Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Zambia’s President Pardons Gay Couple

By Paul Shalala
The two men talk to their lawyer Daniel Libati shortly 
after they were convicted in Kapiri Mposhi in 2018.
-Picture courtesy of The Punch
Six months after they were sent to jail to serve a 15 years sentence, two men who became the first Zambians to be convicted for homosexuality are now back home, thanks to a Presidential pardon.
Steven Sambo and Japhet Chataba found themselves among 2,984 prisoners who were pardoned by President Edgar Lungu on the eve of African Freedom Day (Africa Day) which was observed on Monday.
According to the Government Gazette number 6,874 published on Friday last week, Chataba and Sambo are listed as number 2,561 and 2,562 respectively on the list of pardoned prisoners.
In August 2017, the two men found themselves in a bitter fight at a lodge in Kapiri Mposhi where they allegedly had sex.
Kapiri Mposhi is a transit town in central Zambia which has had three court cases involving homosexuals, two of which ended in acquittals.
In a video which went viral on social media in 2018, Chataba was filmed forcibly dragging Sambo back into a room at a lodge as he allegedly tried to run away from his partner.
As the two men fought each other and ended up back in the room again, lodge workers and onlookers filmed the episode on their mobile phones, footage which later proved to be critical evidence during trial. 
The Government Gazette which carries names of 
those pardoned, including Sambo and Chataba.
A day after the incident, the two men were arrested and charged with practicing what the Penal Code describes as “unnatural acts.”
During trial which took a year, several witnesses were called to the stand.
They included workers at the lodge, a medical doctor and the arresting officer.
It was alleged that the two men had carnal knowledge of each other.
Sambo and Chataba were convicted by the Kapiri Mposhi Magistrate’s Court on 3rd August 2018 but were only sentenced by the High Court in November 2019.
The 15 year sentence sparked a diplomatic row between Zambia and the United States of America.
Then US Ambassador to Zambia Daniel Foote expressed support for the two which led to a sharp reaction from the Zambian government.
Later, the United States government recalled Mr Foote back to Washington, DC.
According to the Penal Code, homosexuality is illegal in Zambia and it carries a 15 year sentence.
Zambia is a largely conservative country which outlaws homosexuality.
Its powerful church mother bodies do not approve of homosexuality.
However, the country has a handful of organizations which champion the rights of homosexuals who are estimated to be in their hundreds. 

Sunday, 10 May 2020

Zambia Closes Border With Tanzania Due To Coronavirus

By Paul Shalala
Dr. Chitalu Chilufya at the press briefing in Lusaka 
-Picture courtesy of Ministry of Health

Zambia has shut its border with Tanzania a day after it recorded 85 Corona Virus cases, most of whom were traced from the border town of Nakonde.

On Saturday, the town recorded 76 Corona Virus cases, which included 18 Tanzanian truck drivers and eight of their Zambian counterparts.

Others included 31 Immigration, customs and clearing agents, 13 sex workers and lodge workers, two health workers from Nakonde District Hospital and four people who came in touch with a Zambian couple which had travelled to Tanzania and tested positive two weeks ago.

During a press briefing, Health Minister Dr. Chitalu Chilufya said starting Monday, no vehicle will be allowed to enter or leave Nakonde to allow for massive screening and retraining of health and border personnel.

“We are temporarily closing the border at Nakonde and we will ensure that we screen everyone. We are also enforcing a Stay Ay Home order in the town so that we deal with the virus,” said Dr. Chilufya.

The Minister revealed that Corona Virus cases in Nakonde are likely to increase as more samples have been collected from the border town.

“We have picked up a number of samples from there and tomorrow we will be announcing the results. We are still doing a validation for those samples and I urge the public to be patient. However, stay away from Nakonde, don't go there,” he added.

Nakonde is a busy border town between Tanzania and Zambia.

On a daily basis, about 1,000 vehicles cross either side of the border, mostly trucks plying the Dar Es Salaam – Lubumbashi route which feeds the mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo with equipment and fuel from abroad.

Sex work is a thriving business in the town and with the threat of the Corona Virus, contact tracing has been heightened.

The busy border has made the hospitality industry grow which has seen hundreds of lodges being built.

Zambians who travel to Tanzania to order clothes or pick imported vehicles through the Dar Es Salaam port, spend their nights in Nakonde where sex work is a ‘normal’ way of life.

“Sex workers have been very helpful in tracing some of their clients. In one case, a sex worker gave us a contact of a Tanzanian truck driver who was her client. When we phoned the number, the person who picked the call said the owner of the phone had already been hospitalized for Covid 19,” said Dr. Chilufya.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Home Affairs is sending more Police officers to Nakonde to support the response by the Ministry of Health.

“Tomorrow we will be sending more Police reinforcements to the border to enforce the health regulations announced by the President. People have to be home, we will not allow any movements,” said Home Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo at a joint press briefing with his Home Affairs counterpart in Lusaka.

He added that the Police Command in Muchinga Province were Nakonde District belongs, is mobilizing officers to be sent to the border tomorrow.

Already, all trucks from Nakonde are escorted by armed Police and they are not allowed to stop anyhow along the Great North Road.

The shutting down of the Nakonde border is likely to impact those who run small businesses such as clearing and forwarding, bus services and those who sale the popular Nakonde rice.

The rice, which is mainly grown across the border in Tanzania but packaged in Nakonde, is popular across the country and it is sold by thousands of small scale traders who transport it to markets across the country through trucks and buses.

On a lighter note, Zambian men have taken to social media announcing that they are switching off their phones for fear of being identified by some of the sex workers in Nakonde in case they hand over their phone numbers to health authorities as their recent contacts.

This joke has gone viral on Facebook and Twitter with some prominent radio personalities joining in the satire.

Since the wearing of masks was made mandatory in Zambia last month, most Zambians have largely followed the order.

However, across the border in the adjacent town of Tunduma in Tanzania, masks are nowhere to be seen.

This is being seen as the reason why cases in Nakonde are high because health regulations are relaxed in Tanzania.

President John Magufuli has caused controversy with his handling of the Corona Virus in Tanzania.

Cumulatively, Zambia has now recorded 267 cases of the Corona Virus out of which 7 died, 117 have recovered while 143 are still being treated.

According to the Zambia National Institute of Public Health, cases have been recorded in four out of Zambia's 10 provinces.

Thursday, 16 April 2020

Corona Virus Sends 20,000 Zambian Miners Home

By Paul Shalala

Mine Workers Union of Zambia President Joseph Chewe 
(in blue shirt) addresses miners who have been 
sent home by Mopani.

The Corona Virus pandemic has been used as an excuse by a major mining firm in Zambia, Mopani Copper Mines, to lay off 11,000 miners.

This means that a further 9,000 workers employed by subcontractors and suppliers, who are mainly South African and Peruvian firms, will also lose their jobs.

Zambia has in the past one month recorded 52 Corona Virus.

So far, two patients have died, 30 recovered and 20 are still being treated by health personnel.

Mopani Copper Mines, which is jointly owned by global mining giants Glencore (73.1%) and First Quantum Minerals (16.9), has placed two of its mines in the copper rich towns of Kitwe and Mufulira on care and maintenance, sending its workforce home.

“In addition to the impacts of a rapid decline in the copper price, Mopani’s situation has been further impacted by the critical disruptions to international mobility, transportation and supply chains arising from COVID 19,” said Mopani in a press statement issued on 7th April. 

The mining giant has also given its subcontractors a month to wind up business.

The decision was communicated to the Zambian government which responded with anger, giving the miner a seven days ultimatum to rescind its decision or face revocation of its mining licence.

Mines Minister Richard Musukwa said government will not take kindly manoeuvres by Mopani.

“Our workers, together with the union must not accept mediocrity from Mopani. And they have government support to stand on their right, on their mine, our God given resource, that’s our position.” Said Musukwa in an interview with News Diggers, a Zambian online newspaper.

And on 8th April, there was commotion as thousands of Mopani workers collected their letters after being sent away by officials.

Since then, the four workers unions in the mining sector have been holding daily protests to pressure Mopani to rescind its decision.

This is because previously, whenever a mine places its operations on care under maintenance, it means workers will automatically lose their jobs, irrespective of the assurances by the mining firm.

Meanwhile, 0n 15th April, Mopani Copper Mines Chief Executive Officer Nathan Bullock was intercepted at the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka just before he boarded a flight for Australia.

It is not known why the Australian native was leaving the country at the height of a crisis.

Home Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo confirmed that Mr Bullock was intercepted by Immigration officers at the airport.

The minister told the media that it was surprising that Mr. Bullock, who attended meetings over the crisis at the mine in the morning, would attempt to leave the country without informing authorities.

According to media reports, the mining executive was driven by road to Kitwe which is 300 kilometers away accompanied by armed Police officers.

Armed Police officers are now guarding Mr Bullocks' house but government has denied media reports that he has been placed under house arrest.

The Ministry of Mines has set up a Taskforce to investigate matters surrounding Mopani Copper Mines.

One of the people the Taskforce is supposed to interrogate is Bullock.

The Taskforce is expected to give recommendations on the way forward.

Mopani is a big stakeholder in Zambia.

It sponsors Nkana Football Club, a Kitwe-based premier league side which holds the record of winning 12 league trophies more than any other club in Zambia.

The firm also sponsors other clubs in various disciplines and its business supports thousands of Zambians in various mining towns.

Last year, the Zambian government took over Vedanta-owned Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) after it failed to pay its contractors and suppliers despite repeated appeals and pledges of investing more into its mines.

KCM, which is now being run by a liquidator, is said to have cleared all previously owned contractors and suppliers but its future is still being contested for in the courts of law.

The mining giant owns mines in Chingola, Chiliabombwe and Shibuyunji.

Zambia is Africa’s second largest producer of copper after the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Most of its mines are run by foreign entities with the Zambian government retaining minority stakes through the ZCCM-IH conglomerate.

In the end, the Zambian government is likely to prevail in the Mopani case because it cannot risk 20,000 potential voters going home hungry, a few months before the crucial 2021 general elections.

The Copperbelt is a stronghold for the Edgar Lungu-led Patriotic Front government where it has 20 of the 22 Members of Parliament and any moves aimed at undermining its grip on the grassroots are always fought to avoid the opposition taking advantage.

Already, the PF leadership in the area has seen how politically sensitive this matter is and has been joining mine unions and residents in protesting the Mopani move at the mine offices daily. 

For Mopani, which has so far invested millions of dollars in sinking new shafts and modernizing its operations, they stand to lose if the mining licence is grabbed and given to another firm.

Already, rumours are flying around alleging that some Chinese firms are lining up to take over the two mines.

With the deep resentment Zambians have over Chinese investment in Zambia especially over their low human rights record, it maybe hard for the Chinese to sway public opinion if at all they succeed in taking over the facilities.