ON SUNDAY the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) issued a statement on the current political situation in the country.
The statement was a scathing attack on the government over the arrest and detention of United Party for National Development (UPND) president Hakainde Hichilema following what happened in Mongu, Western Province, during this year’s Kuomboka ceremony of the Lozi people.
ZCCB president Telesphore Mpundu, the archbishop of Lusaka, issued the lengthy statement titled ‘If you want peace, work for justice’ which was widely circulated and disseminated.
“The unfortunate incident that happened in Mongu during the
Kuomboka ceremony has since been followed by the arrest and detention of Mr Hakainde Hichilema followed by the slapping of a treason charge on him,” Archbishop Mpundu said.
The bishop further pontificated about peace, harmony, understanding, respect for and acceptance of others, respect for and even defence of divergence of opinion.
He went on to blame the PF and the government for all the political challenges Zambia has been grappling with since the August 11, 2016 general elections claiming that the country is “on edge”.
He only caressed the UPND with a feeble slap on the wrist: “We do not in any way condone illegality.”
Archbishop Mpundu also took aim at the Judiciary.
The ZCCB statement was not only biased in favour of the opposition but has also left the Catholic flock deeply divided across the political fissure it has created.
It failed to challenge the UPND to tone down its highly provocative rhetoric and disdain for authority, but demanded that the PF alone accept and initiate dialogue so that there can be peace.
Church mother bodies must refrain from exhibiting such partiality if they are to be respected as credible brokers of reconciliation.
Open bias strips them of the right to mediate in any future peace process. They should not take sides.
At the height and in the aftermath of the ethnic violence that erupted in Southern Province after the announcement of the August 11, 2016 presidential election results, the ZCCB was surprisingly silent.
Several hundred Zambians from the northern part of the country who had lived in the region for decades were brutally targeted and driven out of their homes for allegedly voting for the PF.
The traumatised victims, mainly women and children, were forced to seek refuge at government facilities.
Zambians did not see any lengthy statement from the ZCCB to condemn the tribal xenophobia.
The council has also not condemned the UPND’s unpalatable language, especially when referring to the republican President, whom millions of Zambians in seven of the country’s 10 provinces voted for as their head of State.
The leaders of the UPND have continued to tell supporters not to recognise President Lungu as Zambia’s head of State and have been calling him demeaning names at their incendiary press briefings.
How can two feuding parties reconcile when one of them continues to undermine and hurl verbal abuse at the rival?
And why is the ZCCB pressuring only the PF to accept dialogue while the UPND’s leaders continue to parade themselves as if they are a parallel government?
The government’s position that there cannot be any dialogue when Mr Hichilema and his supporters continue to refuse to recognise President Lungu is justified.
Chief government spokesperson Kampamba Mulenga cannot be faulted for challenging the ZCCB and other vocal and politically partisan church mother bodies to tell Mr Hichilema to respect the will of Zambians in seven of the country’s 10 provinces who overwhelmingly voted for President Lungu.
The government should in fact be commended for its sober and polite response to the scathing ZCCB statement.
The Catholic bishops have lamentably failed to play their mediatory role by openly taking sides with the opposition.
They used carefully gleaned scriptures from the Bible to justify their biased position but conveniently left out those which put an obligation on all citizens to respect and obey those in government because they were put there by God. Romans 13:1-7; 1Peter 2:13-17
Should there be any indaba meant to promote dialogue between the PF and the UPND, church mother bodies that have been issuing partisan statements should not be allowed to play any mediatory role.
Only neutral and credible ones should referee such talks if they are to be successful.
The author is Production Editor at the Zambia Daily Mail.