By CHUSA SICHONE and REBBECCA MUSHOTA –
THE Church-led national dialogue and reconciliation was launched at the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Lusaka yesterday with some of the nation’s leading clergy calling for political players to let go of any pent-up anger bottled up from the acrimony of past elections.
The ruling PF did not attend – having made its position known the day before – but in comments made as he left Addis Ababa for home on the eve of the launch, party leader and Republican President Edgar Lungu called for an all-inclusive dialogue process.
Mr Lungu had expressed eagerness to attend but had to travel to Addis Ababa for an AU and SADC heads of state summit meeting on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which is dealing with the protracted impasse on the outcome of last week’s presidential poll.
It was also explained on Friday by Government Chief Spokesperson Dora Siliya, that Mr Lungu, despite his oft-repeated desire to attend yesterday’s meeting, had not received an official invitation to the launch.
Also missing was the leadership of the Zambian Centre for Interparty Dialogue (ZCID) and a host of its affiliates, all of whom stayed away to underscore their displeasure at the continuing disharmony between them and the three national Church bodies they had been expected to work hand-in-hand with in organising the process.
Addressing the meeting, Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) president George Lungu challenged all well-meaning citizens to assist in redeeming the country from the challenges it faced.
Bishop Lungu told the gathering of political leaders Zambia was facing a number of political, social and economic challenges leading to the building up of tension, violence and election-based polarisation.
In his homily, Bishop Lungu said a better Zambia was possible despite the many challenges the country faced and the desire was to use the national dialogue and reconciliation to avoid jeopardising peace, unity and harmony.
Bishop Lungu said it was essential for Zambians to depart from tribalism, political intolerance, biased implementation of the Public Order Act, biased media coverage, and failure to observe the rule of law and human rights.
He challenged “those who have bottled up so much anger” owing to election campaigns to let go for God to transform them into instruments of peace.
The symbolic launch of the process – which was open to ordinary members of the public – involved sprinkling hardened salt on fire, a ritual which all political party leaders, among others participated in. They also signed a commitment statement to promote peace, unity and harmony.
Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia chairperson Paul Mususu Church would continue to engage stakeholders that stayed away from the launch because dialogue was not a process for a few individuals.
The Church’s proposed roadmap towards reconciliation involves a caucus meeting of political party presidents, provincial conferences, technical committee(s) of experts, and three national conferences.
In an interview later, United Party for National Development president Hakainde Hichilema said that Zambia had challenges and dialogue was the only way to resolving them.
“I and Mr Lungu agreed that the Church would lead the process when we met the two of us and I confirmed I would attend…he confirmed he would attend, so what is happening? What is going on? Are we walking away from our commitment?” Mr Hichilema said.
Mr Hichilema challenged leaders to come on board and redeem Zambia from what he viewed as an imminent collapse, in a peaceful manner through dialogue.
United Prosperous and Peaceful Zambia president Charles Chanda said there was need for parties to come together to resolve their differences.
Patriots for Economic Progress president Sean Tembo said it was regrettable that the PF was not present at the event because he believed the occasion was the first step to take when resolving conflict.
UNIP vice-president Njekwa Anamela said national dialogue was necessary in resolving matters of concern in Zambia and the former ruling party was the pioneer of dialogue because that route prevented confrontation that could lead to the breakdown of peace in the country.
Other notables that did not attend the event were National Democratic Congress consultant Chishimba Kambwili who represented by
secretary general Mwenya Musenge and vice-president Josephs Akafumba while Rainbow Party leader Wynter Kabimba was also absent.
Others in attendance were MMD faction vice-president Reuben Sambo, National Restoration Party’s Elias Chipimo, Junior, Alliance for Democracy and Development’s Charles Milupi, People Alliance for Change’s Andyford Banda and Republican Progressive Party’s James Lukuku.
Economic and Equity Party leader Chilufya Tayali hugged, shook hands and exchanged pleasantries with Mr Hichilema, whom he has been highly critical of..