Friday, March 29, 2013

Rupiah and the diplomats

Rupiah and the diplomats
By Editor
Fri 29 Mar. 2013, 14:01 CAT

What happened yesterday at the South African High Commission in Lusaka raises a lot of questions.

Staff of the High Commission were asked to leave the premises before 10:00 hours. And by 09:45 hours, all members of staff of the High Commission who had been asked to leave had left. All this was in preparation for Rupiah Banda's visit to the High Commission. Indeed, around 10:00 hours Rupiah appeared at the High Commission in a Toyota Land Cruiser that was heavily tinted and its number plate removed.

Acting on a tip from members of staff of the embassy, we positioned our journalists at the High Commission in time for Rupiah's arrival. Our staff saw Rupiah in his heavily tinted Toyota Land Cruiser. And they recognised this Toyota Land Cruiser as one of the vehicles that is usually in his convoy. There was no mistake about Rupiah's identity.

Even the guard who appears in our front page picture saluting confirmed that the person he was saluting was Rupiah. This said, the question that arises is why did Rupiah have to appear at the South African High Commission in Lusaka under such high secrecy - staff of the High Commission sent away, Rupiah himself moving incognito in a heavily tinted motor vehicle and without the identifying number plate?

There is definitely some element of mischief here on the part of the South African High Commission in Lusaka and on Rupiah's part. Both didn't want that visit to be known; both wanted it to be secret. But why should a visit to the South African High Commission by a former Zambian president be a matter of such high secrecy? What are they hiding? Who are they trying to hide from? And why should they hide?

We hope the South African government of Jacob Zuma is not trying to interfere in the legitimate internal affairs of Zambia. Rupiah is facing legitimate criminal charges before our courts of law. Rupiah is not before a kangaroo court but before the courts he himself says he has confidence in. If Rupiah does not agree with his prosecution, he can seek legal redress within this same judiciary he has declared confidence in.

Rupiah has challenged the removal of his presidential immunity in the High Court of Zambia. No one has stopped him from doing so. And Rupiah is before a court that he believes will accord him a fair and just hearing. This being the case, where is the problem? What wrong has the Zambian government committed?

Is it wrong for the Zambian government to prosecute a former president who is believed to have committed a crime? The Constitution of Zambia and the laws of this country do provide procedures for bringing a former president to court to answer charges for the wrongs he did while in office. And if this is unlawfully done, the laws of this country do give adequate protection to Rupiah to seek legal redress, as he has done, through judicial review. Where is the problem? What is South Africa's concern?

Didn't South Africa itself prosecute Zuma when he was deputy president for corruption? Didn't the African National Congress terminate the presidency of Thabo Mbeki over these issues? Did the Zambian government protest that? Did the Zambian government interfere in their internal affairs? There are questions being raised about the expenditure on Zuma's personal home; has the Zambian government or have the Zambian politicians raised any issues concerning this?

Not very long ago, the South African police massacred defenceless miners in a manner that some of its own human rights activists are comparing to the apartheid Sharpeville massacre. No one in Zambia or indeed the whole SADC region raised any issue with Zuma or the South African government. This is a matter the South African authorities are dealing with internally.

We know that when it comes to issues of corruption, South Africa is not a good example for the region. It is a country in which corruption seems to be taking root very fast. While we respect the courage and determination of the people of that heroic country to free themselves from apartheid and its evils, we do not look up to them in matters of fighting corruption. They have not shown exemplary behaviour.

And our standards on the issue of corruption should not in any way be dictated by South African conduct. They have very little positive to show on this score. But it is not our duty to interfere with what formula they want to use to share the resources of that country. If corruption is their way of empowerment, we may have a problem with it, but we have no right to tell them what to do or what not to do.

They are a sovereign country and a sovereign people, but so are we and our country. Here we have vowed not to allow our leaders to abuse their stewardship role to enrich themselves, their families and friends. We think there is a better and more honest way of empowering ourselves.
If Rupiah feels victimised and believes he is being unfairly treated, our courts of law are open to him. Let him go there and seek redress as he is already doing. There is no redress over this matter that the South African High Commission or indeed the South African government will accord him. This is not a political matter for political lobbying; it is a legal matter that requires a legal defence. No amount of sneaking into and out of this and that embassy or high commission will save Rupiah from going to jail if he is found to be guilty of abusing his office and stealing public funds to enrich himself and his children.

Rupiah, despite having held the office of president, is a citizen of this country, who is equal to all other citizens before the law. There is a rule of law in this country. And the rule of law is based on equality before the law, or equal protection of the law as it is often phrased. This is fundamental to any just and democratic society. Whether politically or financially powerful, all are entitled to equality before the law.

The lifting of Rupiah's immunity made him equal to other citizens before the law. Rupiah will be prosecuted in the same way any other citizen will be prosecuted for committing a crime. In fact, in Rupiah's case, he is being treated with more respect or courtesy than an ordinary citizen. For this, he should be grateful.

We, therefore, appeal to all the foreign missions in Zambia to be careful with the way they deal with Rupiah and the situation he finds himself in. They shouldn't deceive themselves that they will be allowed to place the interests of Rupiah above those of the Zambian people. If Rupiah matters more to them than the Zambian people, they will soon realise that to us as a nation, the interests of the people take precedence over their commitment to Rupiah. They will also soon realise that Zambia, since independence in 1964, has never been recolonised by any other country. We value our place in SADC but we have not surrendered our sovereignty to any of our highly respected neighbours, including South Africa.

The behaviour of the South African High Commissioner to Zambia is questionable and needs to be explained. It may be necessary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to summon him to come and explain his behaviour.

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