WE watched in awe as Zambia Police spokesperson madam Esther Mwaata Katongo ridiculed us and our work over a story we published in which we quoted her saying that: “Police officers fear cadres to protect their jobs.” According to madam Esther Mwaata Katongo, the story we published was accurate, and she had no problems with it. But she claims the statement she made could not produce a headline, which says: “Our officers fear cadres to protect their jobs – Police.”
In the spirit of allowing readers’ feedback, we did not interrupt or interject madam Katongo as she went on and on ridiculing our work and telling all those who cared to hear her, that we are an irresponsible newspaper, and that we lied and misled the public. We wondered, what is there to mislead the public about?
The truth of the matter is that if there is anyone who was informed by our story, it is the person who did not believe what Madam Katongo said on TV and what we quoted her as saying. Those who heard what the police spokesperson was saying know exactly what she was talking about and they also know that we quoted her accurately. If the contents of the story we published are accurate, as madam Katongo admits, then there is no way that she can complain about the headline because this is a very accurate depiction of her message to the public.
We are not claiming to be saints. We make mistakes, and every time we do, every time someone brings it to our attention that we made a mistake, and we check and see that, indeed, we made a mistake; we are not cowards. We take full responsibility for our actions. We do not hesitate to apologise, not only to the offended people, but to our readers as well.
But this complaint from Madam Esther Katongo is not one which can attract an apology or retraction from ourselves because we did not make a mistake. If what Madam Katongo said on TV put her in trouble, it is not our newspaper that should apologise. People, especially those who hold positions of power and influence must learn to take responsibility for their words and actions. You cannot say one thing today and then wake up tomorrow to completely refute what you were saying in public.
The interviewer asked Madam Katongo a very simple question; he wanted to know if the conduct of ruling party cadres was threatening police officers and interfering in their work. It is Madam Katongo who said “police officers are also human beings”, it is her who said “some offers feel threatened, not because they cannot deal with the cadre, but because they fear that they may lose their jobs.” So, where is the problem?
What we see here is a scared police officer who went on television, said the truth, the absolute truth and woke up the following day realising the consequences of the words that she had spoken and decided to disown her own statement. This is very unfortunate. The fact of the matter is that Madam Esther Mwaata Katongo is scared for her job herself, like all other police officers, including the Inspector General of Police Kakoma Kanganja himself.
Ironically, what Madam Katongo said is probably the most truthful statement that she has ever made since she joined the Zambia Police Service. There is nothing that anyone who has lived in Zambia can take away from the statement that Madam Esther Mwaata Katongo said when she featured on Diamond TV. This is the absolute truth. What she said is a matter of fact.
It is true that our police officers fear political cadres. It is true that political cadres from the ruling party always threaten police officers. It is true that police officers who enforce the law against ruling party cadres lose jobs. It is true that political party cadres tell police officers that: ‘if you do this, we will make sure that you are fired!’ Sometimes they say that: ‘we’ll make sure you are transferred from Lusaka.’
And those threats are not empty. We have seen times without numbers when police officers are fired for disciplining members of the ruling party. Police officers are transferred for disciplining members of the ruling party. It is not a long time ago when a decorated police officer, a senior police officer in the name of Shapa Wakunguma was fired from the police service. The offence he committed was that he allowed his officers to discipline political cadres from the ruling party in Sesheke.
Shapa Wakunguma was kicked out of the service not because he was a bad police officer, not because he broke the law, but because he enforced it against cadres. Shapa Wakunguma was fired with influence from the ruling Patriotic Front. The whole country heard and saw the PF secretary general [Davies Mwila] demanding that those police officers who superintended over that operation in Sesheke must be dealt with. And, indeed, they were fired.
These instructions from the ruling Patriotic Front are the same instructions and threats that cadres issue to police officers. So, in the end, police officers are also afraid to perform their duty because they are threatened by political party cadres. So, what is Madam Esther Mwaata Katongo whining about? What is she disputing? What is untrue about the statement that she made?
Please, Madam Katongo, stop behaving like an unprincipled politician who cannot stand by what they say. Be brave and face the consequences of your words. If you truly believe that we misquoted you, the court is at your disposal. Don’t threaten us or ridicule us for doing our job. Our newspaper has no grudge against you or, indeed, the police service. To the contrary, our desire is to make sure that we support the work of our men and women in uniform, including speaking out for them because we know they work under very difficult and oppressive conditions.