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Zambia Church Group Condemns Violence Ahead of August Polls

People protest the closure of The Post newspaper in Lusaka, Zambia, June 22, 2016. Zambia's government closed the country's largest independently-owned newspaper over unpaid taxes, but the paper's owner says the move is meant to shut him up before elections.

The Council of Churches in Zambia has expressed disappointment that leaders of political parties have failed to ensure their supporters stop engaging in violence in the run-up to the August 11 general election.

Leaders of political parties including incumbent President Edgar Lungu of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party, and main opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development (UPND), recently met religious groups and signed a pledge promising to help end politically related violence in their parties. But supporters of both parties continue to accuse each other of perpetrating violence across the country, including the capital, Lusaka.

On March 29, religious leaders held a meeting with 19 political parties in Lusaka, with the main objective of curbing the violence as the groups intensify their campaigns to canvas for votes in the upcoming presidential, legislative and local elections.

A communique was issued following the meeting signed by all the parties, with the commitment to stop their supporters from engaging in violence. The parties and their leaders also committed to deal internally with all issues that often lead to violence.

Subsequently, the church leaders held another meeting with all of the presidential candidates and their running mates as a follow up, to stress the need to ensure the election is not marred by violence.

Reverend Suzanne Matale, general secretary of the Council of Churches in Zambia, said the spate of violence is disappointing, especially when the country is known in the Southern African region and in Africa as a peace-loving nation.

“We as a council of churches in Zambia are hugely worried, very concerned about the escalating violence in all forms,” said Matale. "And therefore, on our part as council of churches together with other mother bodies, we have actually tried to bring together political parties to try to speak about this violence and try and find solutions to them. Because it is very worrying that as we look forward to the elections … if this violence does not stop, then the elections are going to be very difficult."

Matale said "we are very disappointed that the political parties, especially the major ones, have completely ignored their commitment that they made actually at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, we want to believe that that is a sacred place, and if you could meet and vow to do something, you must do exactly that.”

“Even though there is so much prayer in this country and everybody is calling for prayer, but we also need action. Because faith without action is completely dead, and so if we only concentrate on prayer and ignore those things that we can do, those things that are within our powers to do to stop this scourge, I’m afraid that we are very quickly losing direction as a nation, and that is a pity.”

Matale said the church will not relent on the efforts to continuously engage with the political parties and their leaders to curb violence. The Electoral Commission of Zambia threatened to suspend or prevent a political party, as well as candidates, from participating in elections if it concludes that party supporters have engaged in acts of violence in the run-up to the polls.

Matale said the church leaders also have called on President Lungu to use his constitutional mandate to ensure the enforcement of law and order to stop the violence.

“We are not giving up and I think there are plans to gather [the political leaders] again,” said Matale. "However, we are concerned that they are all very busy now in the field campaigning and we are not very sure that they will listen to our call once we call them for another meeting. Because they only have a few weeks before we go to the elections. That is our concern."