Zambia Police spokesperson Esther Mwaata Katongo says as voters, it was impossible for all policemen and women to support the ruling Patriotic Front.
And Katongo says Police restrain themselves from arresting cadres during election time because they do not want to be used as a scapegoat by those who lose.
“And when you look at our standing orders or service instructions, in police, looking at the situation, effecting an arrest is not always necessary. We do arrest or effect arrests when it is necessary. In some instances, especially when it comes to campaigns or political activities. We try by all means to restrain ourselves from arresting cadres, from arresting people. The reason being that at the end of the day, when that political party loses an election, the fingers will be pointing at our institution to say, ‘these people are the ones who arrested our cadres and our people could not vote, and this is the reason why we lost an election’. So, we don’t want to be a scapegoat [for losing an election]. So, here, what determines to effect an arrest is the situation. However, this does not mean that we are just going to be looking at violence being perpetrated. Any act that will demand that we effect an arrest, we are going to do that. And we have always done that,” Katongo said, when she featured on ‘The People Debate’ on Pan African radio, Thursday.
“For us to have this peace, we need to work together, members of the public, political parties, Zambia police. I am not saying that some police officers are not, maybe, biased because even in the police we are also voters, we vote. And who knows who I vote for? Who knows who my counterpart votes for? So, it is not true to say that all police officers are Patriotic Front or they vote for the Patriotic Front. That will be a lie,” Katongo added.
She also noted that harassment of journalists had become common in Zambia.
“This issue of saying, ‘this happened in full view of the police and the police did nothing,’ I think should end. I listened to a report on Prime TV and the same journalist that is said to have been brutalised and police were just viewing in his own reporting said that he was actually saved by police officers who even got back his camera that was grabbed. We are not saying that the journalist was not harassed and the harassment of journalists has become common, I don’t know the reason why because even you journalists nowadays, you are being labelled to be siding with some political parties. Some of the journalists, even sometimes, when you are reporting, people will say, ‘you are siding with this political party’. So, people should not just be talking about the things they don’t understand,” she pleaded.
Katongo further said political party leaders were giving powers to their cadres to perpetrate violence.
“And this is the reason why we have said let political leaders be above board to ensure that they show their political cadres a way to go. And mostly, such acts come as a result of statements, which are issued by the leaders themselves. The tone that you are going to set as a leader when it comes to political violence when you say, ‘we are going to do this if you do this,’ and these others also are planning, they even call people to say ‘go there and intimidate these.’ It means that you are giving your cadres power to do that. What we have seen in the recent past is that whenever a crime has been perpetrated by political cadres, you will hear political leaders issuing statements distancing themselves from such instead of them helping the police to fish out the people that were in the forefront in committing the crime. They will distance themselves and say, ‘it is not our cadres that were involved.’ And when you look at such acts, it means that you are now telling your people to say, ‘continue doing wrong and we are going to be there to protect you, we are not going to give your particulars to the police’ in an instance where we need such information to move forward in an investigation,” Katongo said.
She also condemned the use of vulnerable youths to perpetrate violence.
“We have always been calling for political party leaders at different levels, both from the ruling and the opposition, to see to it that they educate their cadres on the need to have peaceful elections. And when you look at people who promote violence, you will find that it is those people who have money, they will go and buy offensive weapons such as pangas and give such pangas to their cadres. And mostly they will pay these cadres to go and perpetrate crime and violence when it comes to elections. And you will never find a political leader carrying a panga going to hack someone. It is other people’s children, the youths which they are using. And they will never use their relatives, they will never use their children. Their children by now maybe they are even outside the country and when they anticipate that there will be violence, they will even remove their relatives from there. But they go and hire those people who are vulnerable, they buy them beers and once they intoxicate you with alcohol, you will go there now and start hacking other people or perpetrating violence,” Katongo observed.
Asked why police in other instances would use proportionate force on citizens, Katongo said police were mandated by law to do so.
“When you talk about use of proportionate force or reasonable force, we are mandated by the law as police to use reasonable force, minimum force, and the reason why we have been allowed by law to use this minimum force is to make the other party or the person that you would want to apprehend to give you enough power to apprehend. So when it comes to the use of fire arms, when you look at what the law says, the Police Act Cap 107, Section 24, which gives police instances where they can use live ammunition. We are mandated, and this is the reason why we have been given guns, those guns are not for us to be firing at trees or at wild animals, we are not game rangers. We have been mandated to preserve peace and in doing that, we have been given weapons and some of those weapons are guns,” she explained.
Asked to differentiate between Zambia Police and PF police, Katongo said only the PF themselves and those saying there is PF police can know.
“Zambia Police is an institution that was established by the Constitution of Zambia to preserve peace, law and order. I think I am ignorant about the PF police. Maybe [those saying that there is PF police] should be able to define PF police because I have never seen one or if there is one maybe Mr [Sunday] Chanda, the PF media director, maybe, would be able to know that because I think there is nothing in the Constitution. We don’t have the PF police. So if there is a PF police somewhere, those people who are saying that there is a PF police and the PF themselves to state or to define what the PF police is, and not myself,” said Katongo.