ARCHBISHOP Telespore Mpundu says the continued acceptance of cash donations by clergymen from politicians takes away their freedom and ability to speak out on the ills affecting society.

And Archbishop Mpundu says this year’s election will be a litmus test for Zambia’s “self-proclaimed” democracy, insisting that as things stand now, the country is a dictatorship.

Speaking during a Capital FM radio programme, Monday, Archbishop Mpundu lamented that it broke his heart to see church leaders accept cash handouts from politicians because it took away their freedom and ability to speak out on social ills affecting the citizenry.

“So, don’t be surprised that among us religious leaders, Christians, and at the very highest level, we dance to the tune of those who have money. It is sad! Where are we going if our religious leaders are also prone to corruption, where are we going? Even you people, if you have those family values developed in you, you should come together and say, ‘we are approaching our religious leaders’ and say, ‘look, what you are doing is not right, it is not correct.’ These bishops or senior church leaders, they are the ones doing that, it is human, but it is wrong. It breaks my heart, it does. You give something away as well, freedom and especially freedom to speak,” Archbishop Mpundu said.

“From our traditional knowledge, when you are eating, you don’t talk. For us, time for meals are sacred. It is done at the expense of your work as a religious leader or as a political leader. You are going to sacrifice your integrity. You are doing violence to yourself. It breaks my heart twice because those who are doing that are supposed to be pastors, shepherds. When us religious, political leaders, we stop feeding the sheep, that is the people, then you start eating the sheep. That is wrong!”

And Archbishop Mpundu said that the upcoming August 12 polls would be a litmus test to Zambia’s “self-proclaimed” democracy.

He maintained that Zambia remained in a dictatorship because there was no level-playing field for opposition political parties to operate.

“The election time, I think it is a litmus test to our self-proclaimed democracy. There has to be a level-playing field for all political players. All political players must be free to come up there to share their ideas. It is not only the ruling party who has solutions to problems or who can lead this country. Let the people choose, how are people going to choose? People are going to choose through the ballot. If there is interference with the ballot, something is wrong, the ballot should be protected. Today, political players are not free, why? Because of a law that was enacted in 1955, the Public Order Act. It was enacted by the British to stall any political agitation for independence for Africans. Then, after independence, we hung on to it till today. Take it away, it is undemocratic. A level-playing field is a place where people are free to speak. So, I would like to see this happen. We can claim to be a democratioc country? We are not! As it is now, this is a dictatorship of one party. So, let this playing field be levelled for everybody,” Archbishop Mpundu said.

“Why would a political party be intent on creating violence? You know, politics is the biggest game in the whole world. So, do away with political violence because it is also reflecting with the violence that is at home. Political violence is primitive, we have to get rid of it and it should be outlawed. Let us see those groupings of political youths, let them be criminalised. Let it be against the law to belong or assist these groups, they call them cadres. Let them be criminalised, then ourselves as a nation, we call ourselves a Christian nation, what? And we have all these people who are killing others and beating others, no way! Let us criminalise them.”

Archbishop Mpundu added that President Edgar Lungu should not be misled by his praise singers who told him that everything in the country was alright.

“There was one of the American presidents who said patriotism is not going your own way or the way of one political party, or with your president, patriotism is being loyal to your country. We are not being patriotic by prasing the President, there are too many people who praise the President, pressure makes diamonds. The problem in Zambia is that anyone who criticises the political party in power, they belong to the opposition. How are you going to perform if we are not criticised? People who criticise love you and they want you to change. In Zambia, no one at the top wants to be criticised, it is wrong. They are missing a lot. Praise-singers are missing a lot. The President should not be misled by these praise-singers, they are the first ones to run away when things become tough,” he said.

“Why would the press go all the way to praise the President when he left so much in his speech? What is sad is that these institutions that are supposed to be policing one another: the Judiciary, the Executive, the National Assembly, they don’t do their work. They should come up and do their work to protect citizens who are law-abiding from the bad ones who are breaking the law. Why should the Judiciary be threatened when they are doing their work? Why should the media to inform people be constrained? Public media for that matter. Mpundu comes up and says, ‘things are not right’ you say, ‘you want to become President.’ I don’t want to become anything apart from what I am, please let this country be free; let people speak; you are going to be a lot wiser. I wish you well, but if you are not going to be following areas of good governance, it is very difficult to praise you. It is my duty to tell you.”

He said that if President Lungu had taken stern action on corruption earlier on in his Presidency, various vices would have been prevented.

“You are talking about corruption, God’s law is written in our hearts. We know it is wrong to be corrupt and we go ahead and we think that we are going to be children of God? No! You don’t corrupt yourself, you need about two people, it takes two to tangle. If our family values are warped, we take that even in political life. Lately, I have been in the news for probably the wrong reasons and so on. We, the people of Zambia, we go out, cast our votes when we are casting our votes for MPs and also for the President. It is the President who is given the responsibility of the captain of this ship called ‘Zambia.’ Anything goes wrong, it is the coach being blamed and the captain. Anyone who wishes the President well, like me, this man should have taken stern action right from the beginning. If he had done that, a lot of things could not have happened. If you are soft and you have to be very lenient, it doesn’t help. It is not that we hate President Lungu, no way, we sympathise with him; he should have put down his foot with a strong hand and that is that,” said Archbishop Mpundu.

“When you are talking about a ‘humble leader,’ we are talking about humble service to God’s people. It doesn’t mean that you don’t take stern action to make sure that your service to the people is what it should be and that is what it is. It is humble service. You are not there loading over people. All leaders are not chosen by God, but God is our father; he is our Creator; He permits our own traditional ways of choosing leaders. Here we come up, we want to elect leaders through the ballot, this is a method which is very imperfect, we all know and God allows that to happen. When you hear that, ‘this person has been anointed by God,’ it is a lie.”