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Defend Democracy in Africa: Help #FreeHH

Following our reports; ‘DA Leader Barred From Entering Zambia on Africa Day‘ and ‘Support for Zambian Opposition Leader’s Trial on Africa Day‘ South Africa’s Democratic Alliance (DA) Leader, Mmusi Maimane, delivered the following remarks at a press briefing in Pretoria outside the Zambian High Commission to South Africa at 11:30 AM today. Header image credit: TrendsMap.

Yesterday, on Africa Day, I intended to visit Lusaka to attend the treason trial of my good friend, Mr Hakainde Hichilema, the Leader of the United Party for National Development (UPND) in Zambia.

Mr Hichilema was violently arrested over six weeks ago and faces charges of treason – a crime punishable by death in Zambia – for allegedly attempting to block a motorcade in which Zambian President Edgar Lungu was a part of.

The violent nature of his arrest and the inhumane treatment that Hichilema has received in detention confirms the political motives behind these charges. I have no doubt these charges were manufactured by the Zambian government to intimidate those who are opposed to its oppressive rule, which is an abuse of power and a serious disregard for the rule of law. From my previous engagements with Mr Hichilema, he painted a very grim picture of the state of democracy in Zambia under the current Lungu administration. The government is hell-bent on reversing the gains of democracy in Zambia and has moved swiftly over the past months to capture the state and its institutions, stifle political debate, limit free speech and the media, and violate basic human rights.

The Zambian government clearly feels threatened by Mr Hichilema and his party, the UPND, who have been working tirelessly in their attempts to stop the decay of democracy in Zambia. As the sister party of the Democratic Alliance (DA), they too are committed to the advancement of vibrant, competitive, multiparty democracy, the rule of law and the entrenchment of human rights and free speech across Africa. Mr Hichilema is also a founding member of the Southern African Partnership for Democratic Change (SAPDC), a body of opposition parties from across Southern Africa who are committed to securing democracy across the region, and which I am the current Chairman of.

It is for these reasons I decided to attend the trial of Mr Hichilema, in order to show solidarity with him and with the project of building and deepening democracy that we are engaged in across the continent. In respecting the Zambian government’s wishes, I honoured their call to refrain from visiting Mr Hichilema in prison, as the government claims there exists a court order preventing such visitation by members of the public. It should be noted that the Lungu administration even blocked Zambia’s founding father, President Kenneth Kaunda, from visiting Mr Hichilema in prison. It is a truly tragic collapse of a once stable democracy.

Moreover, my office notified the Zambian High Commission to South Africa. The visit was entirely legal and in line with the required prescripts. At no point were we informed that we would not be welcome.

I, therefore, did not anticipate the events which unfolded yesterday evening when I landed at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka. On arrival, members of the Zambian Police boarded the aircraft and aggressively confronted me and the delegation I was travelling with. I was not allowed off the aircraft and was told I was not welcome in Zambia. When I demanded reasons for being refused entry, I was told that the authorities are not required to furnish me with a reason. I have still yet to receive any reasons as to why I was restricted entry. In the altercation, my private cell phone was confiscated, along with other mobile devices. Within an hour of arrival, I was deported back to South Africa.

It is important to add that a member of the South African diplomatic team from the SA High Commission in Zambia was waiting for us on arrival, as was a delegation of Zambian MPs and the Chief Whip of the Opposition. They too were not allowed to speak to us, despite their best efforts.

It is an indictment on the Zambian government that a Leader of the Opposition from a neighbouring African state cannot pass freely into the country – especially on Africa Day – a day where unity on the continent ought to be fostered and celebrated.

The Republic of Zambia is a regional partner of the Republic of South Africa and their treatment today of our country’s Leader of the Opposition flies in the face of these relations. However, this matter does not stop here.

We have been in touch with the Department of International Relations and Co-operation, and we have asked that they seek in writing a full explanation and reasons from the Zambian government for denying lawful access to the country, and for the belligerent treatment I received. We have been greatly encouraged by the feedback we have received from DIRCO thus far.

Moreover, it is now time that President Jacob Zuma and the South African government speaks out against the anti-democratic practices occurring in Zambia. South Africa ought to be the leader on the continent in protecting and promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law. We call on President Zuma to show his concern and speak out against such actions by fellow leaders on the continent.

The DA will continue to advocate for the advancement of vibrant, competitive, multiparty democracy, the rule of law and the entrenchment of human rights and free speech across Africa. We will ensure this specific matter is raised in the relevant forums across the continent, including the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) of which Zambia is a member.

We stand by Mr Hichilema in his trial today, and we once again call on the Zambian government to withdraw these unfounded charges against Mr Hichilema.”