The UPND says government must allow people to freely donate relief food or disaster management support to needy areas without going through the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU).

UPND secretary general Stephen Katuka, in an interview Wednesday following the DMMU’s statement that it never blocked the opposition party or its leader Hakainde Hichilema from donating 25,000 bags of mealie meal to vulnerable citizens, said the party would rather handle the assistance on its own.

The DMMU further stated that they were not engaged by the opposition leader over his desire to make the donation, contrary to claims by the UPND that he was denied chance to donate the staple commodity to hunger-stricken residents

“DMMU has extended a call to all well-meaning Zambians who wish to complement government efforts in providing relief to do so through the Office. To that effect, DMMU has since been receiving donations from different stakeholders and individuals with the aim of mitigating the food insecurity being experienced in parts of the country,” the DMMU stated through communications officer Rachael Chama.

However, Katuka said citizens must be allowed to identify those in need and make appropriate donations to ease the hunger situation.

“I don’t receive it (the call for us to make donations through DMMU) wholeheartedly. I have been told that DMMU is a national disaster management team whereas I can identify an area where I want to donate to, like Kalabo and they say ‘you bring to DMMU’. When you take to DMMU, you are taking into a national basket where they will decide where to donate and you can’t dictate to them. They won’t listen to my proposal that I am donating to this area. So, I may decide to donate to Kalabo and find the maize within Kalabo or Western Province, which is easily moved from the area it is to the area [that] I am donating to. But DMMU would want me to move it from Mongu to Lusaka. So, people must be free to donate to needy areas that they identify,” Katuka said.

Asked if the UPND ever attempted to approach the DMMU over its plans to donate 25,000 bags of mealie meal, he explained that the donation was done under Hichilema’s office and not his.

“That was not coming from my department. It was coming from the office of the president…,” Katuka said.

He, however, said well-wishers such as Hichilema should not be harassed whenever they wanted to donate because they are only supplementing government’s effort to alleviate the people’s suffering.

“Every initiative from our party has been receiving negative reaction. Recently, you saw how the police swung into action to block the donation of a genset in Chawama. They sent…police officers to Chawama, deployed by 06:00 hours because there was word that HH was going to donate a genset there. So, it is not the availability, which is an issue [but] it is the principle. Are they willing to receive a donation from an opposition leader? You remember that when people in Eastern Province were eating wild fruits, HH attempted to donate maize there, and he was blocked. So, it’s not the first time and you know that he has that capacity to donate. And we can’t question the capacity that he has, the principle. Are they accepting any donation from him?” Katuka wondered.

“There was a statement from [Home Affairs Minister Stephen] Kampyongo that ‘if he has money, he should use it elsewhere [and] not where government is involved [because] government has its own programme and that he should not donate personal money into areas where government has programmes. But you know that we have power outages in the country. We also have food shortages in the country. People are dying because water has dried up! When he went to inspect the Chongwe Dam, which is drying up, you saw how he was harassed. A well-wisher should not be harassed because he is supplementing government efforts where government is failing.”

He further warned Kampyongo and Lusaka Province minister Bowman Lusambo to tone down and stop propagating hate speech.

“We should also warn them not to respond in a manner that sends negative signals to us. It is them who are circulating malicious stories, especially Kampyongo and his team, and [Bowman] Lusambo. Lusambo and Kampyongo must tone down [because] they are not the only people in government. They go to the extent of issuing a lot of hate speech, tribalism in their speeches, which is not right. We have a country which goes beyond a tribe or region. So, now, with these guys around, they are dividing us,” complained Katuka.