The right to life is fundamental; under no circumstances must it be violated. The reality of human rights protection is one that continues to elude the Patriotic Front under President Edgar Lungu. The nation remains in shock at the death of a defenceless young female student at the hands of police brutality.
Everyone was heartbroken except those in leadership. Instead of taking responsibility and sympathizing with the bereaved family, we saw sarcastic messages coming from government officials tormenting those who were grieving. We know that people like Chief Government Spokesperson Dora Siliya and her accomplices in the PF media team are capable of defending anything as along as it keeps their political career alive, but we plead with them to respect the sanctity of life.
It was really unfortunate that angry students accosted Honourable Siliya and started booing while calling her a prostitute at the funeral. We condemn that in the strongest sense possible. In our African and Zambian culture, not only are elders supposed to be respected, but a funeral is no such place for settling scores or applying vengeance.
These youths at the University of Zambia must not hide behind the veil of being students to justify unruly behaviour. They are fully grown adults who represent the crème de la crème of the Zambian intelligentsia, so they must stop exhibiting thug behaviour. Looking at the video of these UNZA students hailing insults at the minister, one would think those were call boys at a bus station reprimanding a skimpily dressed girl and not university students expressing anger at a government official. There has to be a difference.
But no sooner had we expressed our disgust for this conduct than we saw retaliation from the minister with a similar measure of emotions. The minister was describing the grieving students as drunkards and went ahead to immediately suggest that government was wasting taxpayers’ money by funding drunkenness and violence at the University. Surely, this was too soon to suggest. It showed a lack of sorrow on the part of government. But who are we to question? The PF government knows it all.
Vespers is gone and nothing will bring her back. But we would like our readers to appreciate the genesis of this UNZA fracas. Government is only looking at the riot and suggesting that without it, Vespers’ life would have been preserved. They are ignoring the fact delayed payments of meal allowances caused the protest, which led to the confusion. But even assuming that the students had no reason for protesting, we insist that the use of excessive force among our officers continues to take a toll on human life.
There is enough documented evidence that shows the many human rights violations perpetuated by this regime. It is a fact that Zambia’s human rights record under the leadership of the PF has deteriorated to levels many never thought possible in the post-1991 era. The 2017 Zambia Human Rights Report published by the US Department of State indicates that the most significant human rights issues in Zambia included: arbitrary killings, which were prosecuted by authorities; excessive use of force by police; harsh and life threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest; interference with privacy as well as restrictions on freedoms of the press, speech, and assembly.
The report notes that government selectively applies the law to prosecute or punish individuals who commit abuses and mostly target those who oppose the ruling party. That is why even in the case of the University of Zambia protest and the death of Vespers, the entire government is pointing fingers at the opposition UPND leader. How can Mr Hakainde Hichilema be responsible for controlling universities and police conduct as if he holds the instruments of power?
We find it baffling that under this government, simple efforts to exercise basic democratic rights are often met with brutal resistance, but when consequences of their actions arise, they find someone else to blame. It is difficult to understand why the police service continues to work very hard to reclaim its original definition of “police force”. Why they continue to use draconian tactics to tackle simple acts such a peaceful students’ protest can only be attributed to the system under which they operate. A system that is presided over by scared politicians, individuals who are intolerant of criticism for fear that their evil acts will be exposed.
We challenge President Lungu to address the nation on many issues that affect Zambian citizens that are building public resentment against his administration. An apology from the highest office to the family of Vespers is the barest form of humanity that any leader can exhibit in such a highly provocative situation.
We wish to remind the PF administration that the power they enjoy today is rented from the masses; a day will come and is fast-approaching when the real owners of the power will demand it back! The institutions that they abuse today to deal with their opponents in unjust ways will one day be used against them when they leave office.
We know that this reality of the PF leaving office bothers President Lungu so much. He loses sleep when he thinks about it. Recently, on a visit to the Copperbelt, he complained of how Zambians do not appreciate good leaders until after they leave office; citing the example of Levy Mwanawasa and Michael Sata.
This showed us that the President is indeed aware of the unhappiness among Zambians over the conduct of his administration. What is worrying is that he seems to take an ‘I don’t care attitude’ “after all, Zambians will have good things to say about me too when I leave office”. No, sir, when you leave office, you will be defined as the worst Head of State, and if you are unlucky, you will be the first former president to enter prison.