MONICA KAYOMBO, Lusaka
BEING in the opposition for 23 consecutive years can be stressful and challenging, but if you know what you want to achieve, you remain focused until your dreams come true. United Party for National Development (UPND) national chairman Stephen Katuka, who was part of the vision when the party was founded by Anderson Mazoka in 1998, recounts some of the hurdles the party faced before coming into power. He says being in the opposition is not for the faint-hearted, adding that the party’s experience while in opposition has taught him and other senior members in the party some critical lessons.
Mr Katuka says Zambians made their minds to vote out PF way back, but were afraid to express their dissent views due to the repressive nature of the previous regime. Upon analysing all the threats, UPND decided, before the 2021 elections, to join forces with other political parties through an alliance. Mr Katuka, who was UPND’s secretary general from 2015 until earlier this year, after the party held the intra-party elections and eventually the general assembly, at which he was elevated to the position of national chairman, says he is happy to be a staunch UPND member. “Life in the opposition generally has never been smooth, more especially when dealing with the brutal regime like the Patriotic Front (PF),” he says. Mr Katuka says UPND needed to engage people and campaign, opportunity which they were denied. “But we were clever for them. After the 2016 elections, we went to court to petition but we could see that even the petition was not allowed. What we saw was unprocedural,” he says. He explains that the petition was adjourned and the next time it was closed, something that indicated to his party that there was an invisible hand at play. He says it was clear that the playing field was not levelled, so UPND started campaigns immediately. After the failed petition, UPND realised it needed to find a strategy that they called polling station management committee hence the slogan “winning and win big”. But in 2017, Mr Hichilema was arrested and charged with treason and the case saw him spend 127 days at Mukobeko Maximum Prison until his release on August 16, 2017. Mr Katuka says at that point, some of the UPND members lost hope and joined other political parties. Mr Katuka says the treason was the most traumatising moment for UPND members. The UPND continued using the structures to campaign because the party came to an understanding that the national leaders would not be allowed to go out of Lusaka to campaign for the party. “You remember what happened to Dr Nevers Mumba in Chipata, even our own President HH, you remember what happened in Chongwe, where he was stopped from campaigning,” he says. UPND national leadership only visited the members once in a while but much of the work was done by the local members in respective districts and provinces. As time went by, UPND started receiving defectors from the ruling PF and other opposition political parties because people finally gained confidence in the opposition party and its vision. Mr Katuka’s major concern is on the brutality by the police, who he says perceived the UPND as their enemies and kept fighting them everywhere. “In the process, unfortunately, we lost so many lives. We can talk of Mapenzi Chibulo, Nsama Chipyoka, Joseph Kaunda and many more,” he says. He says the police also refused to grant UPND permits to hold rallies and if got one, it was cancelled at the last minute. Mr Katuka also points out the biased reporting by the public media, which he says only focussed on former president Edgar Lungu and what PF was doing. “If we were covered, the news was negative or biased,” he says. He observes that one of the strategies by the PF was to stop UPND from campaigning during the official three months leading to the 2021 polls. “That could not work because we had done our work before the declaration of the official campaigns. The PF had made themselves even more unpopular because of their behaviour. Whatever they said stopped making sense to Zambians,” says Mr Katuka. He says some of the issues that angered many Zambians are the buying of the 42 fire tenders at US$42 million and gassing of Zambians by unknown people, among many other incidents. Mr Katuka says there is no government in the world that would want to kill citizens that put it in power, adding that PF lost it. UPND is aware that it has to start work now with a view to meeting the aspirations of Zambians. He says President Hakainde Hichilema has made it clear to everyone that that work starts now. “We have no time for celebrations. We need to get to the ground,” Mr Katuka says. He says in 2016, 10 political parties participated in the presidential elections and eight of them got two percent while the remaining 98 percent was shared between UPND and PF. “History has repeated itself. If you look at the results for 2016 general elections, the picture is still the same. Our 23 years in the opposition taught us a big lesson I feel we are the most experienced political party,” he says. He says the opposition political parties should be free to mobilise themselves as the environment is conducive. He says despite the police harassing them when they were in opposition, each statement that was made by President Hichilema was twisted to please those in power. On sentiments that UPND is a regional party, Mr Katuka said: “That was a scheme by the PF to try and destroy us. I don’t think there is a party in Zambia that is regionally balanced like our party. Even our national management committee has a national character.” He says all the former vice-presidents the party has had, like Sakwiba Sikota, Patrick Chisanga, Dr Canicius Banda, Richard Kapita, Geoffrey Mwamba and now W.K Mutale- Nalumango are from different provinces. He says while the UPND is inheriting a shattered economy, a disorganised and mis-managed government, it has hope of turning thigs around.
Who is Mr Katuka?
He was born from Chimbanga Katuka in Chingola. His father worked in the mines until he retired and went back to Mwinilunga. Mr Katuka was a local businessman in Mwinilunga and has six siblings. Mr Katuka served Zambia Army for 20 years from 1972 to 1992 and when he retired, he joined politics. In 1997, Mr Katuka met Mr Mazoka and he asked him to assess whether Zambians would welcome a new political party. After doing the assessment, Mr Katuka made a recommendation to Mr Mazoka to form the party which later came to be known as UPND. UPND, which was launched in North-Western Province, went into a loose alliance with National Party (NP) of Humphrey Mulemba. In 2001 Mr Mazoka participated in the first presidential election and all NP members of Parliament (MPs) like Ben Tetamashimba stood on UPND ticket. And Tetamashimba became the secretary general of the UPND/NP alliance. After the 2001 elections, Mr Mazoka started ailing and went to South Africa for treatment until he died in 2006, which was an election year. Mr Katuka became Mwinilunga MP from 2006 to 2011, when Newton Samakayi took over as Mwinilunga MP. The party lobbied Mr Hichilema to stand and he reluctantly accepted and won the party elections to become its leader. Only 45 days later, Mr Hichilema took part in the presidential race. “It was practically impossible for him to win,” says Mr Katuka. And the other two elections he participated in – 2008 and 2014 – were elections arising from the death of sitting presidents. Mr Katuka describes those as sympathy votes.
In 2016, Mr Hichilema lost again. He says in as much as UPND knew that they were winning, the official announcement that the party had won the 2021 elections was emotional, fulfilling and relaxing. He has diligently served the UPND establishment from its birth to date and he says he would not mind giving a service to Zambians in any other capacity deemed fit by Mr Hichilema. Mr Katuka echoes President Hichilema’s sentiments that UPND has to work hard to realise what the party promised the people of Zambia.