The decision by Government to charge the 50 or so Barotse activists with Treason is excessive given the historical background and current state of play regarding the Barotse agreement.
Instead of pacifying the situation in the Province this decision is likely to harden feeling and as we have warned before make martyrs of individuals who for the most part were naïve.
For all the noise, bravado and gamesmanship displayed by the “activists” they hardly fit in the classical definition of treasonous conduct.
In modern parlance Treason is synonymous with the use of force or violence to overthrow an established authority. Similarly sedition is the publication of hateful words that would lead to an insurrection against lawful authority. Therefore Captain Solo and his colleagues committed treason when they bore arms and sought to forcibly overthrow a civilian Government.
Treason which carries a mandatory sentence of death is very well defined in the laws of Zambia. It is committed when a person or people generally prepare or endeavor to procure by force the setting up of an independent state in any part of Zambia or the secession of any part of Zambia from the Republic; or prepare or endeavors’ to carry out by force any enterprise which usurps the executive power of the State in any matter of both a public and a general nature; or incites or assists any person to invade Zambia with armed force or unlawfully to submit any part of Zambia to attack by land, water or air, to assist in the preparation of any such invasion or attack.
From all accounts most of the people arrested were celebrating the restoration of the Barotse agreement and subsequent swearing in of a new administration. As far as we know beer and dancing characterized the occasion as the long cherished goal had been achieved.
But for all practical purposes the swearing in was a non event. It was a mere curiosity which passed with the ignominy of the swearing in ceremony held in a darkened room in a Government House.
True, there was some drama, but that could not pass as an overthrow of the Government by any stretch of the imagination. All institutions of state are still intact and the perpetrators are on the run. It is clear that there was no attempt whatsoever to forcibly usurp lawful authority.
Those formulating these charges must take account of the historical background of the current impasse in the area.
Not too long ago President Michael Sata pardoned 28 other activists who had equally canvassed for the secession of Barotseland on the premise of the Barotse agreement.
There are people who truly believe that the agreement grants them autonomy, therefore the present unitary arrangement is an abrogation of the agreement.
Whether they are right or wrong becomes an exercise in political dialogue. Brute force and threats of treason will not resolve the matter.
There must be a deliberate effort to discuss this matter openly. The Roger Chongwe Commission of Inquiry should be revisited in order to establish the depth and extent of perception in the province before a new path is charted.
Such discussion will not take place if people are sent behind bars for celebrating an event that was promised by the current Government.
People who do not plot and conspire to forcibly overthrow a Government are hardly the treasonous mob that should face the death sentence.