Pretoria - DA leader Mmusi Maimane’s deportation from Zambia on Thursday night has cast a spotlight on a 19-month-old network of opposition politicians that was established in the region with the intention of sharing expertise and advising each other on governance issues.
Maimane was on his way, as chairperson of this network, to attend the trial of Zambian opposition politician Hakainde Hichilema, who was arrested six weeks ago and detained on what appears to be trumped-up charges of treason.
Maimane was turned back within an hour of arrival because he intended to mobilise Zambian opposition parties and his presence would undermine the “sanctity, integrity and independence of the judiciary”, the country’s High Commissioner to South Africa, Emmanuel Mwamba, said.
The Southern African Partnership for Democratic Change (SAPDC) was established following a two-day conference in Kempton Park at the end of October 2016 and also has businessman Moeletsi Mbeki in its secretariat.
Maimane said the SAPDC was founded after the Forum for Public Dialogue, a think tank which lists Mbeki as its chair, and the African Democratic Institute, an NGO concerned with the furthering of democracy across the continent with George Sibotshiwe as its executive director, invited two opposition parties in parliaments from countries across southern Africa to a conference.
Eight opposition parties are currently part of the network, and there are plans to convince more to join. They are: Lesotho’s All Basotho Convention, Namibia’s Rally for Democracy, Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change, South Africa’s Democratic Alliance, Tanzania’s Civic United Front, Zambia’s Movement for Multiparty Democracy, Angola’s Convergencia Ampla de Salvacao de Angola-Coigacao Eleitoral and Swaziland’s United Democratic Movement.
Maimane was elected chairperson and he is deputised by Nevers Mumba, president of Zambia’s opposition Movement for Multiparty Democracy and vice-president of the country from 2003 to 2004.
Other directors of the network include Morgan Tsvangirai, president of Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change – Tsvangirai, and Manuel Fernandes from Mozambique.
Maimane told News24 the SAPDC was formed to adress issues like the “crises” in Zambia and Zimbabwe. “Morgan Tsvangirai is dealing with dictatorships and they are now battling to decide how to approach elections,” Maimane said.
He said opposition parties in this network would support each other around how to handle the media, electoral support in cases where elections are being “stolen”, such as is alleged in Zimbabwe.
Maimane said he also wanted to go to Lesotho ahead of its June 3 elections to meet with opposition leaders to “make sure the practices are above board” in the elections there, and to establish if the parties needed “international solidarity”.
After the last elections in 2015, All Basotho Convention leader Tom Thabane was forced out of the country and had to live in the Free State.
A voice for the opposition in SADC
Maimane also hinted that the SAPDC would like to raise its voice in SADC forums where “opposition leaders can put a position on issues. We might even take complementary views. A voice for the opposition in SADC has been missing.”
He said, however, that some opposition parties needed to get more electoral support (in Namibia the opposition only has 2% of the parliamentary seats) to have some credibility.
“What happens in southern Africa is that we must get over our national liberation movement era, but how do we enter into that phase? Our mantra is that we acknowledge what liberation movements have done for the entrenchment of democracy, but you must move to a post-liberation movement era. Liberation movements often see the losing of elections as a regression, but we say it’s a progression, it’s what you fought for.”
The SAPDC is aiming to meet quarterly, and it has finalised funding proposals to find money to support its activities. “There are various roleplayers onboard,” Maimane said. These mostly consist people who “want to see democracy in SADC”.
He said his Zambia trip was at the behest of the SAPDC.
“I chair the body so as a chair I have agreed – we did a whole plan – we agreed on a plan to say we are doing this [trip to Zambia] as part of our solidarity with opposition leaders,” Maimane told News24 on Friday morning.
Earlier this month the network – in one of its first publicised statements on democracy issues – called on SADC to intervene after Hichilema’s arrest.
Hichilema's message to Maimane
Hichilema has twice narrowly lost out to president Edgar Lungu in elections – the first time in the 2015 by-elections after former president Michael Sata died, and the second in a scheduled election, the results of which Hichilema contested.
“As the SAPDC, we call upon SADC to intervene in this crisis instead of silently endorsing the acts of President Edgar Lungu, who is no longer committed to the democratic project. It is condemnable that Lungu has abandoned all democratic practices in order to cling to power with an iron fist, all while SADC watches,” the statement read.
Both SADC and the African Union have been silent on Hichilema’s arrest, as has the South African government.
Mumba, who was in court in Lusaka awaiting the outcome of Hichilema’s case on Friday morning, could not immediately comment on the matter but forwarded a message which he had sent Maimane earlier in the day.
My brother, I first must apologise for what happened yesterday on behalf of many Zambians. This is not who we are as a people. We are a nation that has existed to fight for the freedoms of others. It is for this reason, we remained as the frontline state in the fight against Apartheid. But from the political angle, your visit has helped our cause and fight for our freedoms. Your visit has added gravitas to our cause. Thank you for your decision to travel to Zambia amidst threats from our High Commission in Pretoria. Again, thanks. Your brother HH [Hichilema] will be encouraged to hear of the sacrifice you made for him and for democracy.
It is well.
'Intolerant and oppressive rulers'
His party has described Zambia’s refusal to allow Maimane entry as “drastic, draconian” and said it “further pushes Zambia at the bottom of civilised democracies in Africa”, adding that “this breach will haunt PF [Zambia’s governing Patriotic Front] for many years to come”.
Obert Gutu, a spokesperson for the Movement for Democratic Change – Tsvangirai, also condemned Maimane’s deportation. He said Lungu “seems to have quickly learnt a few lessons in the ‘art’ of tyranny and oppression from his southern neighbour, President Robert Mugabe, of Zimbabwe”. He said there was “no sound and justifiable reason” why Maimane was denied entry into Zambia.
“Maimane is the leader of a lawful and legitimate political party in South Africa. He is not a terrorist or a fugitive from justice. As the MDC, we would like to strenuously condemn this type of autocratic and intolerant behaviour on the part of President Lungu. Africa needs to be run by leaders and not rulers. How can we develop and sustain a democratic culture of governance in Africa, particularly in southern Africa, if intolerant and oppressive rulers in the mould of Lungu and Mugabe are still in charge?”