UPND president Hakainde Hichilema says with the church at the centre of the dialogue process, all key stakeholders must stop playing hide and seek, get on with it and do it properly in order to save Zambia’s credibility.

And Hichilema says he did not feel moved to add his voice to the debate that ensued after it emerged that President Edgar Lungu had accepted a gift from King Mswati in form of land because he has decided to focus on the bigger picture of corruption.

On Tuesday, President Lungu’s press aide Amos Chanda issued a statement announcing that the Head of State had welcomed Hichilema’s demands that the church should play an integral role in the dialogue process, given its track record of conflict resolution.

President Lungu asked the Zambia Centre for Inter-Party Dialogue to make room for the church to take centre stage in facilitating the national dialogue process.

And in an interview, Wednesday, Hichilema said politicians should stop acting like wild animals and genuinely come to the dialogue table.

“For me, I am looking forward to this situation so that we can stop the hide and seek game and get on with the business. There is a lot of work to do and we must all get serious; we must stop embarrassing ourselves as a community by behaving like wild animals. I think we have a rare opportunity to get this done and done properly and we should not do it purely to fill in the space or to pass time,” Hichilema said.

“On our part, we will do everything possible to bring the UPND team, supporters, sympathisers, to the table to be part of the solution, not to be part of the problem. I commit that, we commit that. We expect the other side to be also committed, not to use this as just a facade. We have seen this before where a serious process like this is used as a facade, this is not a facade, this is serious business. We invite others to be fully committed, let’s get on with the job.”

He urged people to participate in the process with genuine intentions.

“And for those who are just looking for allowances through this dialogue process, I want to indicate to them that it is not about allowances, it is not about drinking tea, eating biscuits or drinking coffee. It is about saving the lives of people, taking our children to school. This is what this dialogue is supposed to achieve and obviously as I said already, creating jobs and an attractive environment, to ensure that the country is stable, is devoid of violence. We should also retain the credibility of the country. I am sure you know that the world over, the debt situation in Zambia is being discussed right now, in the financial district in Manhattan, in New York, in the financial district in London and elsewhere. This topic of Zambia over borrowing and failing to meet its debt obligations is a serious matter and that’s where our attention should be as a country instead of hacking each other down every day,” Hichilema said.

He said now that his party and the PF were in agreement on who should lead the dialogue process, the church should immediately focus on giving a clear roadmap and time frame.

“Let’s make sure that the structure of the dialogue is correct, yes, the church should take the lead, but I believe that all of us should be happy to work under and with the church which means we in the UPND should have no problem with that and those in PF and ZCID and other broader stakeholders such as NGOCC, the women’s movement, LAZ and indeed the traditional leaders and others ought to now be organised in a manner that in my view, drives or derives the best of all worlds. It is very important that the structure is correct in terms of composition, in terms of decision tree, I think consensus building is very important, I am sure we have all learnt a lesson in terms of trying to move arrogantly without others being involved because there can be no solution for others when those others are not involved in the process,” he said.

“If we get the structure right, as I said, we should build on the work that has been done already which was to be encompassed under a steering committee and I leave the details to all of us to quickly gravitate, carefully walk through this issue, so that once we are done with the structure, we should get to the content quickly, meaning that the issues that have caused us difficulties in our country must be brought to the table without anybody bringing preconditions. We in the UPND come to the table without any preconditions because we believe that any and all issues that have caused anguish such as the breakdown in the rule of law, the need to restore the human rights, liberties and freedoms, to end political violence orchestrated by anybody be it PF or UPND, the police must act professionally and end it…lastly, we must look at the time frame. The church quickly must get their hand on it, not to reinvent the will but to bring on board the work that has been done already.”

Asked whether he had reservations about certain church leaders who were seemingly compromised, Hichilema said he expected everyone to be impartial, for the sake of the country.

“I think the spirit we are in now is to make sure we select people that will help lead the process, that’s why we were opposed to ZCID, we knew that they had no capacity, look at the confusion now, I am sure you have seen some confusion from a president of a political party who seems too frustrated he is even threatening to resign, probably he should resign honestly, it will be the wise thing to do. For the church mother bodies, I think they are sound enough, they are experienced enough, we have confidence in them enough that they will understand that you can’t have certain Christians for individuals, Christians are for God, the Holy Spirit and the father,” he said.

And Hichilema said he did not comment on President Lungu’s eStwatini gift because he believes Zambians needed to focus on the “bigger picture”.

“I think we have decided to basically focus on the issues of corruption affecting the government and who is perpetrating this corruption, it is the PF, it is those in the PF government. I think that’s where our focus should be because we can just end up attacking just anyone and everybody across but who is taking corruption to those people? It is the PF leadership, it is Mr Lungu and his team. I think that’s where our focus should be. Citizens must pin point, where is the problem? It is Mr Lungu and his Cabinet of thieves,” he said.

Asked to clarify if he deliberately chosen not to comment on the issue, Hichilema said: “No, I am saying we have deliberately taken a slant that we must hold accountable those who are given the opportunity to superintend over public resources. Who are those? Those are the ones in the PF government…I am grouping all of these issues to say let’s pin point where the trouble comes from, the trouble comes from the President. I have said it several times. It is the President, the ministers who are stealing our tax payer’s money, stealing from the sick. It bothers me a lot. Instead of hunting people all over the world, we know for example they are buying houses in Dubai, should we focus on who is selling them houses in Dubai? Because there is a seller there isn’t it? We should focus on who is stealing our money to go and buy houses in Dubai? Those are the ones taking the tax payer’s money. I just want us to group all this theft going on.”

Asked how campaigns in Chilanga were going and his confidence levels of scooping the seat, Hichilema could not give a categorical answer but emphasised the need for free and fair elections.

“I think what we should do Mukosha is focus on making sure that the campaign, the political environment is devoid of violence. That the environment is devoid of intimidation in Chilanga, the winner takes the day when there is an environment that is as conducive as I have described it,” said Hichilema.

“As you have seen, our candidate was attacked, reports were made to the police, no arrests have been made although those who perpetrated violence are known. The violence is affecting everybody other than that party that is orchestrating violence and you know that fact.”