Tension gripped Zambia’s capital Lusaka, Thursday, instigated by a spate of gassing of households, which has so far been reported in five Provinces, including Copperbelt, North Western, Central and Southern.
Several hundreds of people have been hospitalised after being gassed by unknown people in the night, but most deaths recorded have been as a result of mob justice, a trend that has seen suspects being burnt alive and cars as well as other properties burnt.
In Lusaka, five people have been killed by angry mobs in just two days, forcing government to unleash soldiers on to the streets to curb riots that engulfed Chawama, Mandevu, Garden House area, Misisi, John Howard and Kanyama, among other compounds.
Apart from houses in townships, the MTN Head Office and Northmead Basic School were gassed, and police made several arrests.
Three people were killed by mobs, Thursday, on suspicion that they were behind the gassing while the other two were killed a day earlier, leaving some police officers seriously wounded from the clashes with protesting mobs.
“In the early hours of yesterday, members of the public in Kanyama attacked and killed an unknown male person on suspicion of being one of the people spraying households with chemical substances. They also blocked some roads in the area. Police responded to the report and after picking the body with the view of taking it to UTH, the mob charged and blocked the road and begun throwing all sorts of objects at the officers. As a result, they damaged the Police vehicle for Kanyama Police and further went and caused some damage on the newly constructed police station in the area and a Police House. Later, around 10:30 hours, a mob in Kanyama West damaged a Police post and killed one member of the public,” Katongo said.
“Another mob went and damaged Mumbwa Road Police Post. Various private properties have been damaged by the mob and are yet to be quantified. The irate members of the public in Chawama’s John Howard descended and killed an unknown male adult who was later burnt and later attacked police officers at the Police Station and seriously injured some officers who were on duty. Another disturbance was recorded in Lusaka’s Chaisa area but quick response by police saved the situation from deteriorating. As a result of the confrontation in Chawama and Kanyama, we recorded casualties from both sides.”
She said among the suspects arrested yesterday was a 14-year-old Juvenile of Luangwa compound who allegedly gassed Northmead Primary School.
“We received a report of suspected Malicious Administering of poison with intent to cause harm at Northmead Primary School at 12:00 hours. The police picked up a Juvenile suspect of Luangwa compound aged 14 years who allegedly went to Northmead Primary School and sprayed a substance in Room Five (for Grade Seven) thereby, affecting pupils who were learning and four were affected and were taken to Shimizu Clinic in Garden compound for treatment. The suspect is in police custody and the substance has been taken for laboratory analysis,” Katongo said.
She also said unknown people walked into the MTN headquarters finance department and poured an unknown substance which smelt like petrol.
“We have also received information from MTN security on behalf of MTN on Zambezi Road in Roma Township that unknown people walked into the Finance Department and poured on the floors an unknown substance smelling like petrol in the pool office. The Police visited the scene of crime and found two by five litres blue empty containers, two plastics containing yellowish liquid smelling like petrol and a black backpack. The yellowish liquid was also spotted on the floors. A docket has since been opened. This occurred between 12th February, 2020 at 23:00 hours and 13th February, 2020 at 01:00 hours,” Katongo said.
She reiterated that the tendency by members of the public to attack and kill suspected criminals was unlawful.
“We reiterate our earlier call that people should be calm and allow the police to do their work without undue disturbance. The prevailing situation where members of the public are resorting to attacking police officers and getting to the street to riot is defeating the whole purpose of investigating the incidences of Malicious Administering of chemical substance on innocent citizens by criminals as the police may shift their attention to quelling riots. We regret the loss of lives that have occurred, however, we wish warn the general public to desist from taking the law in their own hands as that may come with serious repercussion,” warned Katongo.
“The tendency by members of the public to attack and kill suspected criminals is unlawful and is against our culture as Zambians.”
Act on gassing if you’re not a beneficiary, HH tells Lungu
In a statement yesterday, UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema challenged President Edgar Lungu to end the unrest if he was not a beneficiary.
“The continued gassing and putting of lives at risk by criminals while the PF pay a blind eye is unfortunate for the country. Once more, we would like to condemn this barbaric behavior and call on Mr Edgar Lungu to for once show leadership by directing part of the State resources to protecting citizens from these criminals. Security for our people must come first and not vote buying. Our people are living in fear and spending sleepless nights yet Mr Edgar Lungu has remained mute on this very serious issue bordering on national security. Unless they are beneficiaries, the PF should now direct their efforts against these criminals that are gassing people,” said Hichilema.
“Please show leadership now before citizens start taking the law in their own hands to protect themselves.”
Gassing sponsored by opposition – PF
But Lands Minister Jean Kapata told Parliament in a point of order that the gassing incidents happening around the country were politically motivated because mobs were chanting political party slogans.
She charged that the opposition were celebrating the death of three people in Lusaka.
“I am rising on a point of order on the spraying of people which has spread from the Copperbelt, North-Western and now Lusaka. This, Mr Speaker, raises a lot of suspicions and I want to say that it is politically motivated because the opposition who are supposed to be working hand in hand with government in such a crisis are busy celebrating the death of people in Lusaka. I speak so because this morning in my constituency, in Mandevu and in particular speaking for Chaisa Compound, people woke up around 03:00 hours, just a handful, maybe about 10 people and started knocking on people’s homes and saying ‘the police have arrested people that were gassing people.’ And within a short period of time, people came out of their homes, and immediately the crowd got bigger and people started chanting political party slogans,” said Kapata.
“It means these, our colleagues the opposition political parties, would do anything to get to State House. They don’t care if people die or don’t die. As I speak today, three people have died. Innocent blood has been shed here in Lusaka and if they were concerned, we would have been working together. Are they in order to push people in our constituencies using their slogans? I need your serious ruling Mr Speaker.”
In his ruling, Speaker of the National Assembly Dr Patrick Matibini called on the members of the House to be patient and wait for Home Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo to render a ministerial statement next week.
“In my ruling yesterday (Wednesday), I did indicate that the Minister of Homes Affairs should come to the House next week on Tuesday to give an update on the efforts being made by the relevant public agencies to secure public safety. It is not within my remedy to rule or adjudicate on the response which certain members of the public may be giving to these very unfortunate events. It is not even the business of this House to dwell on. So I would urge that honourable members, we wait until the Minister of Home Affairs comes to the House to give an update. And those reactions, quite frankly, politically motivated or otherwise, are not my concern. There are other platforms outside available for you politicians to engage one another,” said Speaker Matibini.
Meanwhile, PF media director Sunday Chanda echoed Kapata’s remarks in a statement.
“We are aware that opposition UPND’s foreign funders have run out of patience. One of Opposition’s tick boxes and conditions to continue receiving funding from their fatigued sponsors is if they can successfully fuel civil unrest and make Zambia ungovernable. UPND does not care about the peace and prosperity of Zambia. All they are concerned about is to get power by any means – even if it means leaving our nation in a bloodied ruin of ashes. Zambians can see through their wicked plans. We are watching every step they take and they can be assured that we are ten steps ahead of them. They are panicking and it’s just a matter of time when they will reap what they sow,” stated Chanda.