FATHER Richard Luonde says if Home Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo is a genuine leader, he should apologize for stigmatising people living with HIV/AIDS.
Last Friday, Kampyongo lashed out at News Diggers! managing director Joseph Mwenda over a news story where the former was cited as being one of the top government officials who were quarantined as a precautionary measure amid the COVID-19 pandemic after he had travelled to Namibia on official duty.
“For you, our colleagues in the media, you imagine coming here on a very big platform to say, ‘no, Mr Joseph Mwenda, who was at The Post, now at [News] Diggers!…I saw him at the clinic collecting ARVs and I think that’s why he has gone slim, he is HIV positive,’ can you imagine? How many people would take that and how much impact it would have on Mr Mwenda’s family? So, we have to be responsible, we are public figures, not that we are super human beings, we all get through these conditions and when we do, it’s just important that the general public gets to know,” Kampyongo said during Hot FM’s breakfast show, Friday morning.
Subsequently, Health Minister Dr Chitalu Chilufya had confirmed media reports where he announced that both Kampyongo and Finance Minister Dr Bwalya Ng’andu were quarantined and tested negative for COVID-19.
Commenting on Kampyongo’s remarks, Fr Luonde said there was no link to compare between being in quarantine and living with HIV/AIDS.
“The kind of leadership that we have in this country leaves much to be desired. I am saying this because it was very saddening and upsetting to hear how a Minister, who is supposed to console and encourage Zambians with the difficulties that we are going through in terms of the COVID- 19 that has hit the world, and as at now, we don’t know where it is leading us and where it will end, [stigmatising people living with HIV]. A lot of people have lost their lives in the pandemic that has no vaccine, a pandemic that has no cure and in that briefing, we were supposed to be encouraged as Zambians on how we should carry ourselves and be able to cope with the COVID-19. But here is a Minister, who, when I read in the (News) Diggers! tabloid, it simply said: ‘Honourable Minister Kampyongo quarantined because he is just returning from a visit in a foreign nation’,” Fr Luonde said.
“It didn’t say that, ‘he had COVID-19.’ Even if he had, is it a sin? Is he telling me that the…people that have died worldwide are sinners because they were afflicted with COVID-19? The answer is no. And honestly, to put salt on an injury, he goes to refer one Joseph Mwenda of Diggers! to say, ‘if I, Honorable Kampyongo, said to Joseph or made it public that I saw you receiving ARVs’…honestly speaking, to him, the people who are HIV positive and those who are under quarantine and those who have died because of COVID-19 are sinners? That is not right. All of us, who are leaders, be it in the Church, be it in industry, be it in the media, we are supposed to have respect and regard for other people. When someone is HIV positive, we don’t need to condemn them, it’s wrong!”
He said it was evident that Zambians had leaders that did not care about the lives of their citizens, except for themselves.
“If I was a person, who was called or referred to as an HIV positive person, I would go to court because by law, even in our Constitution, if I am non mistaken, it’s clearly stated that anyone who calls someone to be HIV positive, be it in public or anyone else, are liable to be sued. And what the Minister did and said on that [radio] has left people wondering if truly we have a leadership that cares for its citizens, a leadership that cares about those who are sick, a leadership, which is able to console and encourage the afflicted…I did not see that in Honourable Kampyongo. And this clearly tells us that the majority of the leaders that we have don’t care about the lives of anybody, but themselves,” Fr Luonde argued.
He called on leaders to respect people the same way they would want to be respected.
“If I am quarantined today for having been found to be positive of COVID-19, do I become a sinner there and then? I am positive because probably I mingled with people who had the virus without knowing and this is the calamity the world is facing. Instead of being helpful to my being quarantined, people become negative, it is not being fair. Because if I say, ‘I found him collecting ARVs’ he was simply saying that all those who are on ARVs, who are receiving medication are not the right people to be in Zambia, you cannot go that way. He is saying that those who have Tuberculosis, those who have cancer are condemned people, no! Let us begin to respect people the way we expect to be respected,” said Fr Luonde.
“And if we are genuine leaders who are there to serve the people, I expect an apology from you because a lot of people, no matter how healthy they look, some of them could be HIV positive, others could have COVID-19 because they have mingled with those who had come from outside and these are diseases that could be fought if we work together as Zambians and unite. Such statements will simply send us as a nation into a separate way.”