By Kate Janse van Rensburg
On April 10, two members of the Socialist Party of Zambia were arrested for organizing training sessions in Matero, one of the country’s poorest compounds. Combined with the government’s attempt to recall the Cuban ambassador Nelson Pages Vilas after he attended the party’s launch on March 31, this is another attempt by the ruling Patriotic Front to crush any form of opposition.
According to a statement released by the party, the arrest happened during an organized private training session at the home of one of its members. Confiscated items included a whiteboard, phones and women’s handbags. Members were harassed and abused by police who surrounded the area.
“It is shocking to see our police service turning into a brutal police force whose main task is now to haunt and oppress the masses of poor Zambians,” said Womba Nkanza, a member of the Kwacha Women’s Movement.
This attack is part of efforts to stifle and suffocate the newly formed party that aims to construct a Zambia built on the foundations of justice, equity and peace.
Last year, Zambia’s cholera outbreak exposed the inability of the Patriotic Front in addressing the social inequities plaguing the country. Poverty and unemployment have run rampage, especially in the more densely populated capital of Lusaka.
As cholera swiftly moved through Lusaka’s gutters, it was the city’s poor who felt the brunt of their failing medical system while the elite were transported outside the country’s borders for quality medical care.
“We live in a Zambia today where medicine is not free. We live in a Zambia today where people do not always have the money to pay for these medical facilities,” said Reo Kafwabulula (19), a member of the Socialist Party Youth League.
Incidents such as the outbreak of cholera, mass unemployment, collapsing medical infrastructure and poor sanitation facilities have dealt a massive blow to President Edgar Lungu’s legitimacy.
Zambia has booming copper and cobalt industries but ordinary people do not reap the benefits of this wealth. Rather, the pockets of its president, ruling elite and various multinational corporations deepen.
Under the guise of the Mopani Copper Mines, Glencore is one such multinational corporation that has sunk its claws into Zambia’s Copperbelt Province. Drawing attention to this attack on the labour force, who work daily within the belly of the earth, and the communities living above these rich minerals, Vijay Prashad, Executive Director of Tricontinental Institute for Social Research wrote in relation to a report released by UNICEF : “Sixty percent of the children in grades one to four cannot read…in one of the areas of Africa with the richest resources, the children cannot read.”
In 1964, Zambia gained its independence and a new hope arose. At the time of independence, the Zambian economy was owned entirely by the British. Subsequently, the government of Kenneth Kaunda instituted wide-ranging nationalization. This nationalization included Zambia’s mineral wealth, which translated into free, compulsory education provided by the state:
“I never bought a pen, exercise book or a calculator. All my father paid for was my transport to school and back,” said Chimozi Zulu, who grew up under Kenneth Kaunda’s regime.
By 1990, imperialism had made it very difficult for the Zambian government to sustain their majority ownership of the mines.
Zambia began to run a deficit budget largely because of the collapse of copper prices that led to a drastic reduction in domestic revenue for the government, which could no longer sustain its social spending. They were forced by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and Zambia’s bilateral partners to privatize the mines in order for Zambia to qualify for debt from these institutions.
Privatization of the Copperbelt’s mines translated into privatized education and consequently, a soaring illiteracy rate. Meanwhile, Glencore’s CEO Ivan Glasenburg fabulously enriches himself and the Swiss territory he obtained citizenship from in 2011.
“President Lungu knows his time is running out. He fears a conscientised mass. He’s scared of a revolutionary leadership.
He’s scared of the hope of a new Zambia,” said General Secretary of the Socialist Party, Cosmas Musumali, in a press statement.
Observers point out that Edgar Lungu and his government have relentlessly cooked up propaganda to attempt to crush all forms of opposition. Hostility from the ruling party is not unfamiliar to the Socialist Party. Their process of registration was delayed for over a year in a country where most political parties are registered within two or three months.
Against this backdrop, the Socialist Party is a direct response to these suffocating living conditions. “Our only alternative is merciless struggle,” said Kafwabulula.
Despite the antidemocratic tactics used by Edgar Lungu and his government, the Socialist Party has remained resolute, undeterred in attempting to build a party that aims to eradicate class and structural inequities. “Our primary aim is to return power not to the wealthy but to the masses, to the mass majority, to the student and to the farmer,” said Kafwabulula.
“This country is being run by an elite whose interests are not at par with the Zambian masses, said Musamuli, “The Zambian masses want peace. They want justice and they want equity.
This is what the Socialist Party is there for.”/