Rainbow Party general secretary Wynter Kabimba says the reasons being advanced by those rejecting the National Dialogue Bill are purely academic, explaining that none of them has raised any issues with the actual contents of the proposed Bill.

Meanwhile, Kabimba says it would be criminal for any political party or any other organisation to stop their members from participating in the refinement process of the National Dialogue Bill because nobody is allowed to stifle another person’s freedom of expression under the guise of the organisation they belong to.

Speaking when he featured on ZNBC’s Sunday Interview programme, Kabimba argued that those declining their participation in the refinement process of the National Dialogue Bill were being mischievous and that whether or not they took part in the process, it would still be credible and successful.

“If you look at the contents of this Bill and then listen to the voices that are rising against this Bill, surely, with the greatest respect to many of my colleagues out there, some of them, I am sorry to say [their reasons] are purely academic! Nobody is attacking this Bill in terms of substance, issues like: ‘no, you have criminalized the attendance of people’ or ‘the production of documents and that is against freedom of expression’…this business of just flying around with these words [like] constitutionalism, freedom of expression, it should stop! The freedom of expression in the Constitution is guaranteed to an individual, not an organisation. Even as you belong to a political party, a club or NGO, your exercise of your freedom of expression is individualised in the Constitution. So, what is draconian in this Bill? I haven’t heard anybody get to the root of those provisions, so what is draconian there in that document?” Kabimba asked.

“So, you can decide to think negatively if you don’t want to be part of a process. If I also didn’t want to attend this dialogue, I would pick up an issue to say why should Rainbow Party be only allowed to nominate one member when no political parties are given the liberty to nominate two members? So, if I wanted to be mischievous, I would say we are not attending because…so, you can choose to be negative, it’s very easy.”

He, however, concurred that people had the right to abstain from taking part in the refinement process, but echoed Eastern Province Minister Makebi Zulu’s sentiments that coercing others to stay away was a criminal offense.

“Political parties have the right to sit and agree not to take part in the refinement of this Bill. But what they cannot do is coerce or obstruct or intimidate one of their members who says: ‘I want to go myself’, that they can’t do because it is a criminal offence! I will give you an example of the PF in 2006: when the debate of going for the NCC (National Constitution Committee) came up, I was one of those people who was of the view that the PF must attend the NCC. President Sata as leader of the party was against the PF attending the NCC. That issue was resolved by a secret ballot and those who said no did win. Now, at that stage, if I had wanted in my individual conscience to attend the NCC and the party decided to discipline me then it would become an offence under the current Act. Nobody is allowed to stifle the freedom of expression of another citizen under the guise of political party or an organisation to which they belong. People’s right to freedom of expression is guaranteed by the Constitution. So, any rule, which tries to abrogate that is automatically unconstitutional and you are not bound to respect that rule,” he argued.

And asked if the process would still be credible if UPND, its alliance and the three Church Mother Bodies did not take part, Kabimba insisted that the process would still be conducted successfully.

“Will it be credible? Yes! Do people have the right to withdraw from the process? Yes, they do. But we want to practice politics of engagement, not politics of withdrawal. My position is that I would like to go and sit in the same room as President Edgar Lungu and his members and other stakeholders and argue on how we are going to refine our political process. I don’t want to speculate; you’ve already made it very clear that one political party says they will not attend; [and] the Alliance says that, too, so that’s 10 political parties. But we have more than 90 political parties registered in this country. The three Church Mother Bodies say they will also not attend. But if you look at three Church Mother Bodies, they have problems internally and the president of one of the umbrella organisations resigned. So, it means even within the Church itself, there is division. So, those that are withdrawing from the process cannot claim that they are doing so because they have instructions from everybody else because some of them have taken a different route,” said Kabimba.

“So, I know and I can predict this that when the letters [of invitation to attend the refinement process] go out, there will be many religious organisations, individual and collectively that will come and attend this forum. We need to move on! You can’t on the one hand claim that there is tension in the country or that your rights are being abrogated when (wanting) to mobilise your political party, and on the other hand, claim that I can’t go and face those that I am complaining against, that is what they call politics of withdrawal. We want to practice politics of engagement. I don’t want to speculate what Edgar Lungu is going to say, I don’t want to speculate or hypothesize on the outcome of the process, I want to go all the way so that when the process is over, I am intelligent enough to make up my mind that Edgar Lungu doesn’t mean well. Then I can go to the Zambian people and tell them: ‘I have now proven that the man doesn’t mean well with his government.’ I can do that now or I will be speculating and that’s what everybody is doing.”