The kind of political violence we are witnessing in Zambia today is what you would expect in a Hollywood movie, or perhaps in war torn Democratic Republic of Congo, but certainly not in a Christian nation. It seems the 2021 campaigns will be about running and sorting each other out instead of talking and finding solutions to the numerous problems facing the country.
The incident that happened in Sinda district last week where PF cadres beat up an opposition UPND official, right at a police station, is a shocking episode. It was bad enough that a citizen fleeing from an imminent political attack sought refuge from the police, yet he was still beaten by assailants in full view of officers. But the heartless explanation from the provincial police chief demonstrate the casual approach that our men and women have towards combating crime.
“We have a case of assault received from Rabson Banda, aged 45 years old, of Nyanje compound in Sinda. He was being followed all the way from Chibuyu ward where they are having those by-elections by a group of about 15 PF cadres, as he was driving coming towards town. When he saw that they were following him, he decided to drive to the police yard for safety and they continued following him. They got hold of him and started beating him. This happened on 18th April 2018 at about 22:00 hours at Sinda police station,” narrated Eastern Province Police Commissioner Sharon Zulu.
“The two officers who were at the inquiry when the victim was rushing for rescue couldn’t identify them because none of these PF cadres were from Sinda. And we are talking of about 15 of them versus two police officers who were at the inquiry. One was in the inquiry, the other one was in the office of the CID where he was writing. So, they were also taken by surprise and by the time they realised somebody was being beaten within their yard, it was too late and they couldn’t even do anything.”
The job of the police is to protect citizens from criminals. Not only are they trained to deal with lawbreakers such as the PF cadres who attacked Rabson Banda, but they are also armed with various necessary weapons to help them demobilize aggressive suspects. So, how can police officers on duty be taken by surprise when they see a person being attacked on their doorstep? If an attack took them by surprise, what then were they expecting in their line of duty, pizza delivery?
This is an example of the incompetencies that we talk about in the police service. And we can add that much as the attack on Banda in front of officers may have been embarrassing to the service, it is not new. But what we find offensive is the justification from the police superiors that the officers at Sinda Police did nothing to protect the victim because they were outnumbered by PF cadres.
Explanations such as this one will inspire citizens to start procuring guns for self-defence and we are sure the police command would not be happy to have a society where every person can open fire at another citizen over political differences. But it will also be nonsensical for those in charge of the police service to expect that citizens will continue relying on helpless police officers who just sit at the enquiries desk waiting for corruption money, and when thieves break-in, they claim to have been taken by surprise.
We are reminded of the incident that happened in May, 2013 in Lusaka where some criminals trailed a cash-carrying businessman on Manchinchi Road. After noticing danger, the businessman drove to Manda Hill Police post hoping to get protection from the law enforcement officers. He parked his vehicle right in front of the station and locked himself inside the car, but the robbers followed him, in broad daylight, fired two shots on the wall of the police station, sending officers scampering for safety. The criminals then got an axe and smashed the window of the victim’s car and got away with a trunk containing an undisclosed amount of money.
Just like in the Sinda incident, the police command said the officers were caught unaware. When waiting for traffic offenders under the Manda Hill footbridge, these officers are never caught by surprise, but when criminals follow them inside the station, they are not ready?
In the Sinda incident, it was even more shocking because the Eastern Province Police chief knew that there were election campaigns going on in the district. She did not explain why the nearest police station did not have security backup for such eventualities, but instead, she had the audacity of telling us that her officers were taken by surprise when bloodshed was taking place at the police station.
If 15 people attacked Banda, then it is obvious that this beating episode took more than five minutes. How much time did the police need to recover from their state of surprise and do something? How does Police Commissioner Zulu explain the fact that no warning shots were fired by Sinda police officers to scare away the thugs and no efforts were made to pursue them after they left? Is that the new policing procedure under this PF government that when lawbreakers move away from the crime scene then they are innocent? Something has terribly gone wrong in the leadership of our country, and these reports of violence are indicative of failed governance.
How does it please the Minister on Home Affairs Stephen Kampyongo that his constituency is the epicenter of political violence? Just as Banda was recovering from a PF beating, GBM was running for his life in the now famous Shiwang’andu, Constituency. Typical of Shiwang’andu violence, PF cadres armed with guns, pangas and axes gave the UPND entourage ahigh speed chase and damaged vehicles belonging to the opposition party. Police officers only turned up after the showdown was over, if one questions them, they will say the officers on the ground were outnumbered or had no transport.
Members of the public don’t know how many police officers are supposed to be on duty at a police station at a given time, and they don’t have to. It is also none of their business how armed the officers are, that is the duty of the police command. All what the citizens know, or think in this case, is that when they are under attack, the safest place is a police station. Once a victim is in the hands of the police, the responsibility to protect and defeat the assailants, regardless of how many and how armed they are, falls squarely on the shoulders of the law enforcement officers.
But if that is too much to ask from the police command, maybe Inspector General Kakoma Kanganja must advise members of the public on what is the acceptable ratio of lawbreakers to police officers, so that we can lobby the criminals not to be turning up in large numbers. Mr Kanganja must also guide these criminals to be writing notice to the police in advance, explaining time and date when they wish to attack so that no officer is caught by surprise.