It is with considerable trepidation that we fear for what is likely to happen today with the proposed rally planned by the United Party for National Development.
Previous experience has shown that the police have stood by as patriotic front vigilantes have hunted, assaulted and attacked members of the opposition attending public rallies. Already warnings have been sounded by PF vigilantes that they would not allow the opposition to hold a meeting ostensibly because it would fan violence.
It is ironical that the PF leadership and PF secretary general Wynter Kabimba in particular has made no comment whatsoever, on incidents of violence which has left a number of opposition members maimed. This is not the political culture the Zambian people willed for themselves when they ushered in multi party politics in 1991.
Zambians expected the co-existence of political ideas and assumed that Zambia would prosper and flourish with a diversity of political opinion.
Even as we proceeded towards 2011 General and Presidential elections the expectation was that multi party democracy would be enhanced rather than diminished. It is therefore surprising that the Patriotic Front, which is in effect a minority party, has decided to stifle the opposition by denying them opportunities to meet and exchange ideas among themselves and the greater community at large.
Although the constitution allows freedom of association and assembly, the police have shown a very clear predilection of putting down any opposition manifestation. In some cases this has been done in the most brutal and savage manner possible where gratuitous violence was meted on unarmed and peaceful demonstrators.
In contrast PF members who have assaulted and injured opposition members have gone scot free or with a mere slap on the hand. This is not acceptable. This is snot the rule of law that the Zambian people and attained in 1991.
Zambians wanted a democracy in which they could enjoy all their inalienable including association conscience and assembly and nobody least of all party vigilantes should tamper with these rights. Equally the police whose duty it is to maintain the police should not be seen to support tendencies that are aimed at denying the people their rights.
It will be counter productive and indeed counter intuitive for the PF to assume that dissent and opposition would be tamed and curtailed by frustrating attempts and meeting and rallies because the power of ideas will surmount any artificial obstacles. Indeed it will be remembered that UNIP in its hey days coined the slogan ‘it pays to belong to UNIP’ in which favours were extended to sympathizers to the exclusion of perceived foes and enemies.
That system of patronage collapsed under the weight of public opinion which demands a political system which respected the diversity of political opinion because this was the surest way of engendering positive change and performance.
That is why we condemn any effort at curtailing the power of ideas expressed through community exercises such as rallies conventions or indeed symposia.
These fora should be encouraged and actively promoted so that our country benefits from the best ideas possible. Unless a cross fertilisation of ideas is allowed this country will labour in futility and will run in circles not knowing how and where mistakes have been made.
It is important therefore that the police who have hitherto shown eagerness to pounce on the opposition should allow them manifest openly and peacefully. And at the same time the police should keep away PF vigilantes who have already indicated their intention.