The leaders of three major Christian groups in Zambia have issued a strongly worded letter on the political state of the country, calling on Zambians to “examine our conscience, seek the truth, and work towards bringing back hope to our people.”
It also accuses the current administration of being a “dictatorship.”
The June 16 letter was penned by Archbishop Telesphore George Mpundu of Lusaka, president of the Zambian bishops’ conference; Alfred Kalembo of the Council of Churches in Zambia; and Paul Mususu of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia.
“If these are not signs of dictatorship, what are they signs of?” the letter said. “Certainly not of a democratic dispensation!”
The letter comes as a response to the arrest of Hakainde Hichilema, leader of the opposition party, the UPND.
The current president, Edgar Lungu, has been accused of rigging last year’s presidential election. He has been in office since January 2015.
Hichilema was arrested April 10 on charges of treason after his convoy failed to allow the presidential motorcade to pass as both headed to a ceremony in the Western Province. And on June 13, 48 members of the Zambian Parliament were suspended when they boycotted Lungu’s state of the nation address, the BBC reported.
These events mark an abrupt jump by Zambia onto the international scene, a nation that normally has a reputation for peace and stability. Zambia ranked 87 out of 176 in Transparency International’s 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index, in the company of Mongolia and Panama.
The country’s Catholic bishops had voiced their opposition to Lungu’s administration previously.
In their letter, the Zambian Christian leaders lamented Hichilema’s arrest and said, “With the current state of affairs, it is difficult to see how the UPND can easily recognize the legitimacy of Lungu’s re-election in August 2016.”
“Leadership, particularly at the national level, requires integrity, truthfulness, honesty and sincerity. We believe that the political leadership has failed on this score.”
“Institutional violence is a fundamental measure of a dictatorship,” they said. They lamented the use of dogs in Hichilema’s arrest, noting that canine forces were a frequent characteristic of the British occupation in Zambia.
“The State Police brought along dogs of the German shepherd breed that defecated in the vehicle meant to carry Hakainde Hichilema.”
Hichilema was allegedly subject to torture and kept in inhumane conditions before even receiving a guilty verdict, the leaders said. They also offered their thoughts and prayers for a number of other political prisoners being held by the government.
They also noted that outrage over the arrest had been expressed in many countries, including the US, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, and in the EU. They also committed their communities within Zambia to fighting “on the side of good.”
“We are fully aware,” they stated, “that more often than not, the fight for Justice is not a path filled with many pilgrims, but is a lonely journey by courageous leaders and a small number of followers.”
The letter at multiple points quotes John 8:32, “The Truth will set you free.” Freedom of the press, according to the letter, is under assault in the country. They noted the closing or “fixing” of various major news outlets in the country, and “maintain that the presence of 80 radio stations, online newspapers and independent television stations in Zambia does not mean press and media freedom.”
They also defended their charge that the arrest shows dictatorial qualities in the government.
“It is not the numbers of the afflicted victims that count. It is the principle,” they said.
“The dictum that God knows how to count only up to one when it comes to his children is the truth that makes us realize just how each one of us is important in God’s eyes.”
At the close of the letter, the Christian leaders’ tone became outright mournful.
“Indeed, what has happened to us as a nation?” the bishops lamented. “Where are our values as human beings and as Christians? Is this what it means to be a ‘Christian Nation’?”
In concluding, the Christian leaders made a number of demands of the government, including that “we expect H.E. Mr. Edgar C. Lungu, to act as Republican President whose aim is not only to protect the good of the members of his party (the PF), but also and more importantly, be the guardian of ALL ZAMBIANS, regardless of their political affiliation.”
“We firmly believe that this nation can overcome all our current political differences through genuine dialogue aimed at true reconciliation and nation building.”