Yesterday, Wednesday, 23rd December 2020, the police are reported to have used teargas and live ammunition on unarmed cadres of the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) to try and stop them from offering moral support to their leader who had just been summoned by the police to answer to some ridiculous criminal charges he is alleged to have committed sixteen years ago, a scheme which we hear is intended to disqualify the accused leader from contesting next year’s presidential election if convicted.
The senseless killing of the two, one suspected to be an opposition party supporters while the other a known public prosecutor caught up in the fracas, has sparked widespread anger and condemnation, and rightly so. Any arbitrary extrajudicial killing of innocent citizens in their exercise of constitutional rights of assembly, freedom of expression, choice and conscience should make horrendous reading anywhere in the world.
It is very appalling that the suspected killers are the police who are tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that all citizens freely enjoy these rights as offered in the national constitution. Therefore, Zambians have every right to be angry and demand that the responsible murderers are prosecuted.
What is more atrocious, however, is that this whole episode reminds Barotzis of what they went through on the 14th of January 2011, when at the hands of the same brutal state police, nineteen (19), not two or three, innocent Lozi people, including two infants, were killed as the police shot, bayoneted and tear-gassed a peaceful procession of Barotzis who had similarly wanted to go and attend a peaceful public gathering in Mongu.
In this case, the injured were denied medical attention as both the Red Cross and Mongu's Lewanika Hospital medical staff were threatened by the killer police not to dare render any attention to them.
The state killings or rather massacres were unprovoked as the Barotzis were unarmed and peaceful. Their only crime was to desire to gather peacefully with their traditional and royal leadership so that they could deliberate on the future of their political and social participation in the country they have known since 1964 to be theirs.
The people of Barotseland have a legitimate political grievance that is no fault of theirs, and they have every right to seek peaceful redress on what they believe is wrong with their citizenship in Zambia. As a people that can read, and also having been tutored by their parents, the Barotzis argue that they only became part of Zambia through the conditional and express terms of the Barotseland Agreement 1964 signed with Northern Rhodesia and the British, which never saw the light of day because Kenneth Kaunda’s first Zambian government unilaterally repudiated and abrogated it by 1969.
Consequently, they rightly felt cheated and peacefully wished to know how and why the people of Barotseland should be termed as ‘Zambians’ in the absence of the 1964 pre-independence treaty that would have legally sealed their Zambian citizenship.
However, perhaps Barotzis, like the UPND members, were so naïve and deluded to believe that the Zambian constitutional provisions of freedom of association, conscience and freedom of expression were indeed real. Alas, that dark 14th day of January 2011, and somewhat the incident which happened yesterday, Wednesday 23rd December 2020, may have just proved that human rights in Zambia are a façade and a preserve of only a few.
Perhaps one needed to belong to a special breed or section of Zambia to enjoy certain constitutional rights to the fullest.
It is reported that while members of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party, enjoy free assembly, free expression and easy daily access to the national media, the UPND like the Barotzis are denied the same.
In fact, it is reported that the only free independent media that gave coverage to the Zambian opposition parties were either threatened or completely shut down by the state, a fate too familiar with any media that has dared to cover Barotseland issues differently from the state propaganda on the matter.
HOW MUST THE BAROTSE FEEL AT THE STATE POLICE KILLING OF 19 IN 2011?
In 2011, the Barotzis also sadly learnt that Zambians, unlike now when they have spoken in outrage at the killing of the two killed yesterday, were largely and conspicuously silent during their gruesome ordeal. Even the Zambian church, human rights watch groups and the Zambian legal fraternity all went mute in the face of such state instigated atrocities against the Lozi.
In fact, the many Zambians who spoke through various social media platforms actually mocked the grieving Barotzis and spoke of how ‘fi Balozi’ deserved to be ‘dealt with’ in such a heavy-handed manner from the government and state agents. It was not uncommon to read on many such platforms cruel mockery of ‘Ku fi paya fye!’ meaning the Lozi deserved to be killed as they were allegedly 'stingy' and/or 'selfish'.
Unfortunately, what many Zambians don’t know is that 14th January 2011 was the turning point for most Barotzis as they realized that they were actually an 'undesirable' group of people in Zambia to the extent that instead of drawing strength and support from the Zambian public, they were being mocked in their repression.
In the present sad situation, however, we see solidarity to the opposition and the innocent killed, and this is how it should be. In fact, the Zambians should recommend another day of national prayer, fasting and repentance at this sad and barbaric killing of the innocent souls as they often do for other national calamities.
However, and sadly so, in the case of the innocent Barotse killings in 2011, no one has to this day ever apologized or taken responsibility from the national leadership for the death of the 19 Barotzis.
There were no official funerals either, but government leaders were seen trying to outdo one another in their justification of the shooting of the Lozi, through their propaganda media and their parliament, and the people of Barotseland were portrayed as criminal ‘secessionists’ who had committed the capital crime of 'treason' by allegedly seeking to set the so-called peaceful Christian country on fire.
These assertions were, however, lies and mere propaganda, as the Rodger Chongwe Commission of Inquiry leaked report, would show later, that in fact, this was an act of senseless killing of unarmed Barotzis.
The Zambian government even lied through their propaganda national media ZNBC that only two (2) people were killed; one for wanting to set ablaze a petrol (gas) station while the other was killed by a strayed bullet.
The government constituted Chongwe commission of inquiry, however, would later reveal that actually, 19 people died instead of two. Although the inquiry findings have never been made officially public, this singular fact was preempted by Dr Rodger Chongwe himself, a renowned lawyer and chairperson of the commission, while officially submitting the commission's conclusive findings to fifth republican President Michael Sata.
Can Zambians imagine how this senseless killing must feel in the hearts and minds of the Barotse? Is it any wonder that many Barotzis are no longer interested in Zambia, but have simply adopted a silent revolt, like the now growing ‘watermelon revolution’ where UPND cadres wear green PF party regalia on the outside while their undergarments are the red regalia of the opposition party for fear of reprisals from the violent PF cadres?
The Lozi people in Zambia have similarly had to learn how to bear their pain and heartache in silence because they know that if they openly showed their emotional distress caused by their torturous existence in Zambia, they would attract government and police reprisals without any Zambian sympathy.
In fact, the quickest way for any Lozi to get imprisonment today is to voice out publicly or audibly what one really thinks about Barotseland!
What is distressing is that to the Lozi, Barotseland is home, and now they are forbidden to even talk freely or read literature about Bulozi (Barotseland), their homeland!
If the death of two or three Zambians at the hands of the state police hurt Zambians so much, can one imagine how the similar senseless killing of 19 innocent Barotzis must feel in the hearts of the Barotse people?
It is no longer a secret that the 14th January 2011 Barotse massacres were so gratuitous that even the presidency seems too ashamed to release the findings of the Chongwe commission seven years after it was submitted, although the inquiry gobbled over K5 billion (about USD1 million at the time) taxpayers’ money!