Ordinarily, I do not respond to reactions to my articles that make no attempt whatsoever to engage with the substance of my writing. I believe that ad hominems, however well presented, are not arguments.
The Patriotic Front (PF) media director Sunday Chanda’s reply to my article, ‘Lungu should cut his term of office, not the salaries of public officers’, falls into this category. ‘An acutely septic sceptic – a very unsure Sishuwa’ is so devoid of substance that any response to it risks conferring upon it a seriousness it in no way deserves. Nevertheless, in pursuit of genuine intellectual debate, I have broken my own rules on ad hominems and made a rare exception.
To recall: the premise of my argument was that President Edgar Lungu’s decision to effect a 15 to 20 per cent reduction on the salaries of top-earning civil servants was illegal. I developed this point by citing the different rulings of our courts, including the Supreme Court, that have consistently held that employers have no powers to adversely alter an employee’s salary without the employee’s consent. I further cited the Employment Code Act No. 3 of 2019, which codifies the successive court rulings. Chanda neither disputes my core argument nor offers any alternative explanation to my assertion that the president’s action was illegal.
At a glance, I welcomed his contribution in the belief that he was joining the debate on an important subject that I think deserves serious discussion. A closer reading of Chanda’s article subsequently shows that debating by way of attacking the dissenter’s thoughts and demonstrating the weaknesses inherent in them was the least of his objectives. He was far more interested in discrediting me and rubbishing everything I say, have said or ever will say about Lungu’s decisions, leadership and administration.
The style he uses to achieve his aims is to boldly state that I don’t mean well, am biased and incapable of appreciating the ‘achievements’ recorded by Lungu and the PF, while at no point does he categorically affirm or state anything substantive himself. Now, I recognise that Chanda has every right to be ignorant, but I also consider it my duty to diminish his ignorance. Allowing his drivel to go unchallenged would leave readers uncertain about what my true affiliations are and the epic magnitude of the PF’s failure – how much Lungu and his friends in government have so spectacularly mismanaged things that they have made it so easy for Zambia to be studied as a bad example of pretty much everything.
So let us unpack Chanda’s ad hominems on a case-by-case basis. He starts his reaction to my article by drawing attention to my institutional affiliation – University of Zambia – and claiming that I have violated the staple values of my academic training: presentation of evidence and commitment to objectivity.
Chanda: “One would have thought that by being an academician, UNZA don Sishuwa Sishuwa would be a person whose outlook would be guided by empirical evidence and objectivity. Far from it! The prejudice and cynicism in his recent article in News Diggers wherein he attempted to disparage and “hex” President Edgar Chagwa Lungu’s announcement that he had significantly reduced his salary in solidarity with the masses, confirms what many Zambians already know; Sishuwa is part of a political coven of chronic cynics.”
Comment: Here, Chanda is seeking to diminish my status in the university by claiming that academics present evidence to back their arguments – something that, in his view, I have not done. He is ignoring what my first paragraph, after introducing the article’s topic, illustrates: the illegality of Lungu’s decision to unilaterally vary the conditions of service of public sector workers.
In support of my position, I cited two examples of rulings made by our superior courts and the law in form of the Employment Code Act No. 3 of 2019, which the PF passed in line with how the courts had consistently ruled on the matter. These are the sources I relied on to make my case about Lungu’s illegal move to slash the salaries of chief executives of parastatal companies and non-unionised civil servants. Chanda completely ignores this evidence. He also fails to cite any law that empowers the President to take the measure that Lungu did. I implore him to do so. Like many people, I retain that intellectual integrity of one who, though not lacking in urging their own opinions, is both respectful and willing to abandon their point of view if its weaknesses could be shown. Embedded in me is a love of learning, the pursuit of ideas and the power of reason in achieving consensus.
Chanda makes no attempt whatsoever to demonstrate the relationship between the argument I presented and his accusation that I am being cynical. He alleges that I lack objectivity, but does not demonstrate how. I believe that being objective does not mean not taking a position. To be objective does not mean to be neutral. In my view, to be objective simply means to uphold the truth and justice, to be honest with others and especially with oneself, to think and speak with absolute clarity and without fear, to risk anything in order to live the dictates of one’s conscience, to act our beliefs and give full expression to the courage of our convictions.
As a matter of fact, upholding the truth is also an academic principle. In many instances, it requires taking a clear position on a subject, so that no one is deceived. If an elephant is stepping on an ant, one cannot claim neutrality; he or she must make clear where they stand. If President Lungu has violated the law, to be objective means to state this position truthfully without any ambiguities. To claim that while the president has violated the law, on the one hand, he has, on the other hand, also not violated it, is opportunism and cowardice.
Chanda: “Sishuwa and his ilk don’t mean well. They are druids of doom and gloom. They never see any good in any good deed or any positive achievement of the President and the PF Government. On the other hand, they promote hate and bitterness in a bid to stir up anti-government sentiment. They scheme to incite mayhem and disorder, so that they may manipulate an opportunity to impose on Zambians their disorderly and regionally inclined “warlock” who has been rejected by Zambians six times (and counting).”
Comment: It is under this paragraph where Chanda attempts to build a profile for me as a treasonable element, one who is out to ‘stir up anti-government sentiment, to incite mayhem and disorder’. First, I dismiss his insinuations that I support any presidential candidate, even as this is my democratic and constitutional right, with the absolute contempt they deserve. Where in my article, or beyond it, is the evidence of my leaning towards any politician? Second, I will not be bullied into silence by dark threats and badly disguised charges of treason. I have the right to think and express my opinions. While I have the academic tools, I do not speak out because I am an academic. I speak out because it is my responsibility as a citizen – my primary identity – to hold the government to account, to promote the ideals and objectives of Zambia’s constitution. I insist that every citizen needs to take these duties seriously. To be silent in the face of abuse, injustice, inequality and corruption is to actively participate in sustaining the status quo.
We must attack the chronic syndrome of low expectations, which has become our lot. Our crises are a testimony to how little we Zambians expect and demand from our public leaders, from life, for ourselves. Lungu must be made to answer how, in a country with millions out of formal employment, he expects Zambians to tolerate the recent massive hikes in the prices of electricity and fuel. Lungu must account for how the country is going to pay the mountains of different debts without hiding behind the isolated few perfectly normal government deeds Chanda is singing about. Lungu must explain why even the abominable IMF won’t bail out his government until he demonstrates capacity to reduce corruption and wastefulness in government expenditure. Lungu must tell Zambians when the electricity shortages will end – these have brought the economy to its knees and are inflicting painful and unbearable suffering on the masses. Lungu must explain why he wants to continue to be president when he has more than proved that he has no clue about how to resolve the historic crises his party has saddled Zambia with.
If Chanda’s head, like that of his boss, carries no ideas about how to explain to Zambians exactly when their sufferings will end, he must not attack the messenger and incite violence against a citizen who is simply doing his civic duty by alerting the country to the unstoppable decline Zambia has fallen into. More importantly, Chanda must never demonise, accuse anyone of bias and even treason without evidence. This is the darkest most sinister way of silencing public criticism of a failed president. There is absolutely nothing wrong with calling on Zambians to unite and rid themselves of leaders who are institutionalising incompetence in the running of the state and government. Zambia is a hellhole, if Chanda and Lungu do not know. Responses such as Chanda’s to criticism of a clueless government actually incite the masses to revolution.
In any case, it is the government, not me, that has created the terrible conditions that have made Zambia a tinderbox. Causing mass unemployment is inciting the masses to rise against the government. Impoverishing millions of your people is demanding that the people remove you from government. If treason is the ultimate betrayal of public trust, then Lungu and the PF government have committed treason. Punishing industries and homes by failing to provide affordable and accessible electricity is treason – you are destroying both the economy and human life. Treason is when you mortgage future Zambians to unsustainable debt. Regionalism is when you divide a country to a level where tribe and province become political weapons. These are self-evident truths.
When a government starves or fails to feed millions of its population; when untold numbers of its citizens, especially in urban areas, lack a decent roof over their heads and live cramped in slums and shacks without even the minimum sanitary requirements; when tens of thousands of school-age children cannot find school places while thousands more are kicked out of school into a bleak future; when the government manufactures poverty, disease, ignorance, superstition, want, and ill health; when it unilaterally slashes the salaries of civil servants at a time when they deserve a pay rise because the economy is in a free-fall; such a government is stirring up anti-government sentiment.
When a government makes it impossible to democratically oppose its actions because some within its ranks control the police like a private militia, cause the judiciary to dispense injustice, suppress civil society, the media and the political opposition, and manipulate elections; when its leaders abrogate the oath to uphold the constitution and the rule of law; that government is inciting citizens to rise against it.
When a government contracts such a huge debt that it effectively bankrupts future governments and enslaves everyone including generations yet to be born; when a government sentences its citizens to 15 consecutive hours of load shedding everyday; when an administration does not know how to get a country out of a huge crisis it has created and refuses to resign; that government loses its moral right to govern and is effectively inciting its citizens to rise against it, to rid themselves of such a one and install another one.
What is shocking is that we Zambians, who have known so much misery at the hands of this and previous governments, are not responding to these government invitations to rebel against our sub-human existence. What kind of human beings are we? Elsewhere, the people will rise to protest in the spirit of defiance, fight with limitless courage in pursuit of liberty and happiness, in order to reclaim their dignity. Chanda and the PF government should thank Zambians for our passiveness – while it lasts. If they do not want people to rise against them, Chanda and the PF should create conditions that make it possible for citizens to actualise their full potential, to enjoy their freedoms and lead meaningful lives.
The PF media director: “It would be pointless to even try to explain the President’s goodwill in reducing his salary, and the fact that such a reduction for Senior Civil Servants and Parastatals would be a demonstration of leaders ready to sacrifice, because Sishuwa and his kind have already deliberately made up their minds and taken up a position of “no matter what you say or show us, we will not listen to you”.
Comment: Did Chanda read my article? Had he done so, he would have noted that I never criticised the president’s supposed ‘goodwill’ in reducing his salary and consequently avoided responding to an argument I did not make. I said the law does not support Lungu’s decision to reduce the salaries of senior civil servants and heads of parastatals without their consent. Chanda deletes and makes disappear the substance of what I stated and resorts to the deployment of ad hominems. As well as addressing himself to my point that Lungu’s decision is illegal, it would have been more helpful for Chanda to quantify the total cost of the savings to be realised from the pay cuts and then demonstrate how the said savings would directly translate into significant improvement in the quality of life of the vulnerable or poor Zambians, who are badly affected by the huge increases in the cost of fuel and electricity tariffs.
Chanda: “Are they being realistic when they say that PF has done nothing good at all?
Comment: I invite Chanda to re-read my piece with dispassionate eyes. Sometimes we see what we see not because that is what is there to be seen but because that is what we want to see. Jaundiced eyes make this falsification of reality possible. Where did I say that ‘PF has done nothing good at all’? The key point I made was that Lungu and the PF have unleashed a devastating hunger crisis, brought up a divisive Constitutional (Amendment) Bill No. 10 of 2019, tolerated grand corruption in government, acquired a massive public debt, fostered deep ethnic divisions, seriously eroded our democracy and collapsed the economy. Chanda would have done well to demolish each of these arguments by demonstrating how and why they are untrue.
The PF media director: “What about the increased enrolment in schools, because of the boom in the construction of schools across the country? Is that a “crisis?”
Comment: Yes, the PF have built schools, but they have left them empty with no teachers, as thousands of college and university graduates remain unemployed even after being educated by the state at a huge cost. In some cases, especially in rural Zambia, the teacher has to buy the necessary school material from his own salary. Many schools are also empty because pupils cannot afford to attend. Also, given that the PF is manufacturing unemployment at mass level, what exactly are they preparing the pupils for? Isn’t it dangerous to raise the expectations of young people when they are leading them nowhere?
Chanda: “What about the increase in fully stocked clinics and hospitals? Is that a “crisis”?
Comment: Does Chanda know that the company that had been supplying medicines to Zambia for the past two decades has now stopped all supplies to the Ministry of Health because they are owed millions of dollars by the government? Can he explain why a new contract has been awarded to three companies, one of which is connected to a minister, to supply medicines at 30 per cent more than the company that has not been paid? How is it sensible to award a multimillion contract to a new supplier when you have failed to pay the previous supplier?
Which hospitals is Chanda talking about when he says they are fully stocked? To be fair to Chanda, he did not say that the clinics and hospitals were fully stocked with medicines, medical equipment or health workers. He simply said they are ‘fully stocked’. It may be that the PF media director was referring to the fact that our public hospitals are fully stocked with dead bodies and patients awaiting death to liberate them from the misery of being in a hospital without medicine and sufficient nurses and doctors to attend to them. Public hospitals in Zambia are disease centres and working stations to the nearest cemetery. Otherwise our politicians will not be rushing to South Africa and India for medical check-ups, injured arms or flu. When was the last time Chanda was in a rural hospital in Chadiza, Mungwi, Sesheke or Chiengi? I urge Chanda and the PF to get out of their comfort zone, go around the country and see for themselves the deplorable state of Zambia’s public hospitals.
Once upon a time, we had a health system and network of provincial hospitals that, though not without their problems, at least functioned and could provide a range of basic medical services. Now, outside of a few quite good hospitals in Lusaka, it seems that a patient is more likely to survive if they stay outside any public hospital than if they entered it. This is testament to the decades of neglect in maintaining our national infrastructure. Hospitals are crumbling with insufficient staff, shortages of medicine and a lack of basic medical equipment. Again, this should cause an outrage, since it is something that affects all of us – that is apart from those who can fly abroad to receive medical treatment.
What is worse is that this is not a problem that is concentrated to one area of the country. It is a nationwide crisis. When I visited Lewanika General Hospital in Mongu, Solwezi General Hospital in Northwestern Province and Mansa General Hospital in Luapula, for instance, I found patients lying on the floor, with no beds, let alone doctors to attend to them or medicine to cure their basic ailments. These fellow citizens had come to these hospitals for treatment and yet they were being left to die.
The collapse of provincial hospitals has wider consequences. Patients, if they can survive the journey on Zambia’s deplorable roads, now travel to Lusaka’s University Teaching Hospital (UTH) and consequently place an overwhelming burden on the resources of the nation’s highest health facility. This influx of patients who are unable to obtain medical care outside the capital city has reduced UTH to the kind of death trap that mirrors the provincial hospitals these patients were trying to escape from in the first place.
Instead of saving lives, our public health facilities are now dispensing death en masse. Mortuaries, rather than operating theatres, are increasingly becoming the busiest parts of our public hospitals. Zambians are struggling to find new spaces to bury their loved ones, and are looking for extra land to create cemeteries. This is the state of Zambia. If Chanda does not know this, then it confirms the depth to which Lungu has sunk the country because he is surrounded by uninformed elements.
The PF media director again: “What about the significantly improved road infrastructure and bridges across Zambia? Is that a “bad thing”?”
Comment: I do not know anyone criticising infrastructure development. What is being criticised is (a) poor project selection, with low priority investments (especially roads) in parts of the country where traffic levels are low; (b) overpriced contracts (e.g. Lusaka-Ndola road) many of which are clearly corrupt; and (c) neglect of rehabilitation and maintenance. These are certainly bad things!
Chanda: “We could go on and on until Kingdom come cataloguing President Lungu and PF achievements, but whats the point when some people who are living in denial like Sishuwa have made up their minds “ukufwa na no”! Their scepticism has become septic. It is eating them up.”
Comment: Unlike Chanda and the PF, who are outraged by my simple and well-meaning article, what is anguishing me is a catalogue of terrible conditions that Lungu and his government have unleashed on the different sectors of the Zambian society.
What is eating me up and giving me sleepless nights is the despair, pain and anguish that afflict the majority of students in public universities whose living allowances were callously scrapped by the PF government – condemning many to illicit and non-academic activities that take their attention away from studies.
It is the shrinking space for democracy, dialogue, and respect for everyone’s rights in Zambia, and the haunting plight of council and post office workers who have gone several months without pay (I met a worker at Lusaka Main Post office in December 2019 who told me that they had just received their May 2019 salary!). What is eating me up is the grand corruption in government, one which according to the Financial Intelligence Centre, has facilitated the theft of close to a staggering $US1.3 billion over the last three to four years – the same amount that Zambia is seeking to borrow from the International Monetary Fund. It is President Lungu’s illegal attempts to force salary cuts on miserable, impoverished and indebted non-unionised public sector workers.
It is the fact that millions of present and future generations have been condemned to repaying carelessly acquired debt that will never benefit them. It is the harsh reality that tens of thousands of my fellow citizens cannot find employment after leaving college and university. It is the sight of barefooted, half-naked and undernourished rural children who have never known the inside of a classroom, whose hopes and aspirations have been dashed by a system that does not know that they exist, and who get permanently damaged, both physically and mentally, because of lack of food. It is the extreme levels of inequalities and the conditions of degrading poverty, which continue to characterise our society.
It is the fact that while a poor Zambian is sent to rot in jail for stealing K6 in order to assuage hunger, those who are well-off like Amos Chanda are left free by state investigative wings that are supposed to question them for fear that they might implicate some in the higher echelons of power; others such as Maxwell Mwale and Christopher Singogo, convicted for corruption and sentenced to many years in prison, are given a presidential pardon only after countable weeks in prison.
It is seeing hundreds of retirees, death shining in their eyes, who once worked so hard and passionately for Zambia, camped outside Cabinet Office or the Ministry of Justice, scorched by the sun and sometimes soaked by the rain, desperately crying for what they worked for. It is the death of meritocracy in many institutions but especially the police and the army, which has stalled the career progression of many young bright and principled officers. It is the miserable pay of devoted and dedicated public school teachers, much of which pass from their bank account to the account or hands of the landlord or the moneylender.
It is the shameless set of corruptible leaders, who have betrayed Zambia to foreign commercial interests, who pawn off the country for a few trinkets, who accumulate through brazen theft of public resources and massive sale of mukula and Zambian land to so-called investors, and who strut around with self-importance when they are nothing but disposable playthings of even bigger global kleptocrats. It is the self-serving elite class at the heart of public life, including those who occupy key positions in several state institutions and are complicit in the fall from grace and selling of Zambia, and in sustaining our state of backward poverty and extreme cultural impoverishment.
It is the sad realisation that the government has normalised abnormality. We have reached a point where to have no electricity, to go to a public hospital and find no medicine, to be paid salaries months after payday, to witness party cadres terrorising innocent citizens in the presence of the police, to be blocked from and arrested by the police for exercising our constitutional liberties, to have university lecturers who have been blackmailed or terrorised into silence even when they are not paid on time because they are afraid of losing their jobs, and to have treasonable levels of unemployment amidst our young population, has become normal. No new forms of consciousness can rise out of these conditions.
As an individual, I have made up my mind that one must refuse to be reduced to the subhuman status our current situation confines all of us to. We must rebel against this status. Then, in our many millions of personal activities, we must transmit this rebellion to others. So far, the main platform for criticism of our lives is in the media, and largely confined to the deplorable social and economic conditions we now suffer. It need not be confined to this terrain. Ethically, morally, spiritually, intellectually, culturally, and yes, ultimately, philosophically, we must also wage a war against influences in these spheres that define and confine us to subhuman existence. To be who we are is a reflection of inferior qualities in us of all the human essences I have listed. With this background, is it not understandable that there is nothing to cheer me?
Chanda again: “U’ushitasha mwana wa ndoshi nangu endoshi ine”, the Bembas say!”
Comment: Here, Chanda is suggesting that I am incapable of appreciating the achievements that Lungu and the PF have recorded because, like indoshi (a witch), I have already taken a position. Now, this is not true because I have previously and publicly given Lungu credit where it is due, such as when he replaced Nkandu Luo as Minister of Higher Education with Brian Mushimba. More importantly, the real indoshi is the one who causes people to die from unemployment and starvation, who impoverishes and kills through tolerance for corruption, lack of medicines in hospitals, delayed payment of the worker’s salary, who condemns citizens to day-long hours of load shedding, who can hold only one press conference in three years because he is afraid of meeting people and incapable of explaining why citizens are suffering. That is witchcraft.
Chanda may wish to know that I went to school, thanks to the generosity of others, and learnt that there is another life outside ndoshism – a life of confronting truth, of questioning everything and everyone, fearlessly, especially if they are leading us or making claims to want to lead us, of refusing to comply with repression, asking the hard questions, proposing ways forward and, from any position or none, acting as an agent or catalyst of positive action in dealing with the issues that matter most, of demanding, with sincerity and in good faith, honest responses to the five questions that the late British politician Anthony Benn liked asking whenever he met anybody with power: ‘What power have you got?’ ‘Who gave it to you?’ ‘In whose interest do you exercise it?’ ‘To whom are you accountable?’ ‘How can we get rid of you?’
We all do not have to be politicians. We can each make a contribution to the remaking of Zambia from whatever stations, provided those we have entrusted with power learn to listen to the views of others.