Lusaka Province police commissioner Nelson Phiri this morning summoned for interrogation Pastor Kangwa Chileshe, the convener of thanksgiving prayers on the release of UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema and five others who were charged with treason.
Police surrounded the Cathedral of the Holy Cross where the thanksgiving prayers were scheduled to take place at 14:00 hours today. The City of Refuge Ministries and other ministries had announced a thanksgiving service following the release from a four-month detention of Hakainde and five others who were charged with treason. However, hours before the thanksgiving service, Phiri summoned Pastor Chileshe for questioning at Lusaka Central Police station. Armed police also were deployed to seal off the venue of the proposed thanksgiving service.
“Yes, it’s true, I have been summoned over the same thing; the thanksgiving meeting at 14:00 hours. I got a call from Central Police, from the Lusaka Division commissioner [Phiri] saying I can’t go ahead with that prayer meeting because I didn’t consult them, I didn’t get a permit from them and secondly because I didn’t write a letter and seek approval from the Ministry of Religious Affairs. So I told them that ‘I can’t do that because this is a prayer service [to God]; it’s not a political rally. Should I ask for permission for a church service? Which law requires me to get a permit for a church service?’ So he has summoned me to go to the police station, I am actually getting ready to go there,” said Pastor Chileshe.
And later after police cancelled the prayers, religious affairs minister Reverend Godfridah Sumaili phoned Phiri and told him to allow the church to conduct the prayers. Is this the way fundamental rights are supposed to be dealt with?
Is Edgar Lungu beyond redemption? These are very serious abuses of the public order Act. Only in a dictatorship can the freedoms of worship, assembly and expression be trampled upon in this way. No wonder the Commonwealth has recommended that changes be made to the nature and administration of the public order Act if Zambia is to move forward in the direction of peace and stability. To deny a human being these freedoms is tantamount to robbing them of their humanity. And where such injustices reign, there cannot be peace.
The law is the anchor of our feelings. If the law holds our feelings well, it directs our feelings well. If, however, the laws fail to hold our feelings well, our feelings become free enough for us to do what we feel freely. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose, they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.”
Freedom of speech means freedom for those who you despise, and freedom to express the most despicable views. It also means that the police command cannot pick and choose which expressions to authorise and which to prevent. And as Benjamin Franklin aptly put it, “Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom – and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.”
Bayasana! Without attempting to speak for all our fellow citizens, each one of us has only one life, and we don’t want to spend it in a sewer of injustice. Justice has a right to protest against injustice.
The power of the people is much stronger than the people in power. Democracy is about the dialogue; protest is about initiating the dialogue and freedom of speech is about respecting each other’s dialogue. George Orwell wrote, “The only evidence to the contrary was the mute protest in your own bones, the instinctive feeling that the conditions you lived in were intolerable and that at some other time they must have been different.”
Nice people made the best Nazis. They got along, refused to make waves, looked the other way when things got ugly and focused on happier things than “politics”. They were lovely people who turned their heads as their neighbours were dragged away. You know who weren’t nice people? Resisters! Sometimes a citizenry should not simply “be good”. You have to leave space for dissent, real dissent. Confrontation is not bad. Goodness is supposed to confront evil. The voice of protest is the voice of another and an ancient civilisation which seems to have bred in us the instinct to enjoy and fight rather than to suffer and understand.
What is going on, this abuse of power can’t be left like that; it must be challenged. The human voice is still the most paramount vessel or weapon to use, to uphold justice and to protest against injustice. It is said that God remains silent so that men and women may speak, protest and struggle. God remains silent so that people may really become people. When God is silent and men and women cry, God cries in solidarity with them but doesn’t intervene. God waits for the shouts of protest.
To spend one’s life being angry and in the process doing nothing to change it, is to us ridiculous. We could be mad all day long, but if we are not doing a damn thing, what difference does it make? It has always been the prerogative of children and half-wits to point out that the emperor has no clothes. But a half-wit remains a half-wit, and the emperor remains an emperor. Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws…An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.”
Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his tyrannical government and its brutal police. It’s said that no matter that patriotism, it is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots.
Theodore Roosevelt said, “Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official.” Edgar’s Zambia is not Zambia: not today’s or tomorrow’s, but one of the colonial days, if not worse. Indeed, Edgar’s Zambia is brutal, perverse, regressive, insular and afraid. There is no hope in it; there is no light in it. It is a vast expanse of darkness and desolation.
And that is a vision of Zambia that most of the people in this country cannot and will not abide. This is not a recipe for peace and stability. And as John F. Kennedy said, “Without debate, without criticism no administration and no country can succeed and no republic can survive…Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
We have no sensible alternative but to positively answer Bob Marley’s call: “Get up, stand up, Stand up for your rights. Get up, stand up, Don’t give up the fight.”