A consortium of civil society organizations says government’s attempt to abolish UNZALARU is a measure to curb dissent.

And UNZALARU secretary general Dr Kelvin Mambwe says the Labor Commissioner acted in an unfair manner.

In a statement signed by Chapter One Foundation executive director Linda Kasonde, Monday, the CSOs said attempts to stifle alternative perspectives would lead to the beginning of authoritarianism.

“The undersigned civil society organizations are gravely concerned by the move by government to abolish the University of Zambia Lecturers and Researchers’ Union (UNZALARU), purportedly for “unbridled insults” from the union. We note that UNZALARU has been critical of the government on various issues relating to the governance of the country. Whilst civility is encouraged in engaging with the government, the attempt to abolish UNZALARU appears to be a measure to curb dissent. This is worrying in a country that purports to be a democracy where the market place of ideas should be allowed to flourish and where criticism of government should be a natural part of the democratic discourse. We further note that the trend by the government to try and silence critical voices in the country is growing,” the statement, which was also issued on behalf of Alliance for Community Action, CTPD, NGOCC, ActionAid, CiSCA, GEARS and Caritas Zambia, read.

“Most notably, in the recent past, the government attempted to dissolve the Law Association of Zambia and to abolish student unions at our public universities. It is our considered view that such attempts to stifle alternative perspectives and provision of checks and balances can lead to the emergence of authoritarianism and the continued shrinking of the civic space. We therefore wish to call on government to immediately halt this trend and allow citizens to freely participate in the governance processes of our country at various levels. This is every citizen’s treasured right and freedom in the spirit of leaving no one behind. We stand in solidarity with UNZALARU and wish to reiterate our resolve and commitment as part of the larger civil society, to continue championing the entrenchment of tenets of democracy and good governance in Zambia.”

And in an interview, Dr Mambwe predicted that salary delays would worsen because there would be no one to speak for members.

“We feel that the Labor Commissioner was not fair in how the whole issue was handled and that the decision she made was unfortunate. She did not take into account the interest of the membership who are going to be left without representation amidst a situation where the employer is failing to meet its obligations. So it is very unfortunate that this is happening and happening in this manner where we are not being paid, today is February 10, our members have not been paid yet and so if there is no representation, these delays may even worsen because there won’t be anyone to speak for the members,” Dr Mambwe said.

Dr Mambwe said UNZALARU would only decide on the way forward after determination of the court process.

“At the moment, since we are going for a legal redress, we can only decide the way forward depending on what the courts will say because we are going to court tomorrow and we are hoping that the court will rule in our favor and that everything goes back to normal. We will only be able to give our position once the courts have given a determination,” said Dr Mambwe.