MUSICIAN Maiko Zulu says the K30 million musicians’ empowerment fund was a direct reaction to the bush protests and is nothing other than a PF scheme to silence musicians ahead of the 2021 general election.

But Zulu says there are still a number of musicians who have independent minds and have refused to be bought, revealing that some corrupt elements had so far tried to offer him 60 acres of land as a way of silencing him.

“For me, it’s not surprising that the empowerment fund is suddenly coming out of the closet. I think the current government has been in office for quite some time and we have not seen any empowerment to artists. You can already see that this was a direct reaction from the ‘bush protests’ that we had and it’s also a way of silencing the voice of musicians, especially as we head towards the 2021 general election. If you have noticed, since the announcement of the empowerment funds, a lot of artists are in the closet. They fear to talk because they fear that they may be denied the empowerment fund. So, the strategy seems to be working for the government in power,” Zulu said in an interview.

He said that musicians have over the past been neglected in terms of empowerment projects and wondered why the PF suddenly rolled out the controversial empowerment fund just before next year’s polls.

“But I want to say that we have a number of musicians, who are still standing up on behalf of the people. And it’s very difficult to buy independent minds. The young people in the country have been the least in government’s programmes. We had predicted that come 2020 to 2021, you will see a lot of youth empowerment funds. Already, we have seen the aqua culture funds, and the artists fund itself. But when you look at history, again, we had the youth empowerment fund where a certain sector for young people were given buses, but where are they now? So, these are stories that we have seen before and we know that after people are voted into power, then the issues of the young people and the artists will die a natural death,” he said.

He, however, urged fellow artists to continue being relevant and voice their views out on matters of public interest.

“Even just before the empowerment funds, I know for a fact that the National Arts Council personnel were not getting paid for some time and suddenly after the bush protest, there was K30 million being dangled in front of the artists! My message to the artists is that, they need to continue being relevant, especially in matters that are in public interest because artists are supposed to be the voice of the voiceless and the voice of the marginalised. And it’s a social responsibility, they are indebted to bring certain issues to light that the ordinary citizens may not have the privilege to bring out,” Zulu said.

He disclosed that corrupt elements had tried to offer him land to buy his silence.

“It’s very challenging. I will tell you that I personally have had offers of land from some people just for me to lay back in terms of advocating for human rights work and so on. And these are offers that we know do not have the good will. We have rejected these offers. My wife, too, has that offer; my daughter has that offer as well. We were promised 20 acres of land each and so on. And I have told the people that have come to offer us this land that it’s very difficult for a person like me to accept such an offer at this time and to accept an offer that is directing me to some extent to be mute in terms of national issues. I don’t think it’s fair. And I have told them that I think there are more underprivileged people who may need that land more than I do. I have a piece of land, which I have not developed up to now, and I think it will be unfair for me to jump into another piece of land instead of somebody who is more privileged. And issues of land, really, people need to understand that you can apply for land as a citizen from the Ministry of Lands and you can be given land. So, land should not be used as a means to silence people,” he revealed.

He stressed that he still valued his integrity more than wealth.

“I know that a number of people have applied for these empowerment schemes and I have no problem with that. But for me and for the group that I am working with, we value integrity more than wealth. And that is why we have gone out of our way to offer our service to the public and to bring out issues just like the way we have gone to court over the ECZ issue. That is our approach. It will be very difficult for some of us to be bought. You know, we can be sold, but we cannot be bought,” Zulu added.

Zulu further said his main drive in his advocacy work was to see equality among citizens and to build strength and trust in institutions of governance.

“For me, the main driver is the desire to see equality in a country that was once a beacon of democracy. My desire is to see our institutions being strengthened and trusted. Today, it’s very difficult to trust the police, for example, because they are dented. A cadre can go and order the police commander. So, institutions need to be strengthened, our democracy needs to be strengthened. Our country is only a democracy on paper when in actual fact institutions are being used to exploit people, to deny certain people their rights, and to trample upon people that are perceived to be opposing the establishment. When I see a number of university graduates languishing in the streets without jobs, then it reminds me of what some politicians have been telling us that, ‘we are going to give people jobs,’ ‘we are going to give people opportunities, less taxes, more money in their pockets’ and this is the opposite of what is happening,” said Zulu.

“Right now, our country has been ransomed to foreigners. The major industries, for example, the means of production do not belong to Zambians, and for me, that is a problem. If our mines do not belong to us, if the copper that is being produced there does not benefit a boy in Wusakile or Kamitondo, then why should we even have the mines open? Shut the mines because they are benefiting foreigners. The prime investments in the tourism sector do not belong to Zambians. All those nice lodges you see in Livingstone belong to foreigners. When you look at forestry, for example, is not for us. We are merely Zambians just by NRC. There is nothing that we can talk about to say, ‘I own this as a Zambian.’ So, people want answers.”