(UNEDITED FOR THIS BLOG)
ISSUED BY FR FRANK BWALYA
30TH APRIL 2010
Today April 30th 2010 marks one year since I was removed as Radio Icengelo Station Manager and decided to take leave of absence from active priestly ministry. Many of you will remember that on May 1st 2009 I made a public statement during which I addressed a number of vital national and personal issues. During the same live studio based press conference I announced my decision to take leave of absence from active priestly ministry. My statement was published in form of a booklet and some Zambians have a copy. The media in Zambia especially the Post Newspapers reported the events very well.
Today, I have decided to address you again to share with you what I have gone through during the last one year. I will also inform you about what follows in my life after the end of my leave of absence. Moreover, I will address a number of personal issues as well as burning national issues. I must hasten to emphasise that my press statement is not prompted by president Rupiah Banda’s hate speech recently in which he shamelessly and obnoxiously attacked me alongside some opposition political leaders.
Before I proceed, let me recite my mission statement.
The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring good news to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight,
to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.
Let me now revisit what happened, what cause conflict between me and government and my subsequent removal from Radio Icengelo.
A REMINDER OF EVENTS THAT CAUSED CONFLICT
In March last year Zambia Episcopal Conference (ZEC), a body comprising all Roman Catholic Bishops in Zambia issued a pastoral letter called “A Call to Integrity”. When the vice president George Kunda who claims to be a Catholic responded to the letter he accused the Bishops of aligning themselves to a particular political party. The response by Mr Kunda was ridiculous and completely baseless. I considered it childish and I actually made a statement to the same effect and I promised to do radio programmes on Radio Icengelo to translate the pastoral letter into Cibemba so that ordinary people would understand what the Bishops said and therefore appreciate my terming as childish the response of learned Mr Kunda. I called the programmes “An In-depth Analysis of the Bishops’ Pastoral Letter Call to Integrity”. The response to my programmes pointed to an overwhelming agreement that the government’s response to the Bishops’ pastoral letter through Mr George Kunda was childish. That’s when trouble started brewing.
This truth angered the MMD party. So during a demonstration on 18th March 2010 held in Ndola they made scathing attacks on me and the Catholic Church in Zambia. The MMD demonstration was covered by state media in the same fashion they give prominence to state sponsored hooliganism.
On 19th March 2009 I made a statement that I would make a comprehensive response to the allegations the MMD on the Copperbelt levelled against me at a press conference the following week on Wednesday 25th March 2009. Due to public demand I later decided to move my press conference to Saturday 28th March 2009 at Buchi Hall in Kitwe.
At this stage the MMD and the state got into panic mode and started evil schemes to cage me and ensure that I don’t address a public meeting to respond to them. They behaved in a typical manner of someone who starts a fight they can’t handle.
Falsehoods were spread that I was forming a political party and these malicious lies were told to Catholic Church authorities in Ndola diocese under which I fall. The state media especially The Zambia Daily Mail splashed these lies. To cut a long story short, the MMD government finally succeeded in influencing the Catholic Diocese of Ndola to remove me as Radio Icengelo Station Manager.
Hence on Friday 1st May 2009 I bid farewell as Radio Icengelo station manager during a live studio based press statement on Radio Icengelo and I also announced my leave of absence.
The government thought by removing me from Radio Icengelo and eliminating my voice from the waves of this community radio they had succeeded in shutting me up. They were very mistaken.
BIRTH OF CHANGE LIFE ZAMBIA
After my removal from Radio Icengelo it became necessary to form an organisation to continue civic education programmes I was doing through various radio programmes. That is how Change Life Zambia Limited was conceived with the following aims;
1. To mobilize, harness and direct the power of citizens for transformation of Zambia to achieve improved living standards through positive change in the areas of democratic governance, social and economic development for the benefit of all Zambians especially vulnerable groups;
2. To promote the emerging of new leaders, especially young women who are selfless, visionary, strategic, pragmatic and patriotic;
3. To promote entrenchment of high ethical standards in public life;
4. To support processes which safeguard the independence and integrity of State Institutions;
5. To sensitize the masses of their rights so that they can demand for them as well as for transparency and accountability from elected leaders.
The organizational vision of CLZ is; “To be a powerful agent that contributes to positive change in Zambia for sustainable social, economic and political development that guarantees welfare and integrity of citizens especially the marginalized” whereas the vision for Zambia is; “A Zambia where all citizens live above the national poverty datum line, are educated about their rights and national leadership steering the nation towards accelerated social, economic and political development.”
I was appointed first Executive Director. Since then governments determination to silence me using all kinds of schemes and blatant persecution has become more pronounced. Here I remember the words of Jesus to his opponents;
“Do you know why you cannot take in what I say? It is because you are unable to understand my language. The devil is your father, and you prefer to do what your father wants.”
WHAT I HAVE GONE THROUGH
The public now knows that I have been a target of smear campaigns by the MMD government and some of such persecutions are instigated by Mr Rupiah Banda himself using hate speeches at various national and MMD party functions. The state media has been used to vilify me and isolate me from my Church and the general public. The Times of Zambia, Daily Mail and ZNBC have carried vicious and clearly malicious reports about me. They have tried to paint me as a blood thirsty man bent on causing genocide in our peaceful country, and for them peace means lack of armed conflict. They have also tried to orchestrate treason charges against me.
It is clear that the state media has been used as propaganda tools to peddle lies and all kinds of falsehoods about me. The offence I have committed to deserve this treatment is exercising my prophetic role by challenging the inept, selfish and corrupt government of Mr Banda.
I have been denied access to community facilities for meetings and other public functions in a manner that is reminiscent of the one party state. In fact we are back in the one party state culture and that is why today politicians and party cadres masquerading as police officers can try to influence a medical doctor to discharge from hospital a convicted sick political opponent just to ensure that he rots in our pathetic prisons. This is a manifestation of devilish and sadistic behaviour. We can’t go on like this. We should stand up and oppose this intrinsically immoral conduct.
VIOLATION OF MY RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS
My rights and freedoms have been violated by the state and its agents and it makes me convinced that we are on the verge of losing some of our gains in entrenching democratic culture and liberal multi-party politics. My ordeal speaks volumes about the injustices and torture our people are subjected to everyday.
MMD cadres have publicly threatened to beat me up and even kill me if I insist on exercise my constitutional rights and freedoms such as free expression, association and assembly. On the other hand President Banda has continued to stimulate hate, anger and violence against me through his hate speeches. Mr Banda has accused me of instigating confusion and violence in Zambia. He has called me a mad man and at least one over-zealous police officer has joined him in branding me as a mental patient. Mr Banda has even gone to an extent of lying that I was no longer a Catholic priest all in the futile attempt to isolate me from my church and those who support me for what I stand for.
LIFE HAS BEEN TOUGH
Life in general has been very tough for me and sometimes I felt that I was exhausting myself for nothing but the words of Scripture have provided much needed consolation and grace to forge ahead. Particularly the words of Scripture in the Prophet Isaiah provided much needed steam;
“He said to me,
‘You are my servant Israel in whom I shall be glorified’;
while I was thinking, ‘I have toiled in vain, I have exhausted myself for nothing’; and all the while my cause was with Yahweh, my reward with my God.
I was honoured in the eyes of Yahweh, my God was my strength”
Even within a Church institution some people associated with me have been targeted. These poor people have had their employment contracts not renewed whereas others have been fired from their jobs just for being perceived as my friends. And when I tried to speak out on such social injustices, heavy handed measures were taken to twist my hand and ensure my silence over such injustices. But I will not stop speaking out for the poor and I believe that one day soon God will answer their prayers.
I have suffered but I have not surrendered. I have been pressed but not crushed. I have been pushed but not moved.
I will continue to speak for the people. I will continue to criticise bad governance, corruption, violence and mediocre leadership. I will also continue to condemn government structures and practices that perpetrate ignorance, disease, hunger and poverty. I will also continue to condemn the greed and selfishness of leaders in our country especially those that occupy public and elected office. It was for this that I was born and if I do not do it I am doomed. So I will not succumb. Jesus tells me; “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both the body and soul in hell.” (Mt 10:28)
GRATITUDE TO INDEPENDENT PRINT AND ELECTRONIC MEDIA
The government has lamentably failed to destroy my character and crush my spirit thanks to independent and objective electronic and print media in the country and abroad that have given me fair coverage to rebut the notorious and poisonous falsehoods that Mr Banda’s government has been spreading about me. Without these media outlets the state would have succeeded in destroying my reputation.
Against this background, I am an ardent proponent of free media in Zambia and I am totally opposed to statutory regulation of the private media. I also advocate the transformation of state controlled ZNBC into a public service broadcaster. I urge all private media to resist attempts by the MMD government to compromise them and turn them into propaganda tools.
RUPIAH BANDA MUST BE STOPPED
If Mr Rupiah Banda is allowed to continue using threats and intimidation to limit the space for social dialogue and liberal democratic engagement he will succeed in crippling all governance institutions including civil society organisations and the media. When this is done Zambia will have to forget about keeping in check the excesses of government let alone demanding transparency and accountability in the way it manages public affairs. Against this background, Rupiah Banda’s attempt to silence critical and divergent views in our country should be stopped before it is too late. It is even more inevitable to stop him now that the 2011 tripartite elections are around the corner. He must be made to understand that the behaviour of his government is at variance with the democratic culture we have been entrenching since 1991
THE RED CARD CAMPAIGN
The red card campaign is not Fr Frank Bwalya’s campaign. If it were, no one in Zambia and the world at large would have paid attention. As a matter of fact, the Red Card is a peaceful public expression of discontentment over the manner our corrupt government has failed the Zambian public on a number of issues. The major issues that serve as the basis for the campaign were outlined in the 2010 Buchi Declaration which was promulgated on Saturday 27th February 2010 at the first ‘Save Zambia Conference’ at Buchi Hall in Kitwe. The declaration was published in the Post Newspapers for a number of days and received fair coverage from independent and objective media in Zambia and abroad.
Unfortunately, our corrupt government has made fundamental errors and they are determined to hang on to these errors such as the refusal to appeal against the clearly dubious acquittal of Dr Frederick Chiluba for embezzlement of public funds. As such, their response to the red card campaign has been senseless, arrogant and abusive. Mr Rupiah Banda has called it madness and a recipe for confusion and violence. The appeal of Zambians to him and his government is to focus on the issues the red card campaign has raised and address them. So we call upon Mr Banda not to panic. We urge him to stop spiting abuse against those taking part in the campaign. We demand that he exercises mature and responsible leadership by addressing the real issues at stake.
However, we wish to assure his government that we are law abiding citizens and we shall not engage in any unconstitutional means to remove his government.
THE RED CARD CAMPAIGN CONTINUES
Zambians are determined to continue red carding the foul behaviour of government.
Thousands of people have so far secured a red card and I am sure that if government doesn’t address the issues that have been raised before the end of this year, close to 3 million people will join the campaign. Against this background, Mr Banda’s recent statement that people on the Copperbelt had refused to take part in the campaign was wishful thinking. I challenge him to stop using the police to block us so that we can publicly demonstrate the popular support the red card campaign has received in the province.
Nevertheless, Mr Banda will soon be shocked. Since he has started using the chopper to avoid seeing red cards, we are going to encourage our children to make red kites and fly them the next time Rupiah tries to fly around in Copperbelt air space. At the Kuomboka his reaction was white beret. We can’t imagine his reaction to red kites in the skies maybe he will stop flying around wasting our money. I ask him to look forward to a red card welcome when he comes to the Copperbelt Agriculture Mining and Commercial Show in Kitwe and the Trade Fair in Ndola.
DANGER OF WIDESPREAD VIOLENCE IN THE RUN-UP TO 2011 GENERAL ELECTIONS
The parliamentary by-elections we have had have exposed the levels of panic and desperation on the part of Mr Rupiah Banda’s government and their resolve to retain power at all costs. I fear that our country will be plunged into chaos instigated by those who want to hang on to power in total disregard of the will of the people. Against this background, it is accurate to say Zambia hangs over the pit of chaos and total confusion by a slender of thread. It is therefore urgent to implement measures to deter political parties especially the ruling party from acts of electoral violence. The government and its puppet Electoral Commission of Zambia has no capacity to handle this matter especially that the ruling party has vested interest and it is the main culprit in instigating electoral violence and corruption.
We should therefore appeal to the international community and SADC in particular before it’s too late bearing in mind that the elections in 2011 have the sure potential to build or break Zambia. Moreover, free and fair elections next year are a must and one sure way to maintain law and order after the polls.
I FEAR THAT I WILL NOT GET A FAIR TRIAL
The general public is now aware that I have been appearing in the Kitwe Magistrates court facing a charge of conduct likely to breach the order of peace and I will appear next for continued trial on 8th June 2010. I fear that I will not get a fair trial because of the clearly prejudicial comments by President Rupiah Banda. During his shameful and grossly embarrassing press conference on Tuesday 20th April 2010 in Kitwe, President Banda commented on my matter before court and said he was annoyed with me for promoting violence and he accused me of causing confusion at the celebration of Youth Day in Kitwe on 12th March 2010. This is not the first time he has made such clearly prejudicial statements regarding my case. It seems to me that the position of Mr Banda is that I am guilty until proven innocent. This is contrary to the law of our land. It is clear that Mr Banda means to send a strong signal to the magistrate handling my matter to convict me and send me to jail for the misdemeanour I allegedly committed. This is a violation of the law and my right to a fair trial. I will instruct my lawyers to raise these issues accordingly.
YES MY FACE IS UGLY
My face is ugly because it bears the marks and scars of our poor people who suffer in our country at the hands of an inept, corrupt, heedless and selfish regime. Mr Rupiah Banda and his friends have access to the good things of life that enhance the dignity of a human being.
For them, they look good even when they are taking T.B. drugs and or life prolonging ARV drugs because they eat well in a country where one out of every two children is malnourished. They look good because they sit in planes and air conditioned offices swinging in expensive chairs at the expense of reducing unemployment and poverty especially rural poverty which now stands at 80 percent.
Their wives and daughters can buy expensive skin care products to make them look good whereas my Zambian sisters and mothers are bitten by the sun every day as they struggles to sell sugar cane, groundnuts, maize etc. My face bears the scars of these who suffer hence I can’t afford excess flesh on my face like Mr Banda neither can I afford fatty skin fed on sumptuous and exotic foods, distilled alcohol and sweet cakes etc.
My appeal to Mr Banda is, please improve the economy, create jobs for our people and maximise opportunities for local people to ran successful businesses. Only then will I also access the good things of life and be as good looking as Mr Banda and his friends. Otherwise, I continue to play my role as “John the Baptist” preparing the people for the kind of change that offers the promise of a better life for all, a change that will restore social justice and respect for economic rights of all Zambians.
Against this background, I will never agree to challenge Mr Banda in a beauty contest. Besides the man has been a champion in his kind of games from the time he was a boy in school. He publicly brags about it.
ULTIMATUM TO APOLOGY IS OVER
The ultimatum given to Mr Rupiah Banda and his government to apologise over the genocide accusations levelled against the Catholic Church in Zambia has expired. It is now time to make them feel unwelcome at our functions. We need to treat him and his government as “pagans or tax collectors”.
“If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you: the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any charge. But if he refuses to listen to these, report to the community; and if he refuses to listen to the community treat him like a pagan or a tax collector”
MY LEAVE OF ABSENCE
My initial one year leave of absence ends today. I have written to my new Bishop Right Reverend Dr Alick Banda but I can’t say the contents of my letter. In the next coming few days, I will inform the public about what will follow. Until then my leave continues. I must state that I will respect and obey the decision of my Bishop and I will inform the public accordingly. So, please don’t buy Mr Rupiah Banda’s lies and cheap propaganda that I am not a Catholic priest anymore. Statements that I have been suspended by Mr Mwansa Mbulakulima are also just a heap of political rubbish. I have been on leave and I will soon announce the way forward.
I must also mention that I love my priesthood and despite my weaknesses I have tried to be a good priest for my Church and the wider community. It is my firm belief that God will continue to show me the way.
I thank God for sustaining me through the kindness of various people. I am indebted to my immediate family and the Christian fraternity for their love and care. I appreciate the support given me by independent and objective media such as the Post Newspapers and others.
I say thank you to all that have supported me in various ways such as saying a prayer or sending an encouraging text message. God will reward you all a hundredfold.
The wheels of change have started turning in Zambia. So let us continue collecting fire wood so that we can generate as much steam as possible to drive this change. We should all sacrifice to guarantee a better life for our children and their children.
We should be confident that change is on the way because the people have spoken. Let us remember the Latin dictum “Vox populi vox Dei” translated as “The voice of the people is the voice of God”.
God bless Zambia.
Fr Frank Bwalya