A forthcoming remembrance event in honour of Vespers Shimuzhila, a University of Zambia (UNZA) female student who died at the hands of police violence last year, has sparked outrage from many Zambians who are unhappy with the inclusion of Minister of Higher Education Professor Nkandu Luo and her Ministry of Religious Affairs counterpart Reverend Godfridah Sumaili, among the keynote speakers.
A Human Rights Commission report on events of October 4, 2018 at UNZA, concluded that Vespers suffocated to death after police caused a fire by firing tear gas in her room. This was during protests by students who were demanding payment of their meal allowances.
The HRC recommended the prosecution of officers involved in the operation but a state-instigated inquest is still on-going in the Lusaka Magistrates’ Court.
Now circulating on social media is a flier about the remembrance vigil dubbed ‘Special Tribute to Vespers: The National Together We Remember Vigil’ organised by Pillars of Peace Zambia and Together We Remember’.
According to the flier, the event, at which a number of local artists such as Mampi, B-Flow, Wezi and Kantu are set to perform, is slated for 28 February, 2019 at UNZA.
Among the advertised main speakers are Prof Luo, Rev Sumaili, former Chief Justice of Zambia Lombe Chibesakunda and UNZA Vice-Chancellor Professor Luke Mumba.
On learning of the presence of ministers at the forthcoming event, some outspoken Zambian netizens took to Twitter, Friday, to condemn the move.
Leading the offensive was academic and political commentator Dr Sishuwa Sishuwa who first tweeted: “Those who were directly involved in the death of #Vespers now pretend to remember her. Sounds like murderers returning to the scene of the crime. Perhaps they could even invite the police officers who fired tear gas into her room to say a few words. Can these people sink no lower?”
“I hope some of the speakers would have the decency to clean the blood on their hands before coming to remember their victim. And by emphasising the idea that admission to the event is free, they make it seem like they had the option to charge! Do these people have no shame at all?”
Dr Charlotte Scott, wife to former Vice-President of Zambia Dr Guy Scott, followed suit and condemned the move, tweeting: “This is beyond belief. I am really shocked”.
Straight-talking and popular satirical singer Fumba Chama, alias Pilato, wondered why the ministers are showing interest in Vespers now when they did not do so when police teargased her to death.
“Is this really happening? How does the minister of guidance in sexuality affairs come to UNZA now? To do what? She didn’t acknowledge the immorality of those that Killed Vespers and now she wants to pay tribute to her? Does she think we have forgotten already?”, tweeted Pilato.
Another netizen, MissBwalya, wrote, “This is quite foul. They really sink to new depths daily”.
Vespers’ distant relative, who goes by the twitter handle @LankyObserver, condemned the move as an insult to the family of the slain student: “On a serious note, who thought this was a great idea? This is insulting to her family. What is wrong with us?’
Meanwhile, Naver Chayelela remarked: “This level of gross hypocrisy is more than sickening! The country needs to come back to its senses.”
Another Twitter user, Olivia Matani, called the ministers’ impending appearance at the event “disgusting” and reserved part of her stinging criticism to the prominent local musicians who are set to grace the event.
“Disgusting doesn’t even come close to describing this foolishness! @bflowmusic & @OfficialMampi I hope the money is enough to buy bleach and soap to wash Vespers blood off your hands!”
Yet another Twitter user, Wilfred Zulu, wrote, “This is extremely upsetting to say the least! @bflowmusic @OfficialMampi this hoodwinking us. Camouflaging and downplaying this issue! Is your pay to perform here going to compel the very Chief Justice who has the powers to quicken the system of justice to get #JusticeForVespers?”
Others criticised the move as a mockery to students, noting that the event comes barely days after the Minister of Higher Education abolished meal allowances for students in public universities.
Felicity Kalunga wrote: ‘Right after abolishing meal allowances for students on GRZ loans. My brain is too small to grasp this”.