JACK ZIMBA, Lusaka
ON A dusty football pitch in Chawama township, Lusaka, a small group of members of the former ruling party, the United National Independence Party (UNIP), is getting ready for a public rally to woo voters in the mayoral election.The group comprises party officials and about a dozen old women in party regalia.
The image of old women is a huge contrast to the younger women in bum shorts and skinny jeans that usually adorn political regalia of newer parties such as the Patriotic Front or the United Party for National Development (UPND).
But the old women’s passion for Zambia’s liberation political party is unmistakable.
When the party’s mayoral candidate, Reverend Alfred Banda, arrives at the scene, the women break into vibrant singing and dancing.
One of the songs is in praise of one of the party’s founding fathers, Dr Kenneth Kaunda, while in another the women talk about the party’s return to power someday.
But after 27 years out of power and with dwindling prospects for the former ruling party, it is hard to sing along with the women.
Since 1991, when the party was defeated in multi-party elections, its base has been wearing thin.
The party won 24 percent of the vote in 1991 with 25 seats in the 150-seat Parliament.
In 1996, the party boycotted the general elections after its leader Dr Kaunda was constitutionally barred from running.
The party contested the 2001 elections with Dr Kaunda’s son, Tilyenji, at the helm, but he won only 10 percent and 13 seats in the Parliament.
UNIP did not contest the 2008 presidential by-election, but nominated Tilyenji as its presidential candidate for the 2011 elections. Tilyenji received less than one percent of the vote and, by now, the party had lost all Parliamentary seats.
Tilyenji ran in the 2015 presidential by-election, but again received less than one percent of the vote. The following year, during the general elections, he managed only 0.24 percent of the vote.
And recently, Dr Waza Kaunda, Dr Kaunda’s son, called for change of leadership in UNIP, saying it should not be treated as a dynasty.
But party officials dismiss the call as a non-political issue but a family feud.
UNIP vice-president Njekwa Anamela says there is still hope for the political party to regain power.
“It may not be in our current leadership, but it may also be in our leadership. Who knew that Michael Sata would be president of this country? Nobody took him serious. It is only God who can tell who will be President,” he says.
“UNIP is alive, there is no part of this country where you will go to and not find a UNIP member,” he says.
For Mr Anamela, the picture in Chawama is not a reflection of the party.
“The state of the party is much better than what you saw in Chawama,” he tells me as we sit in his office at the party’s headquarters located at Freedom House on Freedom Way.
Recently, the party moved its headquarters from Emmasdale to Freedom House.
Mr Anamela says Freedom House was where the country’s liberation was planned and is a source of inspiration for the members.
“We decided to relocate here so that that inspiration from the past can inform our attitude and drive our commitment to continue the struggle for our people,” he says.
But he readily admits all is not well in the former ruling party.
The party structures on the ground are weak.
“After 27 years out of power, there has been an impact on our structure because of natural factors,” he says.
However, he says there is now a younger generation in the party.
“You may have seen old people who have been very loyal to the party, but we also have young people,” he says.
“We are existing because there is a new generation within the party. We are a different generation and our party has undergone a number of changes,” says Mr Anamela.
But he knows attracting a younger generation in a competitive field is a huge task.
“Unlike in the past when we may have had a monopoly in the post-1991 period, this has not been the case because there are other competitors that have emerged on the scene,” he says.
“The challenge we face is to make sure that we replant our structures on the ground, and that is the process we are on, and it is working well,” he says.
But he says it will take time.
“It takes time, because we are a liberation movement that fell out of power. It is not easy for any liberation movement to regain power, it takes time,” he says.
He also admits the party made what he calls “tactical mistakes” that affected it in the post-1991.
“A lot of tactical mistakes in the first 10 years after leaving power,” he says.
One of those mistakes he points to is the huge debt the party had after leaving power.
“UNIP came out of power with a debt burden that was huge – in billions,” he says.
The party, however, still has a lot of property, which is managed under a company called Zambia National Holdings Limited.
Which has made some to think the leadership within the party has stayed in office for financial gain.
Mr Anamela dismisses any suggestion the party is merely surviving because of the asset base.
“What has kept UNIP going are the values and beliefs,” he says. The biggest assets UNIP has are its members, not properties.”
“UNIP is an idea and a cause,” he says. “UNIP has an ambition and that is to fulfil its cause, which is the cause of the Zambian people. And that cause is the continuing struggle against human suffering, poverty and underdevelopment. We want to realise human dignity, human rights and prosperity for our nation.”
He says UNIP wants to restore national interest, which he says has been eroded, allowing high levels of corruption.
Mr Anamela says the prospects for UNIP are as good as any party.
But back at the dusty football pitch in Chawama, his statement rings hollow.
After hours of waiting for the rally, the party officials and the old women disperse after the rally fails to take place due to a power cut and perhaps a no-show crowd.
JACK ZIMBA, Lusaka