A horde of PF cadres led by Eastern Province treasurer Zephaniah Mwale stormed Radio Maria in Chipata District, Wednesday night, threatening to burn down the station for featuring Maxon Nkhoma, a governance activist and supporter of aspiring Provincial chair Elias Banda alias Eliboma.
The cadres also issued death threats against Radio Maria news editor Tobias Daka and anchor of the programme, which featured Nkhoma, urging him to find personal security to accompany him whenever he leaves his home.
Daka told News Diggers! that he decided to end the programme early because he had a premonition.
“What happened really is, yesterday (Wednesday) around 18:10 hours, we had a political programme ahead of the intra-party elections in the Patriotic Front here in Eastern Province. So, this programme takes up an hour and I am the presenter. Yesterday, I featured Maxon Nkhoma, a good governance activist. So, out of self-consciousness, I had to end the programme before time because something was clicking in my mind. So, I had to finish the programme after 40 minutes or so. Then I told the person who was in charge of (programme) control that I had to end the programme because I wasn’t feeling comfortable and I asked him to go and check outside if things were okay. So, that person and went and checked outside and he came and told me that things were okay and there was no one outside. So, I walked my guest outside and then we even used the station’s vehicle to leave,” Daka explained.
“But as we were leaving the Radio station premises, I heard a strong sound vehicle. The sound was so strong, it was cruising, really! So, I told my guest Maxon to say ‘the way this car is cruising, I think something is wrong’, so I asked him to hide behind the studio. Immediately, Maxon went, that [cruising car] arrived, full of ngwangwas [gangsters] from the bus stations. They were putting on PF regalia, then they asked me: ‘are you having a live programme here?’ I responded to say: ‘yes, we had. But it has ended.’ ‘Where is the person you were featuring’, they asked me. But I told them that ‘my guest had gone.’ Then they said: ‘why do you entertain them?’ But before I even responded, another car came inside in the station premises. In that car, there was the PF provincial treasurer Mr Zephaniah Mwale and provincial youth chairperson William Phiri and other guys whom I did not recognize.”
Daka narrated how Mwale’s thugs threatened to kill him if his radio station continued hosting guests who were critical of the PF government.
“Then they grabbed me and got my phone, they searched me to see if I had any recorder. After that, they dragged me to their car where they started threatening me to say: ‘we are giving you time now to say: ‘bye to your relatives, we are going to kill you!’ But I asked ‘why do you want to kill me?’ Then they said: ‘if you don’t want to die today, just know that your days are now numbered. Wherever we are going to find you, we are going to kill you!’ But I asked them: ‘what do you want to kill me for? I was just doing my job and there was nothing wrong with that programme.’ But then they just continued threatening me,” Daka said.
“Later, another car came in and the people who were in there said: ‘we are burning the radio station because you are entertaining Max!’ So, one guy came with a container, I don’t know what was in the container. Then that same provincial treasurer told the guy who was carrying the container to put it back in the car. Then they just issued those threats that I should not be going anywhere because they will kill me. The group which came, even if they were brought before me just now, I can point at more than 50 per cent of them. They were about 22 or 23.”
He said he reported the death threats to police shortly after the incident.
“Yes, I reported them immediately when they left. But immediately when they left, someone from OP came and interviewed me then went. Shortly after, the police came and picked Maxon and myself and we went to the police to record a statement. After that they said the issue would be handled by the provincial Police Commissioner. They were saying they would call me today (Thursday) but up to now they haven’t called,” said Daka.
And in a separate interview, Nkhoma also gave his account of events.
“As a PF member, I featured on Radio Maria’s political hour programme to discuss the on-going PF intra party elections. The programme lasted for about an hour. Just after the radio programme, vehicles lead by PF youth chairman William Phiri, Provincial treasurer Zephaniah Mwale accompanied by some known PF youths surrounded the radio station demanding for me. They also carried over 30 youths whom they wanted to beat me up. Upon realising they would not locate me, they turned on the radio programme presenter Tobias Daka threatening to kill him whenever they come across him in Chipata, while carrying a container of petrol threatening to set ablaze Radio Maria for featuring me on their radio station. Police were called to the station and by the time police were arriving, the cadres had already left. The station manager reported the matter to the police around 20:30 hours,” said Nkhoma.
In a statement, Thursday, PF media director Sunday Chanda said the party was saddened by the incident, calling on “genuine” officials to desist from such conduct.
Chanda, however, also asked opposition leaders to stop practicing politics of insults.
“The Patriotic Front strongly condemns the recently reported disturbances that took place at Radio Maria in Chipata by alleged PF sympathisers and we make a strong call to the Police to investigate and ensure media practitioners and media houses do not operate under fear of attack in the course of duty. The Party leadership of the PF is extremely saddened by this development and is calling on all genuine PF members to desist from such conduct because they are alien to the media freedoms we committed to uphold,” stated Chanda.
“As we call for restraint within PF, we equally continue our call to our competitors to refrain from insults, fabricating fake news and using any demeaning and inflammatory language, as it only robs us all of an opportunity for constructive engagement and civility. We are at the end of the day all humans, and Zambians with children, grandchildren and an entire nation looking up to us for exemplary conduct in the ruling party and opposition alike. We are aware of some of our colleagues in the opposition who sadly seek to abuse any media platform they are accorded with to insult and malign the President and other ruling party officials all in the name of freedom of expression; thereby contaminating the freedom of expression and abusing media freedoms.”