Police in Lusaka on Wednesday questioned University of Zambia Lecturers and Researchers’ Union leaders in connection with the riots that rocked the country’s largest learning institution on October 5.

In a statement issued after being interrogated, UNZALARU general secretary Dr Kelvin Mambwe observed that government and police were looking for someone else to blame for the problems they had caused.

“The University of Zambia Lecturers and Researchers’ Union (UNZALARU) is gravely disturbed and shocked by the Zambia Police Service’s summoning of UNZALARU officials over the recent student unrest at the University of Zambia (UNZA). It appears that instead of owning up to the fact that they caused and are ultimately responsible for the crisis that led to the recent student demonstrations, the government and the police service have embarked on a fishing expedition aimed at finding someone else to blame,” Dr Mambwe stated.

“The root causes of the student unrest are evident: failure of the Government to pay students their meal allowances on time or to timely explain to them when they would receive their stipends; the suspension of student union activities by the Minister of Higher Education, which affected the flow of communication between the authorities and students; and the heavy-handedness of the Police, which resulted in the tragic death of a female final-year student, Vespers Shimuzhila.”

He narrated that police attempted to link the lecturers’ union to student unrest.

“On 16 October 2018, the leadership of UNZALARU received phone calls from two officers who identified themselves as Elizabeth Mbewe, the Zambia Police Assistant Director for Crime Investigations Department and Mr. Kabamba from the Anti Fraud Unit. Assistant Director Mbewe and Mr. Kabamba proceeded to summon the UNZALARU Vice-President, Dr Andrew Phiri, and the UNZALARU General Secretary, Dr. Kelvin Mambwe, to separately appear before them the following morning to answer questions about ‘the recent events at UNZA’. Today (Wednesday), UNZALARU honoured the Police’s request. At the interview, it became apparent that the police were ill-informed about the purpose and makeup of UNZALARU. Some officers were convinced that UNZALARU represents students when in fact the Union only represents academic staff. The police also asked us what we know about the outbreak of the recent protests by UNZA students. They further wanted to know if the UNZALARU leadership had helped organise the student protests. Our response was categorical: the UNZALARU leaders were not involved in the organisation of the student protests. The Police even asked the UNZALARU leaders if they could name any students who may have approached them, complaining about the disbursement of their meal allowances. We informed the Police that no student approached the Union,” Dr Mambwe stated.

“That said, we wish to state that there is absolutely nothing wrong with students either as individuals or through their union representatives, where this avenue exists, requesting to meet the leadership or individual members of UNZALARU. We, lecturers and students, work and live in the same community. We are members of a whole performing different but complementary roles. We therefore totally reject the attempts by the Police to criminalise any interaction between the students and the lecturers. We regard such moves as deliberately calculated to instil fear and curtail the expression of civil liberties such as the freedom of association. We further condemn the Police for reducing the university community to low levels of vigilantism by insinuating that lecturers and students would have sat to plan for violence.”

Meanwhile, Dr Mambwe stated that police were also trying to link their member, Dr Austin Mbozi, to the protests.

Dr Mbozi was detained on Monday over an article he wrote in which he blamed President Edgar Lungu for Vespers’ death.

“Finally, an article written by Austin Mbozi, a University of Zambia lecturer and UNZALARU member, criticising among other things the Police’s management of the student protests, has been used as an excuse to detain him. The Police appear to be frantically searching for evidence to link his article to the organisation of the protests. We were asked about what we knew about the same but provided little information, other than a copy of the same article that the author shared with Dr Phiri, three days after the protest occurred, since the Union is not responsible for policing the thoughts of our members on issues of national concern. Mbozi has been in police custody since Monday, detained at Woodlands Police Station without charge. We call on the Police to release him immediately, or formally charge and present him before the courts of law,” stated Dr Mambwe.