UPND president Hakainde Hichilema yesterday got a thunderous welcome in Southern Province where he went to attend the Bene Mukuni traditional ceremony.

As the Toka-leya speaking people of Kazungula gathered to celebrate the ceremony at Mukuni Village in Livingstone, it was clear that this year’s event was twice merrier because of Hichilema’s presence.

They were ferried in numbers and in their numbers they sang and danced for the special occasion.

And the opposition leader said chiefs played a vital role in uniting the country.

“This is part of our partnership building agenda of involving traditional leaders in the development of our country. We hold our traditional leaders in high esteem because other than being partners in development, they are also the custodians of our values and culture,” HH said.

“We also appeal to all the traditional leaders to work together to ensure peace and stability in the country. Their job as elders cannot be over emphasised. We are of the view that whenever the country is undergoing difficult times, it is important that traditional leaders unite to foster unity and not take partisan lines.”

He asked political leaders to show respect for the custodians of Zambia’s traditions.

“And our call to our fellow politicians is that let us respect traditional leaders and work with them amicably in the interests of the country. We would like to thank Senior Chief Mukuni of the Toka Leya people for this invitation. We also call on our fellow citizens to preserve our culture by attending such ceremonies to fully appreciate the value of our practices,” said HH.

Those who accompanied HH at the ceremony include MMD leader Nevers Mumba, People’s Party leader Mike Mulongoti, Alliance for Democracy and Development Charles Milupi, party Vice President, Dr Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba, party secretary general Stephen Katuka and former first lady Maureen Mwanawasa.