We are in shock. We can’t seem to understand what exactly angered Home Affairs Minister Honourable Stephen Kampyongo about our headline which reported the fact that he was in quarantine after suspected exposure to the Coronavirus on his trip to Namibia. In the much complained about headline and story, we never reported that the Minister was sick, or that he had tested positive to COVID-19. No one gave us such information and we never even insinuated as such.

In fact, our story categorically said the Minister had not tested positive to the virus and the isolation that him, his Foreign Affairs counterpart Joe Malanji and Permanent Secretary Chalwe Lombe, had been subjected to was merely a precautionary measure, since the two ministers had travelled to a country which had reported cases of the Coronavirus. Quarantine was a standard requirement for all those returning to Zambia from risk countries, and we did not insinuate anything sinister about the minister’s isolation.

To be exact and to remove all doubt, here is what we reported precisely:

“Of course the ministers who are in quarantine are those that travelled to Namibia for the inauguration. These include Kampyongo, Malanji and his PS Lombe. I don’t think it’s necessary for government to hide these names like they have done something wrong. If anything, they have done the right thing by heeding to doctors’ advice and self isolating. This should be a case which government can use to demonstrate that there is no stigma and these ministers are trying to help the situation by going into quarantine. If anything, these minister have not been confirmed to have the Coronavirus, that has not been revealed. What we know at this stage is that they are in quarantine as a precaution measure. The only sad thing is that when they came back from Namibia, they first interacted with other government officials while others even attended Cabinet meeting. Otherwise we don’t know if they are confirmed cases,” we quoted a source as saying.

True to what the source had told us, the Minister of Health announced to the whole country that Kampyongo, and other ministers who had been quarantined had been released after testing COVID-19 negative last Friday. To our shock, Minister Kampyongo went on radio and television to launch an attack and to issue threats against us. According to him, our headline alarmed the the public and sent people whom he had interacted with into panic.

“Media is a very powerful tool which can be constructive or destructive. You can’t believe that out of that screaming headline, despite it coming out on Fool’s Day, you had so many people concerned, phoning in. I want to take this opportunity to apologise to those dignified people who could have been inconvenienced by that screaming headline, especially those I interacted with during this period. I have in mind the European Union Ambassador and His Excellency the Chinese Ambassador to Zambia and his delegation who came to visit me… For you, our colleagues in the media, you imagine me coming here on a very big platform to say, ‘no, Mr Joseph Mwenda, who was at The Post, now at [News] Diggers!…I saw him at the clinic collecting ARVs and I think that’s why he has gone slim, he is HIV positive,’ can you imagine? How many people would take that and how much impact it would have on Mr Mwenda’s family? So, we have to be responsible, we are public figures,” Kampyongo said during Hot FM’s breakfast show, Friday morning.

What, on God’s green Earth, is Honourable Kampyongo talking about? Was he commenting on a story that he had not read or was he experiencing limitations in his comprehension of the word quarantine? We reported that he was in quarantine, the Ministry of Health confirmed that he was in quarantine and he admitted himself that he was in isolation at home until his test results came out. So where is his problem with our headline. If he never got exposed to the virus why did he go for a test? If he was not a risk individual why was he apologising for meeting dignitaries who didn’t know about his status?

Defence Minister Davies Chama travelled to Congo DR, on return, he went into quarantine and he proudly confirmed this, saying there was nothing wrong with a leader being in quarantine because the virus affects everyone. Look at how much praise and goodwill Honourable Chama has received for disclosing his situation to the public. This is what good leaders are supposed to do.

But our brother who is running the Ministry of Home Affairs goes on to say the claim that he was in quarantine is tantamount to him going on Radio to allege that he saw News Diggers editor-in-chief Joseph Mwenda collecting ARVs, and he is slim because he is HIV positive. What kind of leader makes such remarks? What is that supposed to mean? Is he saying those who are under quarantine for COVID-19 are like AIDS patients and they should be ashamed? How can government encourage ordinary citizens to test for Coronavirus and agree to go into quarantine if top government officials are attaching such stigma to the process?

We don’t know if Honourable Kampyongo realises that even in his wildest imagination where he wished he had seen the News Diggers editor collecting ARVs – even if that were true – Mr Mwenda would have been doing the right thing. But Honourable Kampyongo is using that to illustrate the shame that he bestows on people who are HIV positive.

Why should a high ranking Cabinet Minister and senior official of the governing party stigmatise people who are HIV positive on radio like that? Is he saying those who have AIDS should be ashamed of themselves and their families? Is he saying collecting ARVs from clinics is a shameful undertaking?

What does he mean when he says “that’s why he is slim because he is HIV positive?” Is he suggesting that slim people who look like his appointing authority are HIV suspects? Maybe there is something we don’t understand, because the Minister’s stigma, malice and anger just don’t add up.