Zambian rapper freed on bail ahead of trial

Zambian rapper Fumba Chama, aka Pilato, has reportedly been granted bail by a Lusaka Magistrate following his arrest by plainclothes police on arrival at Kenneth Kaunda international airport on Wednesday last week.

He was returning to Lusaka from his exile in South Africa.

According to AFP, Magistrate Mwaka Mikalile ordered the following day that the 33-year-old musician be detained until May 21 over his failure to appear in court at a previous hearing.

On Monday, the magistrate granted Pilato bail at 30 000 kwacha (R36 981).

In December 2017 Pilato, an outspoken critic of the Zambian government, dropped his controversial track Koswe Mumpoto, which in Bemba means “rat in the pot”.


He raps: “A rat has entered our house/ It is busy stealing, thinking we will not question it.” The song contains veiled references to current and former Zambian leaders and alludes to the country’s complicated politics.

READ MORE: Exiled Zambian rapper stirs the president’s pot

Koswe Mumpoto was a direct attack on Zambian President Edgar Lungu.

In court Pilato’s lawyer Keith Mweemba told the court that the singer was not a flight risk and that he had fled Zambia because of the threats on his life.

On the day Koswe Mumpoto was released, Pilato began receiving threatening phone calls, voice-notes and messages from Lungu supporters.

The rapper left Ndola, his hometown, to seek refuge in Lusaka. But the threats of violence intensified when the youth wing of Lungu’s Patriotic Front, the governing party, weighed in.

Moses Chilando, a senior youth league official, gave Pilato 48 hours to “withdraw” the song. Instead, Pilato fled again: first to a rural farm and then, a few weeks later, to Johannesburg. 

“I haven’t been home since I released the song on December 11. I haven’t seen my wife; I haven’t seen my kids. I don’t know how safe they are back there,” Pilato told the Mail & Guardian in February.

READ MORE: Exiled Zambian activist-rapper arrested in Lusaka

A warrant for Pilato’s arrest was issued on February 5 after he failed to appear in a Zambian court on charges connected to his participation in a peaceful protest in September 2017. 

Pilato believes the timing of the warrant is suspicious.

In a statement released after Pilato’s arrest, Amnesty International’s regional director for Southern Africa, Deprose Muchena, called Pilato’s arrest a “shocking affront to justice”.

Muchena said: “It shows the lengths to which Zambian authorities are prepared to go to stifle dissent.”

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Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

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