By Gershom Ndhlovu
One day many years ago as a seven or eight year old, I found myself among a group that had gathered one evening in the neighbourhood in which I grew up. Why I found myself among this gathering was the fact that we had no television sets, never mind electricity, to keep us occupied after dark.
The speeches, which I can now not remember but if placing the events in time is anything to go by must have been 1971, were somehow muted. When I went back home after that meeting, in my childish innocence, I announced to my family, nifwebo ba UPP (we are UPP).
It was either my mother or one of my elder sisters who grabbed and pinched my cheeks as it is done with a naughty child, shook me and gave me one slap that sent me reeling backwards as I saw imaginary stars dancing before my eyes.
That act slapped UPP out of my mind for good until about nine years later when the founder of that party died and as Form 2 Kitwe Boys Secondary School pupils then, we just talked about Simon Kapwepwe’s death, again in muted tones.
However, it was in senior secondary school a couple of years later that we openly talked about Kapwepwe after we read his books Afrika Tubelele Uluse and Shalapo Cani Ca Ndala as part of the Bemba subject reading list. I personally was captured by the man’s political philosophy and creativity although I soon forgot about him as it was anathema to talk about him and his party as the country was deeply in the throes of the one party system under UNIP.
Still under UNIP, I remember how UNIP youths would rampage through the township of Kwacha, kicking pots off mbaulas, whipping anybody in sight shouting bamayo na batata tiyeni ku meeting (ladies and gentlemen, let us go to the meeting). Marketeers equally bore the brunt of the youths who forcibly closed markets so that they could attend the same meetings which I suspect meant that President Kaunda was in town because even schools were closed as pupils were frog marched for long distances to go and “welcome” him just by waving as his motorcade sped by.
In 1990, the Zambian citizenry threw in their lot to fight the oppressive system under Kaunda hoping that they would bring about a society in which they could openly criticise the president without fear of any sanctions, penal or otherwise.
Unfortunately, the political system in Zambia today in terms of speaking out especially by politicians holding high political office in the ruling party and the opposition, is not any different from that which existed under Kaunda.
It is not only the opposition PF that has expelled six of its MPs from the party for challenging the party by their, and 21 others, participating in the National Constitution Council; the ruling MMD has expressly taken disciplinary measures against two of its NEC members, Terence Findlay who is Copperbelt Province and Christine Moonga, for criticising President Mwanawasa for the way he is running the ruling party.
As in the Kaunda days, vindictiveness is also playing a big part in national affairs if former Republican and MMD Vice-President Enoch Kavindele’s and his North-Western Railway project are anything to go by.
For his infraction against the MMD, first by challenging President Mwanawasa’s leadership of the MMD and contesting the Kabompo East seat as an independent in the 2006 elections, today Kavindele has to plead to see ministers who were political nonentities when he was the second most powerful man in the land.
Under the UNIP government, there was a slogan which was secretly loathed by those who had a democratic streak in them which went some thing like UNIP mulilo, uwaikatako apya (UNIP is fire which burns if one touches it) or something to that effect.
The slogan can as well be reversed today, 18 years of the existence of the current ruling party: MMD mulilo, uwaikatako apya. I am sure Kavindele, Findlay and Moonga have learnt the lesson the hard way.
President Robert Gabriel Mugabe or “Paramount Chief” Robert Gabriel Mugabe? Paramount Chief, because he does not want to vacate the throne for which he lost ten precious years of his life when he was jailed by the colonial government in the 1960s.
Only a few weeks ago, he was praised by another “Paramount Chief” of Libya, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi who said that Mugabe and his Ugandan leader where the only true revolutionary leaders in Africa. It is therefore not surprising that he is resisting vacating the presidency after being overwhelmingly rejected by his supposed people.
Just before elections, he said something about going if he was rejected by the people, but it appears that he wants to stick to the throne by hook or crook even when the odds are stacked against him, most of all by his age which is ordinarily way beyond retirement.
Whoever is pushing him, particularly the military and defence force chiefs, should see the signs of dementia and megalomania which are forcing him to make irrational decisions on important national decisions.
The shame of Africa is that the presidency when a leader gets it from the colonisers or those who were engaged in coups and counter-coups before this method was frowned upon by most of the world want to keep it for themselves or in their families. The late Gnassimbe Eyadema and his son who is now Togolese president, Congolese Joseph Kabila and his father, Laurent or even the newly installed President Seretse Khama Ian Khama after a couple of “unrelated” presidents, of course, are cases in point.
There is even talk that Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak is grooming one of his sons to take over. The trouble though is that even Cuba which most of Africa looked to as a model has just done the same, Fidel Castro just passed the leadership baton to his brother, Raul.
Mugabe is 84 years old and it is not to long from now that he should be making peace with his creator. This should have been the time to make peace with not only himself but his people whom he has brutalised for a long time instead of fighting election run offs with candidates half his age.