On Saturday June 22, police raided the ancestral home of Dr. Fred M’membe, of the Socialist Party of Zambia, while he was addressing a mass rally of the party in Kitwe. Since the raid was conducted without a search or arrest warrant, four members of the party were dispatched to inquire about the reasons for the raid. In the process they were harassed and two were arrested by law enforcement.
After three days of arbitrary detention, the two party members were finally released today in the afternoon without charges. A source has also told People’s Dispatch that the Province Police Commissioner, Joe Njase, has indicated that the police, who have been occupying M’membe’s home in Mwika Village since the raid, will be withdrawn.
The incident was widely denounced by the party which has been victim to heavy state repression since its launch in March 2018.
The raid on M’membe’s home in his ancestral village in Shiwang’andu District occurred at the request of Lewis Mosho, the provisional liquidator of the Post newspaper which was founded by M’membe in early 1990s and shut down in 2016. As per his request, 30 people in police uniform, many with their faces covered, broke into the leader’s ancestral home by force.
After illegally barging in, the individuals proceeded to go on a rampage and vandalized the property, setting loose his cattle which were driven away into the forest and even slaughtering a duck which they later cooked and ate. The full extent of damages to the property have not been calculated.
During a press conference on Monday about the incident, General Secretary of the party, Dr Cosmas Musumali, told party members and press that the workers M’membe had employed at his residence were chased away during the raid and are currently hiding in the bush, since the ward councilor has ordered their arrest.
When the four members of the party traveled to M’membe’s home to speak to the local authorities about the raid, they found that the locks on the fence of the house was changed and there were armed policemen ‘guarding’ the house. They refused to allow them entry or divulge any information.
On Sunday, the group approached the ward councilor to try to get answers. While the councilor was initially amenable, his behavior turned hostile after he received a call wherein he seemed to have received instructions. “The team was detained for almost an hour… They were questioned why they were organizing football tournaments without [his] permission,” Musumali said.
One of the members, who is the party’s coordinator for that region, was questioned why he was starting party branches in his ward and told that he was not allowed to do so. After finding out that they were being detained, the acting headman of the village asked the councilor to release them, but he refused.
Eventually, the party coordinator and another member were bundled up in a car and taken to a police station where they were arrested. While no reason was given for their arrest and no charges were pressed, the police confirmed that the raid itself was carried at the behest of the provisional liquidator of the Post newspaper, who alleged that the property was acquired from proceeds of crime.
Disputing this allegation, Zambian journalist Sheik Chifuwe told People’s Dispatch that the land was his ancestral property on which M’membe began building his house about seven years ago. The newspaper, which was critical of the government, was ordered to shut only in 2016, on the grounds that it owed debts in taxes to Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA).
“We have been paying the taxes and this outstanding bill is from an old debt which is in dispute,” the Post’s managing editor, Joan Chirwa, had said at the time. “It is not a secret that we are being targeted because of our stand.”
The newspaper was shut down despite a court order against its closure. In connection with the liquidation, Mosho placed a caveat over this ancestral land of M’membe in December last year.
At the press conference on Monday, General Secretary of the party, Dr. Cosmas Musumali highlighted the worrying implications of the weekend’s events, “We have tried to find out what could be the cause of this action and we cannot find any. The truth is we do not know, it does not make sense. Legally it doesn’t make sense. But we realize we are looking in the wrong direction, this is not a legal issue its a political issue and the whole action is political, and that has implications.”