Zambia returns fire in Zimbabwe's war of words

The Zambian government has broken its silence about attacks on it by the official Zimbabwean media.

“It’s unfortunate that the Zimbabwean government officials have continued to wage unwarranted and uncalled-for attacks on [Zambian] President Levy Mwanawasa as chair of [the Southern Africa Development Community],” Mike Mulongoti, Zambia’s minister of information told the Mail & Guardian.

Zimbabwe’s Herald newspaper, considered the mouthpiece of the government, carried a number of stories in recent weeks quoting top-ranking government officials condemning Mwanawasa’s conduct as chairperson of SADC.

Among other things, Zimbabwe accused the governments of Zambia, Tanzania and Botswana of working with the United Kingdom to spearhead “a campaign for speedy regime change in Zimbabwe”.

The British high commissioner to Zambia, Alistair Harrison, dismissed the allegations this week, saying “there is no truth in Zimbabwe’s allegations — the allegations are very, very unfair to Zambia”.

Mulongoti said: “This is a very malicious campaign; the Zimbab­wean government officials believe that Zambia is against them, but we all know it’s not true. We have already lodged a diplomatic communication to the Zimbabwean government to protest over the sustained malicious campaign against Zambia.
The truth of the matter is that if there’s a country that has suffered and sacrificed so much for Zimbabwe, it is Zambia, starting from the days of liberation struggle.”

At the peak of Southern Africa’s liberation struggle, Zambia played host to hundreds of freedom fighters from Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia and Angola. Among them were Robert Mugabe, now Zimbabwe’s president, his former vice-president, Joshua Nkomo, South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki and Hifikepunye Pohamba, Namibia’s current president.

Analysts fear that the persistent bitter exchanges between Zambia and Zimbabwe could severely strain diplomatic relations between the two neighbouring countries.

Reuben Lifuka, president of the Zambian chapter of corruption watchdog Transparency International, said: “Attacking President Mwanawasa or the SADC will not help resolve the problems in Zimbabwe. If the Zimbabwean government is not happy with Mwanawasa’s approach to doing things, they should say so, rather than having one minister saying this and another one responding. It’s not good for diplomatic relations.”

It is feared that differences between the neighbouring countries could damage economic relations between the two. Zambia shares three border posts with Zimbabwe, in addition to the electricity generation plant at Kariba, the famed Victoria Falls and the world’s biggest artificial lake, Kariba Dam.

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