By CHILA NAMAIKO -
PRESIDENT Edgar Lungu has granted the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) access to incarcerated United Party for National Development (UPND) leader Hakainde Hichilema to discuss matters of dialogue and reconciliation.
This was after a request by a 14-member team of Catholic bishops for President Lungu to facilitate them access to Mukobeko in Kabwe where Mr Hichilema is currently remanded as he faces charges of treason.
This came to light when ZCCB president Archbishop Telephore Mpundu and his team met President Lungu at State House in Lusaka yesterday.
The church leaders were at State House to underscore the need to work with Government for the good of the people.
This is also according to a statement issued by President Lungu’s special assistant for press and public relations, Amos Chanda.
Bishop Mpundu said the bishops were emissaries of the church and went to express good wishes to President Lungu and his Government.
He also appealed to President Lungu to put the country first and seriously consider engaging in a genuine face-to face dialogue with the opposition leader Mr Hichilema aimed at reconciliation.
“Your Excellency is alive to the historic reconciliation between the two late Presidents Levy Mwanawasa and Michael Sata. We would like the State to facilitate our visit to Mr Hichilema so that we can deliver the same message to him, namely to humble himself, open the door and pursue a reconciliation path,” he said.
President Lungu responded positively and encouraged the Catholic bishops to visit Mr Hichilema and deliver the message.
Home Affairs Permanent Secretary Chileshe Mulenga, who also attended the meeting, said the ministry would immediately facilitate the Bishops’ request
Commenting on the recent fires in the nation, Bishop Mpundu deplored acts of violence such as arson as shown by the torching of the Market a few days ago, and that bishops’ hearts reached out to the victims.
He said the church also decried the acts of sabotage aimed at public installations aimed at crippling economic progress.
The bishops also said the overriding concern was the aftermath of the election in August 2016 which could not be denied that it was a divisive election which left the people of Zambia deeply divided.
Following President Lungu’s appeal on March 12, last year in Mpika, the bishops responded by drawing leaders from other church groupings to put heads together in order to bring political players together in with a view of peaceful campaigns.
The meeting at the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Cross was meant to achieve a consensus on how to conduct peaceful campaigns and President Lungu was a witness.
He urged Government to embark upon a well spelt out and action oriented programme of national reconciliation through genuine dialogue and called on the President who was for the whole country to put in place concrete measures to reverse the worrying and dangerous trend of doing politics through violence.
He was confident that yesterday’s meeting would be a building block in promoting a mutually appreciated relationship between the church and the State.
He said the constituency of the political authority and that of the Church was one and the same, hence the State and the church should cooperate with each other in there sphere of competence for the benefit of people.
This cooperation consisted of comparing notes and exchanging experiences in view of enhanced service delivery to God’s people at whose service both the State and the Church should be in order to be relevant.
Bishop Mpundu led 13 bishops and Father Cleophas Lungu for the over an hour-long meeting while President Lungu was accompanied by Religious Affairs Minister Godfredah Sumaili, Presidential Affairs
Minister Freedom Sikazwe and Dr Mulenga.
The Bishops were ZCCB Vice-president Bishop Alick Banda, Bishop Ignatius Chama, Bishop Patrick Chisanga, Bishop Justin Mulenga, Bishop Charles Kasonde, Bishop Clement Mulenga, Bishop Evans Chinyemba, Bishop Moses Hamungole and Bishop Valentine Kalumba.
Others are Bishop Raymond Mpezele, Bishop George Lungu, Bishop Benjamin Phiri and the ZCCB
Secretary General Father Cleophas Lungu.
President Lungu welcomed the Bishops’ overtures for dialogue, but insisted that such a dialogue should be premised on the opposition first accepting the outcome of the 2016 elections.
Mr Lungu assured the church of commitment to Constitutionalism, democracy and the rule of law.
“ I wish to assure you of my full commitment to our citizens’ democratic rights. They shall be safe under my Presidency,” he Lungu said.
Mr Lungu thanked the church for their appeal to dialogue and reconciliation while urging them to be more vocal on quarters that threatened national peace.
The President appealed to the church to speak with a louder voice against violence and other acts that undermined the country’s peace and unity.