Given the economic nature of the region, a majority of Copperbelt residents are born and raised with an astute survival instinct. People, especially those who reside in Kitwe, Ndola, Luanshya, Chingola, and other major mining towns, are born hustlers. They know how to create sources of income, and they know that it is their responsibility to protect that source of livelihood.

Copperbelt people are also very good at assessing the competence of political leaders. They have very accurate home-based economic performance indicators, which tell them if the government is working for the citizens or serving the interest of foreigners. That is the reason why during elections, Copperbelt Province is considered an opinion leader that swings the influence of the other provinces north of this country. Once Copperbelt unanimously decides that the party in power has failed, they vote decisively and ensure that no one tampers with their votes.

In 2008 after president Levy Mwanawasa died, Copperbelt residents resolved to vote out MMD and elect Michael Sata’s Patriotic Front in that subsequent presidential election. But somehow, Mr Rupiah Banda won, an outcome which the Copperbelt people did not accept. So they turned to the streets to burn tyres in protest. We recall that Sata had to make a national address, calling for calm among his Copperbelt supporters while persuading them to accept the election results.

In 2011 after the electoral commission delayed to announce Sata’s victory, Copperbelt residents poured into the streets and vowed that they would turn the city upside down if their votes were “stolen again”. They actually publicly threatened Michael Sata that should he accept defeat again, they would come all the way to Lusaka to sort him out.

“Naiwe wine father, ino inshita tatulefwaya ati ‘iyo natuwina but balekeni basende kwabula ifyongo. Tukesa kumona naiwe wine pantu ninshi natwishiba ati ulalyamo (Even you our father, this time we don’t want to hear you say we have won but let them get it without causing violence, we will come to deal with you in Lusaka because it means you are paid to accept rigged results)”, the youths warned before their desired results were announced, much to their excitement.

This is the nature of Copperbelt people. They are tough, vigilant and proactive. They know the art of unity and mobilization. Unlike Lusaka residents, those in Kitwe don’t need anyone to tell them when they need to protect that which belongs to them. Unfortunately, our political leaders don’t seem to read this scenario the right way.

We are referring to the move by government to change the ownership of the State-owned ZAFFICO Industries through the listing of its shares on the Lusaka Stock Exchange. The people of Copperbelt, in whose interest government claim to be acting, have rejected this decision. They want the status quo of the viable company to be maintained. They don’t want Chinese to buy shares in this entity because they fear that it may affect their source of income. That is what they are trying to protect. This is the reason why they rioted on Monday last week; they have seen that someone is trying to tamper with their livelihood.

But the Patriotic Front government is about to make a huge mistake in its handling of the Copperbelt people over this matter. They want to throw their weight in the face of an already emotionally charged population. Through its bullying habits, the PF wants to use power and force instead of logic; it wants to use intimidation tricks to stop the residents from challenging government’s wrong decisions.

When we heard that the police have summoned UPND president Hakainde Hichilema for interrogations in relation to claims that he incited the people to riot, we felt sorry, not for Mr Hichilema or the Kitwe residents, but for the PF government. It seems the PF doesn’t know what they are doing, and they can carelessly arrest HH again and throw him in prison.

What is wrong with that? Well, two things actually. Firstly, it is a matter of fact that the government has decided to sell the shares of ZAFFICO Industries to private individuals, either local citizens or foreigners. So HH has not committed any offense at all, because indeed ZAFFICO is being sold. Secondly, Copperbelt is a PF stronghold and the UPND is not even campaigning, but PF is doing everything to annoy its supporters. There will be consequences to this.

Refusing to yield to a presidential motorcade in 2017 was a matter of personal interest for HH and his UPND, so some citizens did not have sympathy for him when he was slapped with that bogus treason charge. But arresting a political opponent who stands up to speak for the hungry and miserable citizens is a totally different matter. It’s a political miscalculation in our view. Instead of intimidating or punishing HH, they will end up handing him the support of the region that he has failed to penetrate over the years. But perhaps this is a good mistake after all, since Zambia needs a change of national leadership.

Our opinion, however, is that the PF needs to be very careful with how they handle these Copperbelt hustlers. Kitwe is not like Lusaka where only a small group of women heading NGOs has remained fighting for justice while the once feared gallant men have either bolted into hiding or have been bought to stop talking.

We urge the PF; play with Lusaka, but don’t mess with ba Kopala because they will not accept this nonsense! As they say in Kitwe, ‘ba Kopala bena nga babindasa bafulamina nakumulu, nabana bonse nikumusebo’. Arresting HH will not stop people’s anger, with or without UPND, Copperbelt will not accept to be swindled by this government.

Our fear is that a full-fledged riot or demonstration in Kitwe will always end in serious casualties and fatalities. We don’t want any citizen to lose life over this simple ZAFFICO matter that can be resolved by a single listening ear. But if that is the battle that the PF is prepared to engage in, then they must also prepare to lose the war to the one whom the Copperbelt people will decide to vote for.

The PF must not take for granted the support that it has on the Copperbelt. Gaining trust is hard, and it took a lot of work for the PF founders to win the people’s confidence, but losing it will only take one fart and the PF will be out!