Audacious Zambian protesters outsmart the police

On Tuesday, Zambian riot police were deployed all over Lusaka. They were armed and wore full body armour. This show of force was intended to disperse a youth protest planned for Tuesday afternoon, organised in response to several government corruption scandals

The protesters never arrived but the protest went ahead.

“We had this idea,” said Chama Fumbe, an activist rapper better known by his stage name, Pilato. “Let’s announce that the protest was on. But then let’s do it from the bush.”

At the last minute, the organisers had told their supporters to stay at home. From an undisclosed location just outside of Lusaka, 13 youth activists live-streamed themselves making fiery speeches that railed against corruption and poor governance. And, while the police searched fruitlessly for a demonstration that was not happening, more than half a million people tuned in online.

“It has the potential to change how protest will be conducted,” Pilato said. “There are two streets. There are these physical streets and social media streets. I think this had more influence than if we’d gone to the physical streets.”


There was another upside: no one was shot, beaten or arrested. A furious police spokesperson has announced that arrests will be made – although it’s unclear what anyone could be charged with. As one joker noted on social media, not entirely accurately, only the Zambia Wildlife Authority has jurisdiction in the bush.

Information Minister and government spokesperson Dora Siliya said the police presence in Lusaka was designed to deter an illegal protest. “The youth have nothing to fear from government. But when they want to gather, in the middle of a pandemic … if it was not in a pandemic, I promise you it would be a different story,” she said. “Even Parliament is not allowed to gather.”

Laura Miti, a veteran activist and head of the Alliance for Community Action, hailed the activists’ strategic acumen. “It was a wonderful ruse,” she said. “It was two wins — they were heard widely, and they left power with egg all over their faces. Young people feel very invigorated.”

The government, on the other hand, must be rattled, said Miti. “These protests and Malawi  together cannot make for a very comfortable situation for the government.” 

In this week’s presidential election in neighbouring Malawi, the ruling party — also dogged by accusations of corruption and poor governance — appears to have been dumped out of office in a landslide victory for the opposition (the results are yet to be officially confirmed).

Pilato and his colleagues used the protest to present a youth charter for the advancement of a “a free society in which every Zambian can aspire for and attain a decent living for themselves”. Its nine central demands include better and more employment; action against corruption; respect for basic freedoms and human rights; accountable leadership; respect for the Constitution; improved education standards; access to health, good housing and sanitation for all; the promotion of women’s rights; and a fairer tax system where the rich pay their fair share.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Simon Allison
Simon Allison
Africa Editor for @MailandGuardian. Also @ISSAfrica.

Related stories

No mention of Africa when it comes to US foreign policy

During pre-election debates in the United States, very little has been said on how they view one of the world’s largest markets — which, in turn, is determined to come into its own

A pan-African stand must be taken against political oppression in Tanzania

As the country prepares for elections, the president is misusing state machinery to undermine, subjugate and repress citizens and civil society organisations

Epic fail: Africa’s Fortnite battle

Forced onto the backfoot by poor ping and overseas servers, African gamers are getting creative in an attempt to play one of the biggest competitive games. In the second instalment of our gaming corner, we chat to some of the innovators

The Nigerian government is killing its citizens — again

‘Nigeria kills its people. Nigeria has always killed its people.’

How US foreign policy under Donald Trump has affected Africa

Lesotho has been used as a microcosm in this article to reflect how the foreign policy has affected Africa

Elnathan John: Our merciful Nigerian father

“They say people disappear, young men with dreadlocked hair, with tattoos, or even just carrying a laptop in a backpack,” writes Elnathan John in a reflective essay about Nigeria.
Advertising

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

Baby Awa: The miracle baby born on a boat fleeing...

More than 300 000 people in the north of the country have been displaced by militants who ransack villages and then burn them down.

Five suspects arrested in Senzo Meyiwa case

Police minister Bheki Cela announced on Monday that his team has arrested five suspects who were allegedly involved in the killing of former Bafana Bafana captain Senzo Meyiwa.

EFF eyes municipalities ahead of 2021 local government elections

EFF leader Julius Malema says the party is preparing to govern in many municipalities from next year. It is also launching a programme to defend the rights of farm workers

WSU suspends classes and exams to avoid the spread of...

The university says it has to take the precautionary measures because 26 students have tested positive on its East London campus
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday