Those who won our historic August the 12th 2021 elections are fast waking up to the fact that allowing free thoughts, public expression and open debates in all manner of ways does not actually auger well for them. Shame, it is rather too soon for them to be too worried about our freedoms, and how we express ourselves!
For now, the main focus appears to be the vulgar language some politicians are beginning to get into the bad habit of using, against President Hakainde Hichilema. Any person, let alone a grown adult, anywhere in the world and not just in Zambia, who makes vulgar language part of their arsenal to attack their opponents needs help, from all of us. And usually, we supply this help by publicly disapproving and condemning such a one.
Such a person, especially if she or he is a leader of any kind, we say “ki sikuba”, is a
“chizende”, a “chipuba”, an “ichiwelewele” – generally meaning this individual is becoming a fool and an idiot, and perhaps fast losing her or his mind! And slowly but surely, we all begin to lower our estimate and respect, for such a reckless and vulgar fellow.
Police in the capital of Zambia, Lusaka, have for the second time in quick succession warned, cautioned, detained and arrested Patriotic Front (PF) Member of the Central Committee Raphael Nakachinda for the offence of defamation of the President. Among some Zambians, Nakachinda’s political cv is fast being revised to include, among his personal characteristics “ki sikuba”, is a “chizende”, a “chipuba”, and “chiwelewele”!
These public sanctions are more powerful and long lasting than the drama, media attention and cost to the public purse of arresting such a one, who in fact, may have behaved in this way to achieve exactly this publicity in the first place. Our children in fact, the majority of them, will be shocked to hear an adult, especially a leader whom they are expected to emulate and respect, use vulgar language.
By and large, there is still a lot of restraint among us Zambians of all social backgrounds, genders and ages, about how we speak, appear in public, and communicate with one another. Of course, there are now more permissive parts of the country such as in our urban areas, and very conservative and restrictive parts, such as in our rural areas. Younger unemployed working-class youth tend to be leaders in manufacturing new words and minting new languages!
In all our more than 70 languages and African cultures, respect, good manners, knowing how historically, traditionally and culturally we have related to one another and living by some of these traditions, even in urban areas, are treated as a sign of decency and good upbringing and are encouraged. Vulgar language, everywhere in Zambia, is frowned upon, and rarely if ever, seen as permissible.
Social order in any society including Zambia, is maintained also partly because people in such a society treat each other with respect and dignity. We teach children from birth how to behave and speak to their parents, brothers and sisters, all relatives, friends and strangers. There is, in all our languages and cultural groups in Zambia, sets of appropriate words, phrases and mannerisms reserved for specific individuals and occasions.
Many of these words, phrases, manners and traditions are important in Zambia today, a country which is a melting pot of more than 70 languages, 58 years old, and constantly struggling to forge a single national identity in a world which is not standing still.
Our challenge is that Zambia is not a village, does not have one tradition, culture and language – even as English, sadly, remains the official language -we Zambians are not English, we are Africans, with many languages. We have not yet properly resolved what to do with our rich African languages and cultures the country boasts of.
Implicit in all our historic traditional cultures and many languages is the dominant assumption of inequality of human beings. Women and girls are inferior to men and boys. Children are inferior beings compared to their parents. A younger sister/brother is inferior to an older sister/brother. A man who marries first suddenly becomes superior to his yet to get married older brother. More painfully, a woman who has not given birth and has no children may be regarded as inferior to her younger sister who is married, has given birth and has living children. We even have some languages and cultural groups (wrongly referred to as “tribes”) regarded as inferior to others!
More importantly, we have special respect for our fathers, and our traditional leaders. To this day, it does not matter whether one is a very rich person, a president of the country or a very poor person; we all show our respect to our traditional kings, queens and their families in specific ways as set out in the traditions of the specific cultural group. Not to do so will disqualify one from appearing in the presence of our loyal families.
Zambia is not an island. It is part of the 7.9 billion people in the world today. Radio, tv, the cell phone, the internet, social media and trading in almost all the things produced in the world including books, music, food, alcohol and drugs mean that Zambia is not immune from the cultural influences of other cultures everywhere in the world today; in return, we too are a cultural influence to the world!
Zambia is a unitary state, a constitutional and parliamentary democracy in which “the people” are sovereign; we are a Republic. Zambia has a written constitution and laws and regulations by which we all are supposedly governed as we struggle to perfect our democracy and develop our country.
Zambia is an aspiring democratic republic in which our constitution, parliament and we all its citizens, not kings or queens and their families or presidents and politicians in office; are supreme. The constitution confers full human equality on all human beings in Zambia, not just to Zambians alone. We have a vicious and ruthless competitive multiparty democratic political system in which the ballot decides who for the moment will govern us, in all the three spheres of government.
Our state of national poverty, social and economic inequalities further add fuel to the ruthless competition for political office, and make the requirement to protect the principle of equality of all citizens of Zambia and free speech absolutely essential and necessary to protect our toddler democracy!
The majority of our politicians, when in the opposition, freely use vulgar language against their opponents in government, and sometimes get arrested, detained and are threatened with jail terms. They promise to remove the law of defamation of the president when they will be in government and to advance equality of all citizens and free speech. For 57 years now, the law of defamation of the president has been in our Penal Code; none of them has removed it. It does not take long for them, when in government, to ignore their promises and start arresting their opponents, using the same law they promised to remove from our laws. Now that they are in office “leaders, especially the President, must not be insulted”, they warn us. What hypocrisy. They are all, generally, scoundrels.
The Law of Defamation of the President violates our constitutional principle of equality of all human beings, regardless of who you are! It is clearly unconstitutional. It violates free speech and freedom of expression. It hampers, undermines and distorts political competition: we are a plural democracy and not an absolute monarchy! It promotes and enhances the worst of our traditional customs and cultures – the assumption of inequality of individuals and people. Of course, all individuals and people are not the same; but in this world today we are all regarded as equal, and must be treated as such.
We Zambians know the right place for a “sikuba”, a “chizende”, a “chipuba”, and a “chiwelewele”! We don’t jail them; we have many ways to cure them of their stupidity!
Zambians must demand the removal from our laws, of this most primitive of laws.
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