehend and take to court all the perpetrators of violence. We are not just concentrating on political violence but also any forms of violence,” she said.