Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia executive director Pukuta Mwanza says whilst he supports President Edgar Lungu’s calls to localise the dialogue process, he does not believe the Zambia Centre for Inter-party Dialogue has the capacity to handle it.

In an interview, Rev Mwanza said it is wrong for people to suggest that the Commonwealth’s time had been wasted when no one invited the international body to be part of the talks in the first place.

“I do not think that Commonwealth’s time was wasted because they were not invited by anybody in Zambia. So the issue of wasting their time may not come in handy. But I think the issues in this country must be given an opportunity to be addressed by the Zambian people. We must localise the mediation process because it is just right that the matter is handled by the Zambian people. There have been cases in the past where this country has dealt with its own internal issues internally and no one from outside being involved. So I would like to first of all believe in the principle that this matter must be handled internally and that the complaint that Commonwealth’s time has been wasted does not come in. I really don’t think that the Commonwealth was formality invited that we have failed locally to deal with the matter so we need help from outside,” Rev Mwanza said.

“But what I don’t agree with is the aspect of localising the dialogue to anchor the mediation at the ZCID. I do not think that ZICD has the capacity to deal with this matter. We must understand that these issues did not start last month, it started as far back as 2016 when the Church brought all political parties together at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross [in Lusaka] and some of those issues that are currently being looked at have got history hinging back to March, 2016 which the Church mediated upon. Subsequent to that, there were other aspects which again the Church participated in at the Mulungushi Conference Centre in July. Later on after the elections, these issues have come up and I think that the best housing or mediation on this matter should be handled by the Church. That’s my view, I do not think that ZCID has the capacity because of the nature of the issues that are being considered as content for discussion.”

Rev Mwanza suggested that the dialogue talks be led by the Church, arguing that ZCID lacked independence to deal with the process.

“ZCID is not an independent institution, ZCID has been formed by the same political parties. So they cannot handle the magnitude of issues at play at the moment. My view is that they can participate but there should be other players who can participate in order to increase the competence as well as spread of involvement. The Church, for instance, can be part of the team and then there could be other groups that may have the capacity like the institute of conflict resolution and peace building. I think that there could also be other Zambian eminent persons who are non-political and can actually be included on this process. Perhaps other retired Chief Justices can also be included. So the country does not have to put this entirely in the hands of ZCID, there can be other high profile groups of people with experience from the past who can be included and that way a number of issues can be addressed,” he said.

And Rev Mwanza advised the Zambia Correctional Services to desist from using state institutions to settle political scores.

“I think that the refusal by the Correctional Services officials to allow Mr Hichilema access to see Dr [Nevers] Mumba is unfortunate. Access to inmates must not be selective and in this case, I don’t think it was right that Mr Hichilema was refused to see Dr Mumba while allowing some of his team members to see him. There is no good reason why the authorities denied Mr Hichilema to see Dr Mumba. Correctional officials should not use state institutions to serve political interests as their primary obligation is to serve the Zambian citizenry without discrimination. So turning away the opposition leader was unfortunate. Our concern primarily is that there is a pending national dialogue which will bring together PF and UPND in particular, there might be other political parties but these two are the primary parties that will be brought together before the mediation team under the national dialogue,” said Rev Mwanza.

“It is important to use this national dialogue as an opportunity to iron out any political differences between these two political parties and create a harmonious atmosphere for any peaceful engagements on national issues. So what happened at Mwembeshi was unfortunate and it has potential to fuel further hate between these two political parties and lead to jeopardising the national dialogue process. So I think that every effort must be made but both the UPND and PF should not provoke each other further and destroy what has already been prepared as material for national dialogue.”