President Edgar Lungu’s running battles with Tongas

By David Zulu
President Edgar Lungu is the only incumbent since 1964 to have a visible protracted frosty relation with Southerners. His running battles with the region has only brought about the ugly side of Zambian politics. Southerners have generally been an accommodating people to Presidents they politically oppose, and nothing has come out of this ‘cat and mouse’ game we are currently witnessing between the President and the region.
As a matter of fact, Southern Province was an MMD stronghold the entire two terms of a Bemba speaking Head of State, Fredrick Chiluba. The Tongas twice gave Chiluba a 100% resounding victory which his own native Luapula, Copperbelt and Eastern Provinces did not due to stubborn pockets of UNIP presence, that still hung thick in the areas in question. No other Province had voted for a candidate outside their region than the Tongas during the Chiluba tenure.
Readers will appreciate that UPND President Hakainde Hichilema who appears to be a bone of contention in the relationship between President Lungu and the Southerners has sat through three incumbents namely, Presidents Levy Mwanawasa, Rupiah Banda, Michael Sata and the fourth being Dr Edgar Lungu himself. Nothing of the political skirmishes and altercations ever took place in the first three, until Mr Lungu came on the scene. Many attribute this to President Lungu’s deliberate failure to distinguish between the Tonga tribe as a separate entity from the UPND, a political party led by a Tonga.
This is a bizarre theory of a Tonga ‘Bantustan’ image that was successfully sold by now-defunct Post Newspaper’ which painted Tongas and UPND as a unitary enterprise conjoined at the hip like a set of siamese twins. To President Edgar Lungu, Tongas and UPND are clearly one and the same and must be (mis)treated in one fashion or another.
Symbolic oppression 
There may be several reasons why it is happening that Tongas are marginalised but one of them is President Lungu’s policy of symbolic oppression, a sanctioned ideology used to justify relationships of domination and subordination through labeling and the stereotype of targeted groups.The President has persistently compartmentalised the collective character of Southerners, to demonstrate certain personal feelings on what he perceives as lack of political support from Southern Province. This negates the principles of democratic choice of a given people.
During his latest visit to the Province, the President cajoled and mocked Mr Hichilema as a ‘Tonga Bull’, who fails to use his personal wealth to construct Chiefs’ palaces in the Pronvice. The President attempted to draw parallels between the Presidency that uses public resources for public projects, and a private citizen who pays tax to the state. Mr Lungu’s habit of maligning the entire Tonga tribe each time he perceives a grievance against his main political rival has been a great source of conflict between the Tonga people and his Presidency.
During the campaign for a parliamentary candidate in Lusaka’s Chawama constituency in the last election, the President used negative stereotype in describing Hichilema in an unsavoury tag of ‘Kachema wa N’gombe’, a loosely translated- a ‘cow minder’. This moniker is miles away from the respectful and prestigious business of a cattle rancher, that indeed the opposition leader is. Instead Edgar Lungu refers to him using the veiled insult of a ragged, poverty-stricken shepherd.
President Lungu has often used coded language that in some ways is explicitly and other ways implicitly used as a substitute for personally targeted tribalism. Many viewed the above term (Kachema) as a subtle and symbolic interpretation of the Southerners as animals, and Hichilema as their leading bull. Their suspicions were confirmed when a few days later, Lungu’s senior Party official Mumbi Phiri referred to Tongas as cows, a slur that she was not reprimanded for.
Overt discrimination 
While on a visit to Livingstone in late 2019, the President made a staggering statement declaring that as long as he lived, there would be no Tonga President, a narrative quickly adopted and parroted by senior government and party officials who held meetings in the Northern regions of the country, which Mr Lungu’s political party views as their stronghold. Chanda Nyela, Bizwell Mutale, Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba and Cabinet Ministers Nkandu Luo and Chris Yaluma traversed the Republic addressing rallies and conducting a blitz of radio interviews casting Tongas as dangerous, segregative and vengeful people.
The stage had indeed been set for a full blown institutional demonization, that however received deafening silence from a President who appeared to have been gleefully enjoying the moment. Not a finger was lifted by Mr Lungu to condemn his leaders in what were clearly highly charged, divisive and inflammatory language that had potential to trigger a genocide against Tongas who live in the Northern regions of Zambia.
Covert discrimination.
President Edgar Lungu has superintended over an administration that has used tribal profiling of Tongas as a method to discriminate against them in government employment and public related contracts. Hundreds of young Southerners, Westerners, North Westerners and their sympathizers have been retired in ‘national interest’ albeit in the prime of their careers. This has been evidenced in government departments such as Defence and Security, quasi government organisations and the civil service.
An online publication ‘Koswe’ last year published what they called ‘yellow pages’ that comprised of a credible and verifiable list of Heads of Defence, Security, Paraststal, Diplomatic Service, Civil Service at Director and Permanent Secretary level where approximately 98% were occupied by individuals from the Northern and Eastern regions of Zambia.
PF’s open abuse of Hichilema 
While participating in a live Radio interview in Kitwe in 2015, a horde of PF thugs armed with machetes and semi automatic weapons raided a studio demanding to see Hichilema. His security detail opened the roof of the Radio station through whose tiny hole he escaped to safety as the militia discharged live fire. On two occasions in the Northern Province PF supporters stoned Hichilema’s helicopter as the pilot was executing landing procedures. The pilot aborted landing.
Recently and in more than one occasion in Northern Province, HH’s radio interviews have been disrupted by PF thugs who have raided studios demanding that the stations cease broadcasting. Of course the biggest incident is when police special forces conducted a midnight raid on Hichilema’s private residence, knocking down glass doors and windows and pumping tonnes of teargas as the opposition leader sheltered in a bunker with his family.
It is clear for all to see that regionalism is rife under Edgar Lungu. Turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to this evil spewed by his party and government officials seems to be PF government policy. If today citizens resort to booing and heckling, it’s because the chickens of your hatred and marginalisation have come home to roost. As father of ALL Zambians you have a moral and patriotic duty to unite your children. Give people their due respect and rise above the pettiness and incendiary language that is unbecoming of a Republican President, sir.
The writer is an independent journalist, author and consultant at ‘Apex Grazing Hills Consultancy Ltd’.
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