Friday, July 15, 2011
By The Post
Fri 15 July 2011, 14:00 CAT
Four of the 20 or so Barotse detainees have died within a space of three months.
We do appreciate that people are dying all over the country but there is something that appears strange with this group of people.
In a group of 20 people who were fit to be arrested and detained by the police and prosecuted by the state for participating in the Mongu riots, four of them dying within a space of three months is something that deserves probing. Twenty per cent of the Barotse Agreement activists who were arrested and detained in Lusaka and Mumbwa have died! Is this a normal rate of death?
These people were arrested mid-January this year. On April 18, 70-year-old Mwiya Sihope died in Mongu’s Lewanika General Hospital as a consequence of health complications that developed at Lusaka Central Prison where he was detained on treason charges. On April 22, 16-year-old Kabayo Kabayo died from suspected septicemia in Mumbwa Prison where he was detained.
And last Saturday, 92-year-old former Ngambela of Barotseland Maxwell Mututwa, who was released from Lusaka Central Prison where he spent over a month, died in Senanga. And before Mututwa could be buried, 26-year-old Pelekelo Likezo died on Tuesday due to illness that his relatives say started in detention. Whatever crimes these people were thought to have committed, they are human beings with the right to life.
We cannot claim to uphold the sanctity of life and yet watch people dying one after another in circumstances that raise many questions about the nature and conditions of their arrest and detention.
Life is sacred, a gift from God to be valued from the moment of conception until death. Human life is a precious gift from God, the Source of all life, and maximum care must be taken to preserve it. Every human being should have the chance to enjoy the wellbeing necessary for their full human development.
And consequent on his dignity as a human person and a creature of God, a human being has certain rights, which nobody can take away. The roots of human rights are to be found in the dignity that belongs to each human being. There is need to find out why all these people have died shortly after being released from detention. These are poor people but they are not without human dignity.
Every human life has a unique value. Human life is a precious gift from God, the Source of all life. In the book of Genesis, we read about creation: “God saw all the creation and indeed it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). The last and the highest form of life that God created was human life. “Let us make human beings in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves” (Genesis 1:26).
Consequently, every human life is sacred and demands the greatest respect and protection. Among the commandments given to Moses was: “You shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17). This is a commandment which has been fully endorsed by Jesus himself (Mark 10:19; Matt 19:18; Luke 18:20).
And we are mindful of the covenant that God made with us: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today: I set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live in love of Yahweh, your God, obeying God’s voice, clinging to God” (Deuteronomy 30:19).
Choose life and not death! God calls us to protect and preserve human life. Indeed, we rejoice to find that this Christian teaching is also built in the United Nations convention on human rights.
The suspicious deaths of these Barotse Agreement activists who were detained in our prisons should not go unprobbed. There is need to investigate the cause of the death of every one of them.
And a competent commission should be set up to investigate what led to the deaths of those people in such a short time – within a period of three months, we have lost 20 per cent of these detainees.
By making this demand, we risk being accused of trying to fan trouble for the government and the ruling party, especially in the period of elections.
We are not accusing anyone of anything. We are simply demanding for that which needs to be done to be done. Even animals when they die in large numbers, veterinary experts are sent to investigate the cause of their deaths. If we can do that for animals, domestic and wild, what more for our fellow human beings?
We want peace and reconciliation in our country.
But we shouldn’t forget that the Lord Jesus Christ spent his public life going about doing good – healing, forgiving, comforting and showing compassion and concern for all human suffering. At the same time, he openly confronted the evils that oppress and dehumanise people.
There is need for a change of heart. Efforts should therefore be made to instill in people’s hearts a respect for God’s commandment of “Thou shall not kill,” a respect for the principle to the effect that God has entrusted us with the lives of our brothers and sisters.
All politicians and leaders should be made responsible for their actions. Those responsible for the reckless way in which the grievances of the Barotse activists were handled and the way in which the Mongu riots were policed should be brought to justice.
So far, those in government have tried to buy peace in Barotseland with money, buying their victims all sorts of gifts, yet these deaths we are today witnessing are a concrete example of how political carelessness has caused deaths and untold and continued misery which we are experiencing now.
The government is indicting itself by not probing the causes of these deaths and arresting anyone for causing them. They want reconciliation, they want peace without anyone taking responsibility for what happened and is happening. We are aware that reconciliation is a long and difficult process.
We are also aware of the obstacles and difficulties set up on this road. The process of reconciliation and forgiveness involves the seeking of truth that ensures sincere and lasting forgiveness. It also presupposes justice.
As Pope John Paul II once observed, “There is no contradiction between forgiveness and justice. Forgiveness neither eliminates nor lessens the need for the reparation which justice requires”.
A human person should not be subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. The way the Barotse activists were treated does not accord with the dignity of the human person.
The Mongu riots require a critical appraisal of the deep roots of their causes. We know that the police brutality that the Barotse activists were subjected to was a result of those in government trying to preserve their hold on political power – the lust for power. Those who hunger for power can kill for it and do kill for it.
If peace is to return in Barotseland, the primary requisite is to eradicate the cause of the riots and disturbances that took place in Mongu. And in our view, it is important to maintain and strengthen democratic structures if we are to enjoy a peaceful and developing future as a nation.
If the Barotse activists were allowed space to exercise their freedom of expression and assembly, those riots would not have taken place and no lives would have been lost as a consequence.
Therefore, the pursuit of justice must be a fundamental norm of the state. And this calls for justice to be given to the families of those who lost their lives as a result of the inhuman conditions under which they were detained. And those responsible for this drama must humbly accept their wrongdoings and ask for forgiveness.
There is no need for them to pretend everything was done well as George Kunda told Parliament in an effort to justify this government’s brutality – the brutality and intolerance that has so far caused the deaths of not less than four people and left many of our brothers maimed for life.
Mututwa sought dialogue. He consistently called for dialogue over the Barotse Agreement. What did he get in return? He was arrested and detained. Dialogue, listening to others and sharing our own beliefs with others, is not a choice for us.
It is a must. Dialogue is an essential path for the promotion of peace and unity in our country. We say this because dialogue is rooted in the nature and dignity of human beings. In dialogue, one can compare different points of view and examine disagreements.
Peace is the fruit of honesty, truth and solidarity; it is the tranquility of order. And to guarantee peace, all are called to maturity, tolerance and responsibility. This is the spirit in which these deaths should be approached.