UPND vigilante groups are on the increase in Southern Province. Dressed in blood-red party regalia and with overt political agendas, they have a habit of surfacing when general elections are around the corner.
And these UPND groups have been a particular security headache of late.
When the UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema went to Choma for a meeting the party’s vigilantes blocked the Lusaka-Livingstone highway, stoning motorists and attacking police who tried to stop them. Brazenly, that was a show of power and defiance.
Last Saturday, on learning that President Edgar Lungu was in Namwala, UPND vigilantes ambushed people and vehicles returning from the rally he addressed, obviously with the intentions of intimidating them to assert the delusional right that Southern Province belonged to them as a party.
By all accounts, these attacks on law-abiding citizens were carefully planned operations intended to cause mayhem, injury and destruction of property.
Paramilitaries they are not, but they have been a security nightmare nonetheless. The UPND vigilante gangs have been targeting to scare and maim PF supporters and government agents in their areas of operation.
No wonder the President has directed Inspector General of Police Kakoma Kanganja to bring to book all UPND cadres who beat PF members in Bweengwa constituency last Saturday (Daily Nation, February 15, 2016).
To some extent, the police command’s war on the violent UPND vigilantes has been less effective than it has been with other hardcore criminals because of political factors. Yet more perceptive observers, noting the rapid success in recruitment UPND had been making among poor Tonga-speaking youths, have sounded a warning that the real time bomb is the runaway unemployment, economic despair and social alienation the previous governments had left to fester in the line of rail urban slums and the over-crowded villages of Southern Province.
For security personnel and the police, the prospects are ominous. A face-off of UPND vigilantes and PF’s die-hard supporters who populate the line of rail urban slums in Southern Province is a recipe for real trouble.