AUTHORITIES at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport (KKIA) yesterday stopped UPND president Hakainde Hichilema from traveling to the Copperbelt Province to attend the burial service of party Copperbelt youth chairman Ronald Bwalya Manenga.

And on the Copperbelt, Police sealed off Kalulushi airstrip where Hichilema scheduled to land from.

Hichilema was earlier cleared by Airport staff to travel to the Copperbelt, but was abruptly stopped, Thursday morning as he attempted to board a flight enroute to Ndola.

A pilot, only identified as Edward, informed Hichilema that no one was allowed to fly locally onwards to the Copperbelt.

“There is this official notice that no one is allowed to fly into the Copperbelt today (Thursday). National flights are allowed, but local operators, any local plane, are not allowed to fly in the Copperbelt. So, I am afraid we have to cancel our flight. There is no reason given, I asked them on the phone, they said they will issue a NOTAM (Notice to Air-Men). Normally, a NOTAM like this will start with a word like due to COVID or due to resurfacing of the runway or something like that, but this NOTAM gives no reason,” explained Edward.

“We know that his Excellency, the President flew into Ndola this morning and there was a NOTAM advising that there would be a disruption of flying in and out, which was issued last night, which is normal, it explains that due to VIP movement, there will be interruptions. But in this case, there was no reason given so we can’t really say anything. There is nothing more we can do here. I picked this [NOTAM] about half an hour ago, around 11 o’clock, I haven’t seen it yet on the e-mails, they usually distribute them. It was only that we went to the briefing office and asked them for a copy. My understanding is that even before that in the morning before this was issued, other pilots have been told that they can’t fly to the Copperbelt.”

In a brief address to the media, Hichilema said it was unacceptable that he was not allowed to travel to the Copperbelt and attend Manenga’s burial.

“This is a very bad day for our country! I can’t believe what is going on. I think the nation needs to know what is going on. It is unacceptable! This is the reason why Zambians must conclude in unity, in unison that there is need to change. It is time for change and that time for change is in 2021. We cannot continue living like this, that we can’t mourn each other. You close the whole Copperbelt? It is unprecedented. It is a very sad day for Zambia,” Hichilema complained.

Later, Hichilema addressed mourners at Manenga’s funeral via Zoom.

“I would have loved to mourn our freedom fighter Ronald Manenga, but this autocracy of leadership has other ways of doing things, by blocking others from attending funerals,” said Hichilema.

“This is a country that can be run better, but today it is not for that but to honor Manenga who is our freedom fighter, who demonstrated his leadership through the challenges of this Province.”

And acting UPND vice president Mutale Nalumango, who was present at the funeral, said it was unacceptable that Hichilema was blocked from traveling.

But Patriotic Front Copperbelt chairman Nathan Chanda said President Edgar Lungu was not on the Copperbelt to cause confusion or block anyone.

Chanda said the Head of State was in the province specifically for developmental projects.