Church gets sucked into toxic Zambia politics


Former Zambian President, Edgar Chagwa Lungu.

from ARNOLD MULENGA in Lusaka, Zambia
Zambia Bureau
LUSAKA, (CAJ News) – THE church is finding itself caught up in the rapidly noxious political atmosphere in Zambia as the fallout between rival parties escalates.

This is a new twist in the deepening acrimony between current president, Haikande Hichilema, and the former head of state, Edgar Lungu, as well as the two men’s parties, the United Party for National Development (UPND) and the Patriotic Front (PF) respectively.

UPND and Lungu’s critics accuse the former president of launching a political comeback using the church.

He is a regular congregant at the United Church of Zambia (UCZ). His party is still without a full-time president since he exited the position after the electoral defeat in 2021.

Lungu (66) has been elected twice but is eligible for another shot at the presidency. That is because his first victory in 2015 was a by-election to complete the late Michael Sata’s term.

Lungu won in 2016. On both occasions, he defeated Hichilema, six years his junior.

PF believes the stance by Hichilema’s government following Lungu’s recent public appearances and utterances is a violation of the ex-leader freedom of speech, religion and association and the latest in an alleged plot by the government to harass him.

A war of words erupted between the two most influential men in Zambian politics as Lungu broke his silence, in a combative mood, against criticism, while Hichilema issued a stern albeit veiled warning to his predecessor.

“We will keep coming to churches,” Lungu is quoted in an address.

“We’ll keep congregating with our friends. If you feel sick about it, hospitals are available… hope you will receive care,” Lungu said.

This past weekend, at the UCZ’s service in the Mtendere area of the capital Lusaka, Lungu added, “Once a politician, always a politician.” Other PF seniors attended services at different UCZ branches.

Hichilema, addressing UPND cadres in the Copperbelt, lampooned reported comebacks of Lungu as “kutumpa”, the local equivalent to “stupidity.”

“We will not allow our country to go back into those dark days,” Hichilema, an Adventist, said in apparent inference to the rule of Lungu, which critics denounce as ironfisted.

Hichilema’s government is accused of harassing Lungu and his family since his defeat in the polls.

There have been threats to lift his immunity, enjoyed by former presidents. This would pave way for prosecution.

Lungu’s wife, Esther, and his children have been subject to probes by the government for alleged corruption.

Last year (2022), the Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) seized some 15 flats owned by the former First Lady, alleging they were improperly acquired.

Meanwhile, PF has denounced an alleged threat by the government to deregister the UCZ.

While the Anti-corruption Commission (ACC) has denied reports it is probing the church, several reports indicate that operatives of the anti-graft body have visited UCZ’s Synod offices enquiring about the source of funding and donations for the construction of the facilities.

It has been alleged the PF is behind the financing, hence it was giving PF politicians to address from its pulpit.

The sentiments by Hichilema and Lungu also coincided with violent clashes between supporters of the rival parties at the official Youth Day (March 12) commemorations in the Copperbelt.

This week, UPND accused some members of the clergy of having resorted to taking sides when commenting on matters of national importance.

“It is sad to note that, instead of providing oversight to government leaders to work in order to help them govern in line with democratic tenets such as transparency and accountability, some men of the collar have been using the pulpit to hoodwink gullible masses,” the governing party stated.

It singled out Emeritus Archbishop Telesphore Mpundu, who has criticised the government for the arrest of Auditor General, Dick Sichembe, by the ACC for alleged corrupt practices involving over K1 million (over US$49 200).

Out on bail, he is facing charges including theft, “obtaining goods by false pretences”, “conspiracy to defraud the government” and “willful failure to follow applicable procedures.”

A critic of the Hichilema’s “New Dawn” administration, Mpundu alleged the arrest is the UPND’S attempt to cover up its economic transactions in nearly two years in power.

“Archbishop Mpundu suggests that the ACC should arrest corruption and not the Auditor General,” the ruling party charged.

It denied accusations of the selective application of laws to fight corruption, following reports only members of the previous PF-run administration were targeted.

“Archbishop Mpundu as a man of God should change his narrative from shielding people perceived to have committed crimes to encouraging such people to clear their names in the courts of law,” UPND added.

Raphael Nakacinda, PF spokesperson, accused Hichilema of “insulting” Lungu for merely attending church.

He said the utterances attributed to the president were ill-timed, coinciding with Youth Day.

“He (Hichilema) is a bad (leader) for the State House,” Nakacinda said.

Former legislator of the PF, Sensio Banda, urged Hichilema and Lungu to put their personal differences aside for the sake of peace and development.

“We only have one Zambia. If you have a showdown, God forbid, it is only a common Zambian out there that will bear the consequences,” Banda implored the pair.

– CAJ News



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