Mmegi Online :: Trial begins for Zambian secessionists
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Last Updated
Friday 24 November 2017, 17:23 pm.
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Trial begins for Zambian secessionists

LUSAKA: The trial of 17 activists who declared the secession of Zambia's Western Province in March this year starts today in the small town of Kaoma.
By ARTHUR SIMUCHOBA
Correspondent
(GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Trial begins for Zambian secessionists








The declaration came at the conclusion of a two-day meeting of the traditional national council, which resolved to break away from Zambia and become Africa's newest state to be known as Barotseland.

However, the separatists are not on trial for declaring a new state but for tearing copies of Zambia's draft constitution, which is currently under discussion.

Fifteen of the separatists were arrested in the provincial capital, Mongu on September 10, for tearing 113 copies of the draft and two more were arrested later.  They have been charged with malicious damage to property and conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace. They had collected local language versions of the constitution meant for the province which the drafting committee has been circulating and surrendered the copies to the district commissioner.

When the commissioner declined to accept the copies because he was neither the author nor the distributor, they tore them up. That was in Mongu on September 6. They said the draft constitution was irrelevant in Barotseland, the name of their new state and only had relevance in 'neighbouring Zambia'.

"That Zambian constitution has nothing to do with us. It is of no benefit because we will not participate in anything to do with the Zambian government," said the secessionist Barotse Freedom Movement (BFM). It accused President Michael Sata and his government of deliberately sowing seeds of confusion.

When they appeared in court on September 13, they all pleaded not guilty. They were denied bail and were remanded in custody. For security reasons, they were transferred to Kaoma, a district in the same province but which opposes secession.

Their application for bail as citizens of Zambia was hotly contested by the prosecution, which said the accused were a danger to society and also that if they were granted bail, they would alert other suspects still on the police wanted list.  They were in court again on September 20 where they complained that a senior police officer had threatened that they would die in jail because the government had already decided that they would be imprisoned for five years.

They complained of harassment and bad language from the police officer. The magistrate

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however dismissed the complaints but promised to take up the matter with the provincial police commissioner.

The case has rekindled secessionist sentiment in the Lozi-speaking part of the province after a period of silence. The matter is largely stalemated and the government has shown little interest in discussing it.  President Sata has made no direct reference to secession in the province and has not commented one way or the other. The result is that there has been little progress and long spells of silence. But now following the arrests, the issue has been rekindled.

The Barotse royal establishment led by traditional ruler, the Litunga, which is spearheading the secession, was reported to be preparing for the worst over the arrests. The traditional prime minister has asked the police to free the 17 and arrest him in their place.

There have been critical comments and former prime minister of Zambia and army commander, General Malimba Masheke, who hails from the province, has accused Sata for the crisis in the province.  He takes the view that the crisis is the result of poor and visionless leadership. "President Michael Sata, in particular, takes special blame for being constantly inconsistent in word and deed on the matter," he charged.

Prior to the 2011 general elections, Sata had undertaken to implement autonomy for the province within 90 days of assuming office. "This promise from Sata was unsolicited but was made voluntarily by him in his effort to portray himself as the better person in comparison to his political competitors," Masheke said.

Matters have not been helped by the fact that the arrests came as most of the province was plunged into darkness for days following a power outage. Investigations showed that it had been caused by a felled pylon in the district of Sesheke. It appears to have been an act of sabotage perhaps to create disaffection for the government among the local people in the area.

According to Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation (ZESCO), the pylon was neatly cut but no component was stolen. Police have said they are investigating. The police indicated that there are still more people on their wanted list. (SPA)

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