Prof. Makala Lilemba
In his book, “The Night Without a President,” Sikota Wina, the first Zambia Minister of Local Government and Housing at independence in 1964 relates the events which led to President Kenneth Kaunda to step down on that fateful night of 14 August 1968 at a Party Convention in Choma, Southern Province. After observing the mode of ethnic voting for delegates and upon legal consultation, Kaunda announced to an astounded audience that he had tendered his resignation and ceased to continue as president of Zambia as he could not lead a nation that entertained ethnicity at the expense of nationalism. The house of delegates panicked as pleadings and wailings marked the occasion. The clergy had to be engaged to intervene so that Kaunda could revoke his resignation. Kaunda finally listened and four years later brought Zambia into a family of one party-state-families of many African countries. He ruled the country with an iron fist in which he could contest elections against a frog, snake or any object of his choice. Scholars started questioning whether his threat of stepping down was genuine or a mere test to see whether Zambians wanted him to lead them forever. Maybe this could be a lesson for our political leaders after these elections, which were marred by many factors, but ethnicity played a key factor. Of course, people have the democratic obligation and right to elect political leaders of their choice, but it is the ethnic pattern and mode of electing which is worrisome.
The ethnicity factor: It is clear that after thirty years of nationhood, the Namibian political panorama has remained ethnic. Despite the impact of mass corruption among members of the ruling party, and the moral incredibility, which accompanied that, the northern electorate still voted en masse for the liberation movement. The reality is that voting here is more ethnical than anything else. Moreover, because of the majority voting electorate, the ruling party has been winning in the four northern regions and it seems unlikely that there will be swing constituencies and regions here.
Looting the South to enrich the North: This factor has seen the southern regions voting for the newly formed Landless People’s Movement, which is fighting the dominance of the northerners. Before and after independence minerals from the southern part of the country have been utilized to develop the northern regions leaving the South impoverished. For thirty years, the government has failed to correct this trend.
Poor delivery services: In some regions, the councillors could not deliver as expected because the national leadership could not monitor and reprimand them, but the electorate knew what was good for them and decided to remove the dead wood.
Recycled politicians: Some councillors thought they could hold to those positions until removed from office by natural means. They were wrong because the electorate felt that the councillors have overstayed. Despite the rumblings and complaints from political party members, the national leadership became mute and failed to take any action against their members who refused to step down willingly. The electorate could not be fooled every time, but felt enough was enough and removed the non-performing councillors when it was due to do so. There is a season for everything, so says the wisest man.
Felt betrayed by the liberators and comrades-in-arms: The case in point here is that of Chixhu-Kongola-Kalubi-Sesheke-Sikaunga-Singalamwe corridor, many of these people fled the country en masse for fear of reprisals from the security forces, but found themselves put aside and denied to partake in sharing the national cake equally. It is inconceivable that after thirty years of nationhood, no one from this area has emerged as a minister or occupying a more senior position. The president always has two lists on which he could squeeze anyone from this group. However, for thirty years these gallant sons and daughters of the soil have seen their liberation struggle sacrifices slipping through their fingers before their eyes. As a result, one young man braved the political storm and stood as an independent candidate and the Kongola electorate found him worthy to carry their burden and consequently gave him the vote. There are many cases in which such instances are similar, but the government has been playing the ostrich. Many new mass graves of fallen heroes and heroines are being discovered in the northern regions yet very little is being done to recognize their role in the liberation struggle.
Paying up time: One cannot write a complete history of the liberation struggle in Namibia and leave out the sacrifices made by villages like Kikiya (Linyanti), Makanga and Masida. These villages faced the brutal side of the South African security forces in 1968. It is in these villages where Induna Masida and others were roasted alive on a burning fire. However, after thirty years of independence, the only symbol of their sacrifices is the now abandoned monument in their honour. The government has failed to even honour Induna Masida’s family with veteran monies. This election around, the electorate decided to take another election route by bringing in an independent candidate whose grandfather, William Kangondo Kabunga, was among the first Pretoria prisoners arrested for supporting PLAN fighters. In this group, add the issue of suspected secessionists who spent 20 years in prison, and found not guilty yet government has been jittery in paying them for unlawful imprisonment.
Minoriting the vote: In the Zambezi region, a unique and quite interesting situation unfolded where the eastern part overwhelming voted for the ruling party, while the western side went either for IPC or independent candidates. This might be interpreted as the easterners being “the ruling party faithful,” and the westerners as the opposition. Whatever interpretation might be attached to this political kaleidoscope, the fact is that the electorate has spoken. Another unique scenario is the minoriting of the votes in which case the Lyabboloma and Linyanti voters cut the Yeyi community into two leaving them without representation on the regional council.
There could be many reasons why the electorate voted for change, but the questions which linger on many scholars’ minds is whether our political leaders have the guts to listen to the voice of conscience. It cannot be business as usual after these elections, and this has signalled the capacity of our political leaders to carry this country through to Vision 2030. As a sign of failing the people, can they emulate Kaunda who for a few hours stepped down as president of Zambia because the delegates voted along tribal lines?