Thousands of supporters of Dr. Fred M’membe, presidential candidate of newly-founded Socialist Party of Zambia, flocked to his rally in Zambia’s capital Lusaka last Saturday January 10. Despite heavy downpour, residents of the city, wearing red T-shirts and carrying the party’s red flag with spade and axe, gathered in large numbers on the rain-soaked slushy ground of Muchinga, in the Matero neighborhood in the capital’s northeast.
The size of the crowd at this rally indicated that the following of the Socialist Party is growing, despite the government’s crackdown on its activities and harassment of its leaders. Dr. Fred M’membe will contest in the country’s presidential elections expected to be held in August 2021.
Addressing his supporters and party cadres in a 45-minute speech which was broadcast live by one TV channel and eight radio stations, M’membe raised concerns about the unsustainable trajectory, with a small wealthy elite accumulating wealth at an unprecedented level, while the toiling masses are left with a fast disappearing pool of resources to fight over.
“Today we live in a country that is divided into two nations – not on tribal basis but on class. We have the Ku (wealthy residential neighborhoods) and Kwa (compound or shanty town) nations, the haves and the have-nots, the rich and the poor,” he said.
One of the largest of such compounds in the capital city where he was addressing the rally is known as George compound. Over 400,000 live in this crowded shanty, with no running water, relying on communal pumps. Cholera outbreaks occur almost every year. Many children die of curable diseases.
In the wealthy neighborhoods, he said, there is no shortage of “water, sanitation, schools, health services, food, jobs, housing, roads. Everything there is plenty…Even their churches are very nice compared to those in Kwa. Those in the Kwa nation have to endure poor housing, water supply, sanitation, education and health services, roads, nutrition and joblessness.”
While it was once possible for people to move from Kwa to Ku with education, accessibility to education is being increasingly restricted today. “You can pass your exams with flying colors but still fail to go far in your education because of having no money for fees”, he said.
Zambia’s foregone road
Recollecting how the system used to be different soon after Zambia’s independence in 1964 when the country was taking a socialist direction, M’membe said, “I was among the first children of this country to start school after independence. Those who started school before independence had to pay. For us it was all free. We were given free uniforms, books, pencils, crayons and all the other materials we needed. We did not only go to school to learn but also to eat. We were fed at school.”
The dormitories in secondary schools had beds which most children lacked at home. He recollected the clean toilets, dining halls and classrooms with quality teachers.
“Above all that, we went to school with the children of our leaders,” he said. The children of Kenneth Kaunda, a freedom fighter who went on to become Zambia’s first president, “slept in the same dormitories with the children of humble workers and peasants. Can your children today go to the same schools with the children or grandchildren of your presidents, your ministers?” he asked.
“What did that do to us, the children of the humble workers and peasants? It gave us a lot of confidence, our self-esteem increased. And we started doing better than the children of our leaders,” he said, adding that some of the most outstanding students in his school, who went on to make significant contributions to various fields, were children of workers or poor peasants.
“Can a son of a humble peasant … achieve that today? The chances of achieving that are near to zero.” With the possibility of lifting oneself and one’s family out of poverty increasingly shrinking, the division between what he called the Ku and the Kwa is becoming increasingly rigid and insurmountable, which has not only economic but also social consequences.
Churches, schools, hospitals and social hangouts hangouts frequented by the poor are not the same used by the rich. “You shop in different places! On a Saturday like today you go to different places for entertainment, to drink and dance!” This is eliminating all social interaction between the wealthy and the toiling masses, splitting Zambia into two nations, he complained.
Tens of thousands of acres of forest land is being de-gazetted by the government to make way for luxury residencies of the ruling elites. “No one in Kwa is ever allocated a plot there. They don’t want to live with you poor people as their neighbors. They would rather go to the national parks and collect wild animals to live with as neighbors!”
Breaking out of “neoliberal capitalist degeneration” with a socialist vision
In the meantime, those in the Kwa “are sitting on a time bomb”. In 15 years time, he said, Zambia’s population will double from the current 18 million to about 32 million. “If today we are crowded in Kwa what will be the situation in 15 years time? … How will the housing situation be like? What about water and sanitation?” he asked.
He argued that the current trajectory of Zambia is unsustainable and that the neoliberal policies of the last three decades have debased the value of community and cultivated an individualist consumerism among the masses.
“From the day you live your mother’s womb you are inculcated with the values of individualism.. Collectivism is not taught to you.. There’s a problem of water in your neighborhood and a meeting is called to address it, individualism does not encourage you to attend that meeting. It encourages you to look for money and sink a borehole at your house. And you will go around boasting about how you are the only one in the area with water. Something that should make you sad becomes the source of your happiness, your pride!”
It is time, he urged, to break out of this “capitalist degeneration” and struggle for “with a clear and radical socialist vision [and] program for Zambia.”
Reminding his supporters that the Matero neighborhood where he was addressing them was a hotbed of activism for independence from British colonialism, M’Membe said, “what can be a better place than Matero to start this struggle.. Matero is the place where struggles begin, where struggles are born. And Matero is the place where struggles are won!”