VARIOUS stakeholders were yesterday outraged over Local Government and Rural Development Minister Gary Nkombo’s action of forcing a Lusaka woman and her children to drink Kachasu.

Human Rights Commission Chairperson Mudford Mwandenga said the action was at variance with the pronouncements by the President of his government’s commitment to respect the rule of law and protection of human rights.

And Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) honorary secretary Sokwani Chilembo said Nkombo’s actions were not only illegal, but constituted a form of pre-emptive punishment against the woman in question, without subjecting her to the judicial process.

Meanwhile, Chapter One Foundation executive director Linda Kasonde equally condemned Nkombo, stating that Ministers were expected to promote a high standard of adherence to national values.

Shortly after midday, Nkombo was moved to apologise to the woman, her children and society at large.

On Tuesday, Nkombo conducted an inspection in Lusaka’s Garden compound where he forced a woman who brews illicit alcohol, popularly known as Kachasu, and her two children to drink the same on the premise that they would understand how bad it was.

But in statement, Wednesday, Mwandenga said Nkombo’s conduct amounted to victimisation of suspects.

“The Commission finds the Minister’s conduct to be arbitrary and a violation of the woman’s and her children’s human rights. Forcing the trio to drink the illicit beer or face arrest amounted to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and was a violation of Article 15 of the Constitution, Chapter 1 of the Laws of Zambia. The Minister’s conduct further violated the rights of the woman and her children to secure the protection of the law as provided for under Article 18 of the Constitution. The Commission is concerned that the Minister extended the illegal punishment to the woman’s children, who might possibly be under age and that his conduct amounted to victimisation of suspects,” said Mwandenga.

“Brewing or selling prohibited beverages such as kachasu has prescribed penalties under the law and forcing perpetrators to consume the prohibited products is not one of the prescribed punishments and must, therefore, be condemned. The Minister is, accordingly, advised to leave law enforcement to designated offices and officers as prescribed by the law. In conclusion, the Commission finds the conduct of Mr Nkombo to be at variance with the pronouncements that have been made by the Republican President of his administration’s commitment to respect the rule of law and to the promotion and protection of human rights for all.”

And in a separate statement, Chilembo said Nkombo’s actions were not only illegal but constituted a form of pre-emptive punishment against the woman without subjecting her to the judicial process.

“While LAZ does not condone any activity from any person which is contrary to the provisions of the law, LAZ expects that Government and all its officials, Ministers included, to obey the laws of the land even when dealing with citizens accused of breaking the law. LAZ strongly condemns the Honourable Minister’s actions, which are not only illegal, but constitute a form of pre-emptive punishment against the woman, without subjecting her to the judicial process. This is contrary to the presumption of innocence enshrined under Article 18(2) of the Constitution,” said Chilembo.

“Additionally, the humiliating conduct amounting to degrading treatment or punishment is expressly prohibited under Article 15 of the Bill of Rights as guaranteed by the Constitution. It is the view of LAZ that the actions of the Minister undermine the Rule of Law and Constitutionalism in the country. We, therefore, urge government officials to desist from executing their functions in an arbitrary manner, but instead execute their official duties within the confines of the law whilst respecting rights of the citizens of this country.”

Meanwhile, Kasonde said Ministers were expected to promote a high standard of adherence to national values.

“While Chapter One Foundation does not condone or encourage the illegal brewing of alcoholic substances, we must condemn in the strongest terms the actions of the Minister in forcing those allegedly found operating such breweries to drink the illicit brew. The person’s whom the Minister caused to drink their brews are all entitled to several rights under the constitution and the various international and regional human rights instruments to which Zambia has bound itself. The Minister took the law into his own hands, acting as plaintiff, prosecutor, judge and enforcer. These actions threaten any efforts to install adherence to the rule of law which had been corroded over the past several years,” said Kasonde.

Nkombo then apologised for his actions, saying he took full responsibility after deep reflection.

“I would want to address the condemnation and mixed feelings about yesterday in Garden compound. The court of public opinion is extremely crucial and ignoring it could be suicidal. My engagement with the press is firstly to tender an apology to the lady who we tried to contact this morning to bring her to me to speak to her about the trauma that may have been caused by my emotional action of having them to taste the illegal kachasu they have been brewing,” said Nkombo.

“I am very sorry and I seek their forgiveness. I have searched my soul, I have reflected deeply around my actions of inducing the said beer on her children who are not children by the way to taste the traditional alcohol. I am convinced after reflection that it was a disproportional action on my part and for that my first call is to take full responsibility for that emotional action. I want to extend my plea for forgiveness not only to the family but to the country in my action. I am hoping my apology is accepted.”

Meanwhile, brewers of the illicit beer lamented that the government wanted to stop them from conducting a business which was a source of their livelihood.

“We voted for them but why do they want to come and stop our business today? This is where we get money to take our children to school and feed our families,” a woman from Garden compound said.

Another woman said: “If they want to stop us from doing this business, then we want change. This is not the change we wanted. How will we feed our families?”