from ARNOLD MULENGA in Lusaka, Zambia
LUSAKA, (CAJ News) – THE latest probe on the former First Lady, now accused of theft of cars and property, coinciding with threats by authorities to deregister the main opposition party, add to the increasingly venomous political atmosphere in Zambia.
The turn of events amplifies criticism that the Southern African country is slipping into a dictatorship under the new government of President Haikande Hichilema (aged 60).
Thus, by targeting Edgar Lungu (66) and his family as well as threatening to deregister the Patriotic Front (PF) almost two years after its electoral defeat, Hichilema’s administration appears reneging on a promise to unite a country beset by divisions when he and his United Party for National Development (UPND) came to power.
On Wednesday, armed police (counted at 70 but said to number 200 by the opposition) encircled the Lungu home in the Ibex Hill area in Lusaka after a complaint was opened by two women against Mrs Esther Nyawa Lungu (61).
The law enforcers threatened to force their way in, by attempting to break down the entrance.
Commotion prevailed as police clashed with supporters of PF and the ex-president, some who heeded the call by the party to throng the Lungu home.
Then a search by police found one of the vehicles in question. The former first family seemed unperturbed, more so the former president in sky blue tracksuits and geared up for his routine morning jog, which would not proceed amid the uncertainty.
The erstwhile first lady was eventually summoned to the Woodlands Police Station, also in the capital.
Danny Mwale, Zambia Police Deputy Public Relations Officer, explained the force is investigating a case of theft of motor vehicles and theft of a certificate of title for a property in Lusaka’s Libala South.
The complainants have been named as Elizabeth Chanje Phiri and her daughter, Furhana Patel.
The duo complained to the police that Mrs Lungu, “grabbed” their motor vehicles, namely Mitsubishi Canter, Toyota Allex and Toyota Runx as well as a certificate of title for a house in Libala South.
The incidents are said to have occurred between August 8, 2022 and August 9, 2022 in Lusaka.
Phiri is alleged to have been detained at a police station and later driven to Ibex Hills at the former first lady’s residence where she was together with her daughter, made to surrender the said properties to Mrs Lungu.
“Police instituted investigations into the matter and managed to locate the properties at Mrs Lungu’s residence in Ibex Hills where a Toyota Runx registration number BAV 3986 has been recovered,” Mwale said.
The former first lady has given her version, which brings into the fray one Catherine Banda, said to be a niece to the former president.
It is alleged she was given to keep for safe custody a total amount of US$400 000 in September 2021.
The source of the funds could not be ascertained.
Banda allegedly gave an amount of $300 000 to Phiri and Patel.
Mrs Lungu reportedly requested her money in August 2022 from Banda, upon which it was discovered the money had been surrendered to Phiri and Patel.
It is believed the duo used the money to buy the cars and property in question.
There is reportedly an agreement that Phiri and Patel surrendered the certificates.
Thus according to the ex- first lady, these were surrendered willfully.
The case has added to the fallout between the political rivals, with accusations by the PF this is a continuation of the harassment of Lungu and his family.
Last year, the Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) seized some 15 flats owned by Mrs Lungu, alleging they were improperly acquired.
There have been threats to lift the former president’s immunity, enjoyed by former heads of state in Zambia. This would pave way for prosecution.
Speculation that Lungu is planning a comeback has also riled the UPND, which accuse him of violations during his rule from 2015 to 2021.
That hearsay has been rife as the PF does not have a substantive leadership since his electoral defeat.
That could be the source of the party’s deregistration by the Registrar of Societies.
The threat of deregistration follows failure by PF to comply with an order, as per law, to avail ten officer bearers of the party.
PF, according to the Registrar of Societies, has presented three bearers since 2021, the year it lost polls.
The deadline, and grace period to submit the names, elapsed in April. PF now must explain to the registration authority why it must not be deregistered.
PF, founded in 2001, has 60 seats out of 167 in the House of Assembly.
Eight candidates have formally submitted their candidature for the party’s presidency but dates have not been set for the in-house election.
The Non-Governmental Gender Organisations’ Coordinating Council (NGOCC) has expressed concern at the threatened cancellation of the registration of the PF.
“We also urge political parties to ensure that they fulfil their legal requirements as provided by the Societies Act Chapter 119 of the laws of Zambia so that they are not found wanting and ultimately disadvantage the Zambian people,” said NGOCC board chairperson, Grace Sinkamba.
– CAJ News