Zambia contends with resurgent gas attacks

Zambia gas attacks

from ARNOLD MULENGA in Lusaka, Zambia
LUSAKA, (CAJ News) THE hospitalisation of more than 130 students after inhaling unknown substances indicates a re-emergence of gassing, arguably the most underhand tactic in Zambia’s dicey political and social landscape.

This recurrence, north of the country, is one of the immediate tests to the administration of President Hakainde Hichilema, in power since the end of August with a pledge to re-unite the country after recent years of polarisation.

During that period of divisions, the Southern African country was hit by a series of gassing incidents. This is a sneaky scheme by some people to spray unknown chemicals in people’s homes, political opponents and public institutions.

The modus operandi would be criminal gangs spraying a gas that made their targets dizzy before they pounced on them.

Robberies were later reported after the targets lost consciousness.

These mysterious attacks between 2019 and 2020, carried out using unknown substances were seemingly unique to Zambia, then beset by widening rifts between the then-ruling Patriotic Front (PF) and Hichilema’s United Party for National Development (UPND).

PF was blamed for the wave of attacks, the blame amplified when Mulenga, a regional ruling party spokesperson, was among those arrested as Lungu ordered a crackdown.

The then-ruling party blamed the opposition as part of its so-called regime change agenda.

Lungu deployed the army. Chingola was the epicentre of the attacks.

Tragically, more than 50 deaths were recorded. Among those killed were suspects as some members of the public formed vigilant groups and lynched culprits.

A number of police stations were damaged as members of the public protested.

More than 600 attacks were recorded and over 500 people arrested but the prosecution rate was low mostly amid insufficient evidence.

This poses a legal dilemma as Mutale Nalumango, the Vice-President, this week said suspects should be released if authorities had no case against them.

She was speaking during the question for oral answer session in parliament last week.

Last year, the Bishops’ Conference of Zambia had warned that while the attacks were eventually stopped, “this, however, is not a guarantee that it will not be reignited in the future.”

Apprehension has thus gripped Zambia when a suspected gassing incident landed 136 pupils from Buyantanshi Technical School in Chingola in hospital at the end of September.

Management as the school reported some pupils picked a bottle they thought was perfume, after the item had been thrown into the school by an unknown individual.

The minors complained of chest pains, coughs, headaches, chest pains and difficulty breathing.

Esther Katongo, the national police spokesperson, confirmed police were investigating.

This was the second such incident confirmed at a school in Zambia this year.

In February, a suspected gassing incident hit the Girls’ Technical School in Mushindamo District in Northwestern Province.

At least 21 pupils were hospitalised.

A teacher at the school, allegedly drunk during the incident, was arrested.

The Zambia National Education Coalition (ZANEC) has expressed sadness.

George Hamusunga, ZANEC Executive Director, said, “We would like government to ensure that the gassing of learners and members of the public that happened in 2019 and 2020 does not continue in 2021.”

He noted past gassing incidents terrified learners thereby disrupted learning in schools.

“It is our hope that this time around, perpetrators of the gassing will be identified and dealt with accordingly,” Hamusunga anticipated.

Christian leaders in Chingola have petitioned the national government to establish a commission to probe the gassing incidents.

They believe the previous administration was not comprehensive in its approach.

Elisha Matambo, the recently-appointed Minister of the Copperbelt, said addressing gassing incidents was a priority of the Hichilema administration.

He said the president was “devastated” and sent his sympathies to the affected students and their families.

Matambo urged police to heighten investigation.

“The old way of doing things has gone with the failed PF regime,” the minister said.

– CAJ News

 

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