“We are fed up with bloodshed in the political arena,” says Kabwe’s Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus priest Fr Isaac Tapiwa Mbewe. “Tatulefwaya ama politics ayakwitana amashina yafinama (we don’t want politics laden with tags of animal names), amashina yansele (insults). Those are old politics of Stone Age, munshita yabena (during the time of) homo habilis. We are fed up with bloodshed in the political arena. Enough is enough. We need clean politics.
We need to change the way people look at us… They (outsiders) know that in order for one to aspire and ascend to the presidency, they should use violence. But that is not right [because] Christ preached peace. Nga twakwata ichitemwiko tatwakepayane (when we have love, we will not kill one another), nga twakwata ichitemwiko tapali umuntu ukafwa nensala (when we have love, no one will starve), nga twakwata ichitemwiko takwakabe ukweba ati aba bekala ukwa aba bekala ku (when we have love, there will be no one condemned to live in a slum while others privileged to live in an uptown suburb). Naba kwa nabo balefwaika ukukwata ama tar marks (even those living in slums need tarred roads). When we love one another, even kids that are unable to go to school, on account of user fees, we will find a way [for them] to go to school. Ichitemwiko echachila fyonse (love conquers all). When we prioritise love, we will not even see who belongs to PF or UPND. We are one despite having divergent issues! Mostly during political campaigns, I fear because politicians divide us. But when all goes wrong, the politicians will flee and leave us trapped in warfare.”
Political violence is violence perpetrated by people to achieve political goals. Edgar Lungu and his minions seem to believe that their political systems will never respond to their demands and thus believe that violence is not only justified but also necessary in order to achieve their political objectives. They seem to believe that they need to use violence in order to intimidate the Zambian people into acquiescence.
The lessons of the political violence Zambia has witnessed since Edgar came on the political seen to be president are severe. It shows what can happen when polarised politics erodes the process of debate and compromise at the heart of national leadership. People lose faith in their system of government and ultimately lose faith in one another. Splintering political parties can’t contain the damage. Violence begins to seem logical, even necessary.
At the center of this conversation is the presidency of our country. A dysfunctional presidency can close off a vital arena for national dialogue, leaving us vulnerable in ways that we haven’t yet begun to fathom.
Based on our own observations, this seems like a crucial element to understanding violent politics. Perhaps it’s not just dehumanisation and animosity. It seems likely that a sense of political frustration or helplessness also contributes to a political situation in which people talk, joke, and even act on the idea of solving political differences with violence.
Under Edgar, our politics are increasingly becoming underresponsive and overresponsive at the same time. Our view is based on our observations about mandate politics under Edgar’s reign. Edgar’s mandate rhetoric is designed to sound
responsive: he claims to be doing the people’s business — carrying out the policies that are the reasons he was elected.
But on the other side of that coin is the sense that once he won, he had a broad mandate to implement his agenda, objections be damned. That his election victory justifies what he said to get there and what he does with the power of elected office. And in a polarised political context, that can mean moving forward with a policy agenda without making concessions to the other side.
Clearly, most authoritarian politics is characterized not by daily dystopia but by boring and tolerable existence in which political participation had little effect on the government. Democracy requires real responsiveness and transparency. Elections are part of responsiveness, but the process doesn’t end once the ballots have been counted.
There will be a lot of takes, we expect, castigating the tone of political discourse and calling for civility. But we suspect a deeper explanation for why political differences give way to violence has to do with the frustration of unresponsive politics. No level of frustration justifies violence. An important part of democracy, however, is trying to understand the conditions that allow anger to fester and make violence look, to some, like a viable approach. Peaceful democratic governance is better, and it requires leaders who listen to their citizens — not just the ones who voted for them, and not just during an election year.