Budget Day Protest was organised by a consortium of CSOs to make known their displeasure concerning mismanagement of public funds by the Patriotic Front (PF) government, demanding accountability. Among the Notables in attendance were Political Activist Dante Saunders, Governance Activists Pamela Chisenga and McDonald Chipenzi.
The arrest of Laura Miti, Fumba Chanda popularly know as ‘Pilato’ and others for an illegal protest at parliament building during last year’s budget presentation was a contentious incident that carried different headlines on various media platforms.
This year rather, events took turn for the better for Miti, Pilato and fellow protesters; they successfully held their protest along parliament road dubbed Budget Day Protest 2018.
It was not a smooth road leading to this year’s successful hosting of the protest either as it took the Minister of Home Affairs Steven Kapyongo to intervene. The protesters’ initial application to hold the protest was denied by the Zambia Police. However after writing to higher authorities, permission was granted.
The protest that commenced shortly after mid-day from the entrance of Mulungushi Conference Center took a dramatic turn when the police stopped the protesters, a direct violation of the permission that was earlier granted.
The Protesters’ effort, led by Saunders, to beg the police to allow them line up along Parliament Road had fallen on deaf ears. The police officers disclosed that they had received a directive from “senior command” not to allow protesters to proceed to Parliament Road. The protesters were stuck at the corner of Great East Road and Parliament Road.
The breakthrough came from an unexpected intervention but familiar occurrence in recent years in Zambia. Alleged PF cadres attacked the protesters, throwing stones and bottles at the crowd sending the protesters into panic and scampering in all directions for safety.
Fortunately no injuries were suffered and the supposedly harmful attack worked in favour of protesters. The police officers who were manning the area, blocking protesters to access Parliament Road, had their attention deviated unto the attackers and whom they later apprehend after a car chase.
In regrouping, the protesters gathered along Parliament Road their much needed position. The police were beaten to their own game and could only watch as they returned too late from the attackers chase to prevent protesters from lining along the said road.
The protesters had taken their position and it was time to put across their messages. Through songs and chants while waving banners and placards onto seemly surprised Ministers and Members of Parliament who were still making their way to parliament for the budget presentation, the messages were loud and succinct.
The protesters led by Pilato were in full force. Amongst the many chants by protesters was, “Zambia WHY?” that took center stage. After citing each scandal amongst the many the country has had, came Zambia why?
“Mukula is gone, Zambia Why? Fire tenders, Zambia Why? Social Cash transfer, Zambia why?” Rich leaders but poor citizens, Zambia why? The protesters chanted.
Another among the prominent chants was the jubilant song that went like Zambia! Zambia! Zambia! Zambia ‘yesu bonse’, Zambia.
At some point it became solemn as protesters adopted one of the local gospel worship songs, spiced with their concerns, as others impersonated tongues.
Obviously the big event was inside parliament but outside it was business as usual, the protest moved from strength to strength. The protesters also received a boost from the former Minister of Home Affairs Harry Kalaba who stopped by on his way to parliament and urged them on stating that the time to stand up had come.
MAKING KNOWN THE CAUSE
After the chanting and singing was done, it was time to talk. Miti representing Alliance for Community Action (ACA) took the lead, branding the protest as a message to the ruling government and those who wish to be in government that public money should be well accounted for.
“This one is about public money, the way public our money that comes through our taxes is being used. Since last year when we tried to protest here, how many scandals have taken place? We are talking billions of billions of kwacha that disappears into black holes, pockets, mansions and fancy cars when the poor have no health and food,” Miti lamented.
She reminded the protesters to take their power back as they were in charge of voting in and out a government. Therefore, it was necessary to keep a government in check to save as a warning even for future governments.
Miti added that if the PF government was left unchecked and allowed to do as pleased with public money it would be difficult for citizens to control future governments.
For Pilato the actions of police leading to the protest would not go unmentioned.
He wondered why it would take a directive from the Minister for the police to do their jobs professionally.
Adding his voice to the cause of the protest, Pilato said it was disheartening seen how politicians were living lavishly while the country was poverty stricken with its citizens struggling to earn a living.
“If Zambia has no money we want to see it happening on our leaders too. Not because Zambia is poor you have people sleeping on empty stomachs but leaders are building mansions,” Pilato said.
Citing the earlier attack at the event by suspected PF cadres and the seemly difficult in assembling in Zambia, Saunders said peoples’ voices were strong enough and no one, not even government would stop the people from talking.
And speaking to the media Chipenzi urged the leaders to desist from routing public resources. He called upon members of the public not to relent in giving the government checks and balances without which, exercises such as the budget presentation would be useless.
“If we don’t keep calling for accountability a budget like this one being presented today will just end up into people’s pockets,” he said.
The protest had reached its climax and it was time to disperse. For Miti the disturbances did not matter, the protest was a success.
And after two hours of vigorous singing and chanting, the Protest had come to its end. In disbanding, protesters called upon each other not to falter in the quest to keep their government in check as far as public money was concerned. The satisfied protesters left knowing their messages had been put across. And one only hopes those in authority would take note of these people’s cries.