PARLIAMENT’S unanimous decision to criminalize hate speech should lead to a reduction in political violence once the proposed law is enacted, says the Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (SACCORD).

And SACCORD says it expects President Edgar Lungu to address the escalating violence in the country and its root causes stemming from hate speech at the forthcoming parliamentary speech on National Values this week.

Last week, members of parliament unanimously agreed to adopt a motion moved by Mazabuka UPND member of parliament Gary Nkombo, urging government to enforce a law that criminalizes the use of divisive, tribal hate and discriminatory sentiments in Zambia.

Commenting on the landmark development, SACCORD executive director Boniface Chembe, who observed that violent communication or hate speech dehumanized people, commended lawmakers for the unity adopted when adopting the motion.

He, however, said the proposed piece of legislation, once passed, should lead to reduced incidences of political violence.

“As SACCORD, we welcome the multi-partisan support that was given to the motion moved the opposition UPND member of parliament, Honourable Gary Nkombo, on the need for the country to look very seriously into matters of hate speech or tribalism as it were. We have always trusted and believed that when it comes to such things, our leaders are able to rise above political inclination and do what is right for the country and for that, we want to commend very highly all members of parliament who supported this motion. As a country, we have enjoyed peace since Independence. That peace has not always come by accident or by chance, we have always worked hard in putting in place the right measures to ensure that we continue to nurture this peace so that it is sustainable and, ultimately, through that sustainability, the people of Zambia continue to be afforded an opportunity for peace. So, as SACCORD, we really commend the support that this motion was given,” Chembe said in an interview.

“We must never allow issues of hate speech, tribalism and violent communication to take root in our country at the expense of the peace that we have enjoyed since Independence and, clearly, this one aspect in terms of national issues has shown how committed our national leaders are when it comes to acting in the interest of the nation when it matters the most. So, we commend our members of parliament for rising above partisan politics and, of course, it is the right thing to do in the right direction for us to continue putting in place the right measures to continue to uphold the Republic of Zambia to be peaceful and ensure that through that peace, citizens are given to live their lives freely.”

He noted that there was a direct connection between hate speech and violence.

“There is no doubt that there is a direct connection between hate speech and violence because when somebody feels disrespected on account of violent communication, they would always want to restore their integrity by acting in a manner that defends them as being human being. What violent communication or hate speech does is to dehumanize people, so people will always want to find a way of humanizing themselves. So, it is a source of conflict. That is why we believe that having a clear and strong piece of legislation in place is something that we must ensure is put in place. In this case, the Bill against hate speech will deal directly with such things,” Chembe said.

And when asked what SACCORD’s expectation was from the upcoming Presidential address on National Values this week, he said President Lungu should address the escalating violence in the country and its root causes.

Over the last three months, the country experienced sporadic incidences of violence spurred by mob injustice attacks on suspected gassers in various parts of the country.

“Our first and foremost expectation as SACCORD is that the President will be able to clearly highlight the milestones that we have been able to achieve as a country as regards the different issues where national values of the Republic are concerned and anything important towards national development. Secondly, it is equally important for the Head of State to highlight some of the challenges that we are facing as a country and the measures we are putting in place to be able to overcome those challenges. So, we expect the Head of State to really lay out his vision for the country once again. He should be able to speak to the achievements and challenges of that vision and, of course, speak to the measures that are being put in place to be able to address some of those challenges,” said Chembe.

“Then, specifically, we would want also the Head of State to be able to address issues of unity of the country, the ‘One Zambia, One Nation’ and the extent to which we are embracing that unity. The President should be able to tell us what government is doing and continues to do in order to ensure that the motto of ‘One Zambia, One Nation’ continues to be a reality for the country…Over and above that, one of the best selling points of the Republic of Zambia is the maintenance of our peace. The President should clearly explain how these national values of the Republic continue to feed into the nurturing and the sustenance of the peace that the country has continued to experience since Independence. So, we’ve got great expectations from the Presidential address.”