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Guard against rumour peddlers

SUDDENLY, the Copperbelt Province is hurting and people are living in fear all because of rumour-mongering which seems to have become a hobby by some disgruntled elements.
The rumour about ritual killings started in Chingola and before Police could get to the bottom of the grievance, there was a full-scale riot, which culminated into looting of some shops and destruction of property.
Before people could recover from what happened in Chingola, the same peddlers have taken their ill-motivated falsehoods to Kalulushi, where residents rioted over unfounded reports of ritual killings.
The same rumour fever has spread to Kitwe’s Chamboli, Chimwemwe and Racecourse where residents are now living in fear of non-existent ritualists.
As acting Inspector General of Police Eugene Sibote said last night, there are no ritual killings.
These rumours are calculated to instil fear into citizens who, in a bid to protect themselves, end up beating suspected ritualists. Some, if not all the people being accused of being ritualists are innocent.
As a result of these unsubstantiated allegations, people take the law into their own hands in form of mob justice.
This misinformation is fuelled by circulation of videos of incidents in other parts of the world and tagged as events in Zambia. One wonders what the motive for doing this is especially considering that some politicians are reportedly trying to make political capital out of these ugly scenes.
Some parents have withdrawn their children from schools because of these rumours. In Chingola, for instance, people’s freedom of movement has been restricted to 22:00 hours.
Friends and relatives are sharing alerts and advising each other on how they and their families can keep safe. This is well and good, but in so doing they should avoid spreading unsubstantiated reports.
Their anxiety is understood considering that on one hand they could be fearing attacks from supposed ritualists and on the other virtually anyone can be accused of being a ritualist and thus fall prey to mob injustice.
It is of absolute necessity, therefore, that the purpose of unity among residents is properly managed if the right results are to be achieved.
Residents, in search for justice, should not break the law. They should not take the law into their own hands, otherwise they would only have themselves to blame if they themselves go behind bars.
This is where the involvement of the police becomes crucial. The assurance that there is enough police presence in these hotspots should help restore real tranquillity.
While the presence of the police officers on the ground does help to restore order, there is need for a permanent solution. It is not possible to have police patrols in perpetuity.
One of the solutions is curbing the spread of rumours, especially through the various social media platforms.
It is good that the Police has, as Mr Sibote said, put up a team to pursue social media alarmists. He said sooner or later these purveyors of falsehoods will be brought to book. Let this be soon.
For as long as such culprits are not brought to book and accordingly face the due sentence (hopefully severe), the spreading of rumours will continue.
The team tasked to track these online alarmists should be given all the resources and time needed to produce the desired results. Peace and harmony in these towns and beyond could depend on them.
It is also possible that some of those spreading lies have criminal intentions of creating a situation suitable for them to commit offences such as looting. These should not be allowed to do so.
The police must, therefore, be firm with anyone arrested for looting and damaging of public or private properties such as buildings and motor vehicles.
Unfortunately, such criminals often get away with a mere slap on the wrist – payment of admission of guilt fine. This doesn’t help curb these crimes. If anything it encourages some people. Let there be more serious charges that attract stiffer sentences.
The bottom line, though is, that while it is important to be alert for criminals in our midst, it is also just as cardinal that the public is not manipulated by those with criminal minds.