By GERSHOM NDHLOVU
In one day on January 4 2011, Dora Siliya, the MMD national spokesperson and minister of education has broached the issue of political violence in Zambia three times on her Facebook page. It is obvious that for her to bring up the issue for discussion, it is something that is of concern at the highest level of not only the ruling party but government as well.
In her first posting of the day, Siliya wrote: “As a Zambian I call upon all young people to refuse politics that glorify violence. It's unfortunate that some people are bent on making violence part of Zambian politics and are preaching doom as we head toward election. Real doom is not just a word but violence that can destroy our country. Let our voices be heard to be against violence. God bless.”
In the second posting of the day, Siliya, in response to a contributor on her thread, wrote: “… I could not agree with you more. Unless at family, household level, we condemn violence, vulgar language, hatred, and simply bad manners, we should not expect good values to permeate our society. Let's all look at ourselves and our homes and end violence in all forms. Let your voice be heard in this fight against violence.”
The recent most telling effect of political violence is the recent nullification of the Mufumbwe by-election which had been won by United Party for National Development (UPND)’s Elliot Kamondo by the High Court. The nullification followed the successful petitioning of the elections by losing MMD candidate Mulondwe Muzungu on the basis of violence that characterised the run up to the by-election.
Perhaps, the most ominous harbinger to the violence that has become entrenched in the country’s body politic is that which characterised the Chawama by-election in 2001 when then newly formed Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) fielded Geoffrey Samukonga who was clearly the favourite to win the by-election after the then Member of Parliament Christon Tembo, now late, resigned from the MMD.
His resignation from the MMD had been precipitated by violence at the party’s national convention at which he and 21 other senior members had been barred to attend it for opposing the then Republican and MMD President Frederick Chiluba who had wanted to go for an unconstitutional third term. It was not surprising that there was violence in Chawama shortly after that convention.
Before the Chawama violence, a taste of what violence was to come was unleashed by MMD supporters at Kulima Tower Bus Station who waylaid people who had attended a rally at which Republican Vice President Gen Tembo, MMD vice president Gen Miyanda and other senior MMD members had joined the opposition to denounce Chiluba’s third term attempt.
The Chawama violence is, rightly or wrongly, blamed on Michael Sata who was then MMD national secretary. He himself did not last long in the ruling party after a National Executive Committee (NEC) outsider, Levy Mwanawasa was anointed as Chiluba’s heir. Sata had felt he was the rightful heir having backed Chiluba’s third term attempt and fended off people like Miyanda and Tembo.
Worryingly, in recent times MMD cadres have been issuing public threats to harm people speaking against President Rupiah Banda’s leadership. Those that have borne the brunt of the MMD cadres’ ire have included FDD president Edith Nawakwi who was publicly threatened with rape if she continued verbally attacking Banda, Mongu Catholic Diocese Bishop Paul Duffy for saying that people in Western Province were ready to kick out the MMD, and Father Frank Bwalya, a former Catholic radio station manager, who launched a “Red Card” campaign to kick Banda and his MMD out of power.
Some MMD cadres even publicly claimed that they had a militia with which they would go after Banda’s critics. However, following a public outcry against these proclamations of threats of violence, the MMD suspended two of the most vocal members, Chiko Chibale, a Kitwe district MMD official and Alex Mubanga, a Ndola District official.
Most telling of the creeping violence within the MMD was that which broke out early in December in which supporters of incumbent Lusaka Province chairman William Banda clashed with supporters of his opponent Nolobe Kuliye which forced the postponement of the provincial council at which a new executive was to be elected.
In responses to Siliya’s Facebook posting, William Banda has not been spared the blame of perpetuating political violence within the MMD and against the opposition, notably that which broke out during the Chilanga by-election nominations at Chilanga Basic School late last year in which UPND president, Hakainde Hichilema was caught up.
However, Siliya had this to say in one of the day’s Facebook posts: “And I see that many people want to reduce violence to simply William Banda or Sata's violence in Chawama and Kanyama where people where maimed with panga(s) or even UPND in Mufumbwe. No, this is a fight against violence by all decent Zambians. You have no excuse to excuse any violence. Let your voice be heard.”
The question I ask is, is Siliya taking leadership in the fight against violence and rightly so? Can she take the fight off the social media network into the public domain which the citizens are asking of the MMD?