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“Refrain from acts of violence, hate speech”: Catholic Bishops in Zambia Urge Politicians

Logo of the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB). Credit: ZCCB

Catholic Bishops in Zambia have cautioned political actors against inciting members of the public to violence before, during and after general elections scheduled to take place on August 12.

“We appeal to all political contestants to refrain from acts of violence, hate speech and malice, but to show cause why they should be elected,” members of the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) say in their collective statement issued at the end of their Plenary Assembly on July 16. 

In their statement, the Catholic Bishops express concerns about cases of violence including destruction of property, abductions, the shedding of blood, and hate speech seen in ethnic and tribal name-calling that have become common in the Southern African nation.

Tensions have risen in Zambia in recent weeks as supporters of President Edgar Lungu of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) and those of United Party for National Development's (UPND) leader, Hakainde Hichilema, clash in what seems to be a tight contest ahead of the poll. 

Last month, the Electoral Commission of Zambia suspended the PF and UPND parties from campaigning in the capital, Lusaka, and three other districts because of the alleged political violence.

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The Commission also barred political roadshows and limited groups conducting door-to-door campaigns to three people.

In their July 16 statement availed to ACI Africa, ZCCB members say the acts of violence "are intended to intimidate the citizenry to belong to a party or to choose leaders out of fear." 

They emphasize the need for the citizenry to "be free to belong to a party of their choice and to choose a candidate or candidates of their preference to represent them or to lead them without undue influence." 

The Catholic Bishops in Zambia caution against politically instigated violence saying, “Political contestation should not amount to mortal combat where life and property is lost for the sake of ascending to power. But it should be based on a program of action for our people, the majority who are poor."

“We have lived together as a people from different walks of life, different tribes, languages, interest groupings and associations in a spirit of One Zambia, One Nation, as espoused by our founding father, the late Dr. Kenneth David Buchizya Kaunda,” the Bishops say.

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They add, “We have lived as brothers and sisters in unity and love. In the same vein, as a people we hold in high esteem the sanctity of human life as inviolable.”

"Zambia is known for being a peace-loving country and a beacon of peace in Africa" they further say in their message titled "Be at peace with one another (Mk. 9:50).”

“The forthcoming elections are not the first nor the last in the history of our country but a recurring event. Therefore, these elections should not be marred with bloodshed. Because there is life before, during and after the elections. Let us be considerate and respectful of each other. All life is sacred. And all life matters,” ZCCB members emphasize.

They go on to urge the electorate “to choose leaders who are selfless, God fearing, and with the interest of the people and our country at heart. We encourage you not to be distracted by deceit.”

“We wish to encourage each other to be impartial as we guide and shepherd those entrusted to our care,” the Catholic Bishops in Zambia say, and add, “Leadership comes from God. In this country, leadership comes through the ballot box.”

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Recalling the pledge by the country’s political actors to foster peace during the electioneering period, ZCCB members say, “It is our sincere hope that, you will take full responsibility and translate this pledge into reality for a peaceful coexistence between members of different political groupings and interests, and subsequently lead to peaceful elections.”

They exhort Zambians “to be considerate with one another and observe health guidelines to safeguard and protect ourselves and others from contracting COVID-19 that has so ravaged our communities, not only here in Zambia but the world over.”

“Our Lord commands us to be at peace with one another,” they emphasize say, and implore, “May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ remain with you always: before, during and after the elections.”

Last week, the Catholic Laity in Zambia under the Zambian National Council for the Catholic Laity (ZNCCL) encouraged the people of God in the Southern African nation to take part in pre-election processes ahead of the country’s general elections.

In his speech during the launch of a project dubbed, “Strengthening Democracy in Zambia”, the Catholic Pastoral Coordinator in Zambia, Fr. Cornelius Chibamba, acknowledged the significant place of the Laity in the Church and in society.

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“As the Catholic Church, we depend on the laity to be our light in the democratic process. We therefore urge all our lay members to be part and parcel of the entire process taking place up to when we will have elections,” Fr. Chibamba said in the speech read on his behalf during the July 14 event.