Archbishop Telesphore Mpundu has asked President Edgar Lungu to humble himself and consider face to face dialogue with incarcerated UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema.
This is according to a statement issued by Special Assistant to the President for Press and Public Relations Amos Chanda.
“His Excellency Mr. Edgar Chagwa Lungu President of the Republic of Zambia today met with members of the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) at State House. The church leaders were at State House to underscore their commitment to working with Government for the good of the Zambian people. ZCCB president, Archbishop Telesphore Mpundu who led a 14-member team of Catholic Bishops said: ‘We are emissaries of our Church and we come to express our good wishes to you and your Government’,” Amos stated.
“The Catholic Bishops also appealed to the President to humble himself, put the country first and seriously consider engaging in a genuine face-to-face dialogue with opposition leader Mr. Hakainde Hichilema, such dialogue that will be aimed at reconciliation.”
Archbishop Mpundu also asked government to facilitate the bishops’ visit to HH so that they could also ask him to humble himself.
“Your Excellency is quite alive to the historic reconciliation that took place between the two late presidents Levy Mwanawasa and Michael Chilufya Sata. We would like the State to facilitate our visit to Mr Hakainde Hichilema so that we can deliver the same message to him, namely to humble himself, open the door and pursue the path towards genuine reconciliation,” Archbishop Mpundu said.
“Our overriding concern is the aftermath of the election that was held in August last year, 2016. It cannot be denied that it was a divisive election which has left the people of this nation deeply divided. Following Your Excellency’s appeal on 12th March, 2016 at Mpika, we responded by drawing leaders from other church groupings to put our heads together in order to bring the political players together in view of conducting campaign peacefully and ensure peaceful elections. The meeting at the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Cross was meant to achieve a consensus on how to conduct peaceful campaign. You are also a witness that it was not very successful.”
Archbishop Mpundu also asked the Head of State to embark on a programme of national reconciliation.
“We repeat this call to Your Excellency and through you to your Government to embark upon a well spelt out and action oriented programme of National Reconciliation through genuine dialogue. We call upon you as President of the whole nation not just your political party to put in place concrete measures to reverse the worrying and very dangerous trend of doing politics through violence,” said Archbishop Mpundu who hoped that the meeting would be a building block in promoting a mutually appreciated relationship between the Church and State.
“We never tire to reiterate that the constituency of the Political Authority and that of the Church is one and the same, namely the people of this great nation. That is why the State and the Church must cooperate with each other in its sphere of competence for the benefit of our people. This cooperation consists of comparing notes and exchanging experiences in view of enhanced service delivery to God’s people at whose service both the State and the Church must be in order to be relevant.”
The bishops also bemoaned acts of economic sabotage.
In response, President Lungu welcomed the Bishops’ overtures for dialogue and their request to visit HH.
He also reassured the Church of his commitment to Constitutionalism, democracy and the rule of law.
“My Lords I wish to assure you of my full commitment to our citizens’ democratic rights. They shall be safe under my Presidency,” he said.
President Lungu thanked the Church for their appeal to dialogue and reconciliation while urging them to be more vocal on actions from any quarters that threaten national peace and unity.
“I want to appeal to the Church to speak with a louder voice against violence and other acts that undermine our peace and unity,’’ said the Head of State.
Archbishop Mpundu led 14 bishops along with Father Cleophas Lungu who attended the hour-long meeting whilst the President was accompanied by Religious Affairs Minister Reverend Godfredah Sumaili, Presidential Affairs Minister Freedom Sikazwe and Home Affairs Permanent Secretary Dr Chileshe Mulenga.
The other 13 bishops are: ZCCB Vice-president Bishop Alick Banda, Bishop Ignatius Chama, Bishop Patrick Chisanga, Bishop Justin Mulenga, Bishop Charles Kasonde, Bishop Clement Mulenga, Bishop Evans Chinyemba, Bishop Moses Hamungole, Bishop Valentine Kalumba, Bishop Raymond Mpezele, Bishop George Lungu, Bishop Benjamin Phiri and the ZCCB Secretary General Father Cleophas Lungu.
Meanwhile, Home Affairs Permanent Secretary Dr Chileshe Mulenga who also among those who attended said his Ministry would immediately facilitate the Bishops’ request.