VETERAN politician Vernon Johnson Mwaanga says Zambia has lost its historic description as an “oasis of peace” on the African continent under the PF government because freedom of speech has come under attack.

Responding to a press query, Mwaanga stated that it was barbaric for opposition party leaders to be prevented from appearing on community or private radio stations due to the ruling party cadres’ ongoing violence and intimidation.

Mwaanga was commenting on the latest spate of violence at Mbala-based Radio Luswepo where PF cadres stormed the media outlet and damaged private property just to stop Democratic Party president Harry Kalaba from featuring live on-air.

“There was a time in the history of Zambia, when we were referred to as the ‘oasis of peace’ on the African continent. Sadly, in the last few years of PF rule, we have lost that special description. It is barbaric for opposition party leaders to be prevented from appearing on community or private radio stations around the country by unruly party cadres, who continue to storm into these radio stations and disrupt programmes, some of them paid-for in advance,” Mwaanga stated.

“They damage the property of radio stations, threaten the lives of journalists, whose professional duty is to educate, inform and entertain members of the public. The media is an important part of governance and they must be given generous space to do their work, including exposing abuse of power, corruption, unfair or harmful statements by some of the immature and irresponsible politicians who promote tribalism and grossly undermine our carefully thought-out national motto of ‘One Zambia, One nation’.”

And Mwaanga expressed disappointment in President Lungu’s lack of condemnation of his unruly PF cadres.

“What I find disappointing is the loud silence of our Head of State, President Edgar Lungu, who is not condemning his cadres who commit these despicable acts of lawlessness. No political party leader should condone violence in whatever form or shape, regardless of who commits it. Violence is retrogressive; it is an enemy of democracy, peace, progress and stability. Politics is not about war. It is about competition of ideas. Those seeking public office must be afforded equal opportunities to get their messages to the voters using ZNBC and all other radio and television networks to get their messages to the voters, who are the final judges on election day,” he added.

“General elections are less than seven months away and all fair-minded Zambians would like to see violence-free elections, which will create a level-playing field for all the participants throughout Zambia. If this is what is happening now, what more when campaigns begin? This equal and fair access to all the media – the public media in particular – which is owned by the people and not the ruling party of the day, at any given time. I greatly admire South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) for the balanced and fair manner in which they cover all political parties. Equal access to the public media during elections is adequately covered in both the SADC and AU election protocols.”

Mwaanga called for strong sanctions against political parties that engaged in political violence to stop the vice.

“There must be drastic sanctions against political parties engaging in political violence, which must include disqualification of parliamentary and local government candidates in those constituencies where violence occurs. When president Levy Mwanawasa took a zero tolerance approach to violence from 2001 to 2008, we had peaceful co-existence among all the political parties. There was political dialogue, where political parties met behind closed doors, to discuss the future of our country. This approach requires leadership. That is the Zambia we want to see. I want to urge all the registered political parties to press for political dialogue urgently and thereafter meet with the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ), to agree on ground rules for the forthcoming tripartite elections, which must be observed at each and every stage and to sign a ‘no violence declaration’ before, during and after the elections,” Mwaanga said.

“MMD institutionalised political dialogue, which has now been discarded by the PF, at great cost to the country. Our people are already struggling to put food on the table for their families because of the ever-escalating cost of living. Violence is the last thing they want to see.”

Meanwhile, Mwaanga said no amount of ill-gotten wealth would alleviate Zambians’ suffering.

“No amount of rampant ill-gotten cash distribution, whose videos have gone viral, on social media, will alleviate the suffering of the overwhelming majority of our people. They need development; employment; clean water; better healthcare; education for their children; better roads; good agricultural policies; shelter; affordable public transport, among others. Our new breed of politicians must grow up and learn to put Zambia first and not their own welfare or that of their families and friends. Power is never permanent. It will change from time to time and that is why politicians should be civil to each other, even when they disagree, because no one can predict what tomorrow will bring, except God,” said Mwaanga.