5 September 2012

Zambia: Tonga Group Slammed Over 'War' Threats

INDIVIDUALS and organisations from a cross section of society have roundly condemned the covert group dubbed 'Tongas Under Oath' for waging 'war' to drive all Bembas out of Southern Province.

And the Zambia Police Service has instituted what they are calling intense investigations in collaboration with various security wings to verify the alleged existence of the shadowy group and the claims it has made of killing three Bembas, while seven others are said to have been poisoned and were expected to die soon.

The group has sent a series of correspondence to President Michael Sata with the latest being a letter dated August 14, 2012 in which they are demanding the reinstatement of Chirundu and Itezhi-Tezhi back to Southern Province following the realignment of the two districts to fall under Lusaka.

Acting Inspector-General of Police, Peter Chingaipe vowed in a statement in Lusaka yesterday that those behind the underground group would be brought to justice.

"The Zambia Police Service working hand-in-hand with various security wings has instituted investigations into this matter, aimed at bringing the author or authors of the letter to the President to book.

"The nation can be assured that no Zambian ethnic grouping can be threatened by such acts, as the people of Zambia, and indeed any resident of Zambia is free to move or live in any part of Zambia," he said.

Mr Chingaipe warned that authoring letters of threats had serious repercussions and it was for this reason that the Police had instituted the probe.

In the letter, whose sender's address shows: C/O Mazabuka Municipal Council, P.O. Box 670022, Mazabuka and signed by Mr Mweemba revealed that the "battle would continue" until President Sata reversed the decision to realign the two regions.

Copies of the letter were also sent to Minister of Home Affairs, Edgar Lungu, Inspector-General of Police, Stella Libongani and Tonga Under Oath district leaders.

In condemning the group and its machinations, the Human Rights Commission (HRC) said Zambia was a multi-ethnic country and should not condone any hint of ethnic attacks.

HRC director, Enoch Mulembe called on the Zambia Police to carry out an expeditious investigation into the claims of killings by the group to clear uncertainty.

"The commission believes that the reports, if true, are not representative of other peace-loving Tonga-speaking Zambians and should be thoroughly investigated by the police. We wish to remind the public that tribalism or ethnic bias is prohibited under the country's Constitution," Mr Mulembe said in a statement yesterday.

Mr Mulembe said Zambia had also accepted international instruments that were clear on the issue of non-discrimination, adding that different ethnic groups had lived in harmony since time immemorial.

He warned that Zambians should learn from and be mindful of what occurred in other countries due to ethnic hatred.

"Any grievances, if any, should be channelled through established mechanisms, such as dialogue, tolerance, peace and respect for each other. It is important that the law enforcement agencies play their role and investigate any hint of ethnic violence emanating from any part of the country," he said.

Mr Mulembe said it was important to respect the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination which Zambia had been a party to, since 1972.

The Patriotic Front (PF) in Southern Province has also condemned the group with Provincial Political Secretary, Brian Hapunda saying that the realignment of the two districts was done in good faith so as to improve service delivery to the people in the two areas.

"This group must know that no land has been stolen or uplifted from Southern Province and no cultural norms or indeed language spoken by people in Chirundu and Itezhi-Tezhi will change. This group must also know that Chirundu and Itezhi-Tezhi have now been opened to real development and now they have their own developmental budgetary allocation for purposes of infrastructural growth, a situation which was not there before the realignment," he said.

Mr Hapunda challenged the group to come out in the open and put their problem to the Head of State if at all they had a genuine concern over the realignment of Chirundu and Itezhi Tezhi.

He advised the group and the people of Southern Province to avoid being used by politicians and political parties who had a hidden and selfish political agenda.

And Siavonga District Commissioner, Brave Mweetwa said the group did not exist in his district and in Chirundu.

Mr Mweetwa accused the opposition UPND of planting seeds of division in the province by opposing the realignment of the two districts and alleged that the opposition party was behind the group.

"It is clear that the opposition UPND has been preaching divisions on several matters of governance including the re-alignment of districts and if anything they are to blame for activities such as those being promoted by the said shadowy group.

"The UPND leadership must take full responsibility of this embarrassing episode in our country's political history. It is not a secret that the UPND has made it routine to criticise and attack this Government on tribal or ethnic lines. Therefore, they (UPND) owe this unitary State called Zambia an apology," he said.

Mr Mweetwa said the people of Chirundu and Siavonga were behind Mr Sata and would not be swayed by outsiders who wanted to bring confusion in the area adding the 'Tongas Under Oath' was non-existent.

And the Southern African Centre for Constructive Resolution of Disputes called for caution in dealing with the matter judging by its potential to cause ethnic divisions.

SACCORD information officer Obby Chibuluma observed that much as the matter could raise interest, it had potential to create friction between Bembas and Tongas, hence the need for all stakeholders including the media to treat the matter with the seriousness it deserved.

"There is a possibility that politicians could be using this to malign each other, as we have seen from past political gimmicks, so let us be careful and not rush to conclusions because if this country plunges into ethnic unrest, innocent people will suffer more," Mr Chibuluma said.

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