For all we know, Zambia is not on lockdown. The President here has not declared a State of Emergency. The laws of the Republic of Zambia are intact and in force, the Constitution has not been suspended and people’s liberties remain untampered. What we have is a plea from government authorities urging people to cut down on their movements and to try as much as they can to stay home. In essence, there is no ban on movement, there is no law backing restriction as to what places people can visit. The bars and night clubs they ordered to close are open and selling alcohol.
When you visit any market today in any of the townships in Lusaka, it’s business as usual. Town centre and the rest of the Central Business District, stretching to Soweto market, is still jam parked with traders. In our view, these marketeers and other small entrepreneurs who are moving up and down are risking their lives to this vicious Coronavirus, but they are not in breach of the law. The same can be said about people who are still patronising bars and night clubs. They are risking their lives, but they are not committing crimes.
Assuming that these people were committing crimes, police would be using the penal code to arrest, charge and prosecute the culprits. But this is not the case, police and other overzealous government officials like Honourable Bowman Lusambo, have resorted to whipping patrons they find at drinking places. In the absence of a law backing such brutal action, we have a problem with this, as it is a clear abuse of human rights.
We find it ironic that those who are enforcing this whipping operation are targeting only those the find socialising at night, but they are not worried about people who conducting business in close proximity in town and at the markets in the compounds. Are they suggesting that the Coronavirus is only transmitted at night or among people who are drinking alcohol?
The beating of citizens needs to be stopped with immediate effect. Government needs to provide direction. If there is a lockdown, invoke the provisions of the law that facilitate for that and announce that we are under lock down. This could mean declaring a “threatened state of emergency”. As things stand, a President doesn’t have power to simply say, “don’t go to the market”, as if he is running a household. Every decision and decree must be backed by law.
We saw that the President yesterday claimed that Zambia is already under lockdown because the contingency measures he announced last week fit into the definition of a lockdown. President Edgar Lungu’s explanation actually qualifies our argument that the Head of State has simply asked citizens to make their own decisions and do what they think is right under this global health pandemic.
“I recently addressed the nation outlining my Government’s science-led Disease Outbreak Preparedness and Contingency Planning, whose Phase One measures include, but are not limited to, the following: mandatory testing and quarantine of all travellers for 14 days; closure of all bars and night clubs; restaurants to operate only on take-away and delivery basis; non-essential public sector workers to report on duty only on a rational basis; certain public sector workers to work from home, and suspension of public sector activities, among others,” posted President Lungu on his official Facebook page.
“Fellow countrymen and women, as you may already be aware; a lock-down in disease control refers to a restriction of movement of people and public activity, with the aim of containing the spread of disease through person-to-person contact. Evidently, the Phase One measures undertaken by my Government are in line with the above definition and aims of a lock-down, which is; to stop the spread of COVID-19 through reduced person-to-person contact. Further, since the existing disease control measures represent Phase One of our Plan, these measures are scalable informed by science, facts and global best practices in public health.”
We understand that the President has so much pressure right now, and perhaps he might not be in the right frame of mind. Sadly, he needs to continue thinking and making decisions on behalf over 16 million citizens. When the President says “the measures undertaken by my government are in line with the definition and aims of a lock-down”, he leaves us with one question. Can Mr Lungu point us at one country which is on lockdown with its borders wide open?
This government’s efforts to contain this deadly virus are not different from a child who embarks on a mission to mop a flooded bathroom while the tap is still running. They have refused to close the borders, they have refused to invoke provisions of the law that will legally restrict people’s movements, but they are whipping drunkards at night. Typical of a brutal but clueless regime.