Socialist Party of Zambia president Fred M’membe faces threat of arrest

A warrant was issued against Socialist Party President Fred M’membe without any of the proper formalities being followed. He said that the police, in collaboration with ruling UPND cadre drafted into the State House security, intended to “abduct” him

June 19, 2023 by Tanupriya Singh
President of the Socialist Party of Zambia, Dr. Fred M’membe.

The Socialist Party (SP) of Zambia is once again the target of persecution by the ruling United Party for National Development (UPND). On June 15, SP President and journalist, Dr. Fred M’membe issued an alert via his social media accounts that the Party had been “reliably informed” that the Police “in collaboration with UPND cadres drafted into the State House security” intended to “abduct” him.

M’membe further accused President Hakainde Hichilema, together with the Deputy Inspector General of Police of the State House, Mr. Fanwell Siandenge, of handling issues of law enforcement in a “gestapo style,” adding that the SP had been informed that Siandenge was “working in cohorts with known UPND cadres in State House security”.

On June 16, M’membe stated that a warrant of arrest had been issued against him. However, he emphasized that no prior police callout had been issued.

Under normal procedure, a callout notice gives an individual an opportunity to go to a police station to respond to the allegations made against them, Akende Chundama, the spokesperson of the SP chairperson explained to Peoples Dispatch. An arrest warrant is issued when the individual ignores the notice.

“What they want is to use this warrant to abduct me,” M’membe warned in a post.

In a later update, he added that President Hichilema, who was in Ukraine on June 16 as part of a “peace mission” with six other African heads of state, had issued instructions that M’membe be arrested before he returned to Zambia in a plan to “insulate Mr. Hichilema from the gestapo style of policing (abductions)”.

According to M’membe, the warrant for his arrest is in relation to two letters allegedly issued by government officials that have been shared on social media.

The first letter, dated March 14, 2023 bears the signature of the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security, Josephs R. Akafumba, and requests the Secretary to the Cabinet to petition the Vatican regarding the actions of Archbishop Alick Banda of the Catholic Archdiocese of Lusaka, accusing him of “working with a foreign entity to undermine the sovereignty of the Republic of Zambia.”

The second letter, dated December 7, 2021, titled “Presidential Directive” appears to bear the signature of President Hichilema and is addressed to the Director General of the Zambia Security Intelligence Service, directing him to “contain the influence” of the Roman Catholic Church on “other Faith Based Organizations,” “government and quasi-government institutions,” and “on the Republic” and to contain the influence of the Arch-Diocese of Lusaka on the Republic.

During the 2021 elections, some members of the Catholic Church had supported the Patriotic Front (PF) which was in power then while others had supported a change in government, Akende said. After the election, some members of the Church had started speaking out against the promises that the new government, led by incumbent president Hichilema, had made but did not deliver upon, resulting in the emergence of a wedge between the two.

In a press conference, Ministry of Information spokesperson, Thabo Kawana,  stated that the alleged letters were fake, and that action would be taken against those who had circulated them.

Kawana proceeded to list the Facebook pages of the PF, the page of news platform Grindstone Television, and that of M’membe as those who had circulated the alleged letters.

Luki and Phiri were reportedly detained by police and subsequently held at the Woodlands Police Station. Phiri had allegedly obtained the said letters from the Facebook page of UPND member, Matomola Likwanya, according to the SP.

On June 17, it was reported that Zambian police had formally charged and arrested former diplomat and PF Central Committee member and presidential aspirant, Emmanuel Mwamba, and one other person, Andy Luchinde, with forgery and publication of information in relation to the two letters.

Mwamba, who had been detained earlier this week, has stated that he was brutally attacked by a group of men at a car wash before being forcibly taken to a police station. A picture of Mwamba at the University Teaching Hospital where he sought medical care on June 16 shows him with bruises on his arm.

Growing attacks against the SP

Meanwhile, this recent episode comes just months after the SP was brutally attacked by UPND cadres during election campaigning in the Muchinda ward in April. While none of the attackers were apprehended at the time, the police in turn arrested and charged M’membe with “Unlawful discharge of a firearm” and “Assault occasioning actual bodily harm”.

M’membe, and the SP, have been a steadfast voice in the resistance to US imperialism in Africa and its coercion, through various means, of countries on the continent to serve its narrow foreign policy and strategic interests.

Within Zambia, the SP has offered an alternative political vision for the people— away from the neoliberal policies of successive governments, and one which addresses core issues of poverty and inequality.

M’membe has condemned the Hichilema administration for carrying out “retaliatory arrests” and political repression. He has highlighted recent arrests including that of Chris Zumani Zimba, a political advisor to former president Edgar Lungu from the Patriotic Front (PF) on the charge of “being in possession of articles for terrorism” as examples.

As M’membe faces a renewed threat of arrest, he has received messages of support and solidarity, including from the International Peoples’ Assembly, which is a network of over 200 trade unions, political parties, and social movements from around the world.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) also strongly condemned the arrest warrant against M’membe in a statement on June 17, recalling how before coming to power, Hichilema had himself been a victim of unlawful detention by the state under former president Lungu.

“We are demanding that Hichilema must stop his senseless and ruthless attacks on members of the opposition…Hands off Fred M’membe, hands off!,” the union said, adding that while Hichilema had been “celebrated by the liberal media when he was elected”, he was “behaving like a tin-pot dictator”.

“His behavior is an excellent lesson to all those who naively believe that liberalism is democratic. Liberalism is democracy for the benefit of corporations…If at that time democracy is dispensable, they will dispense with it, as long as it serves their interests.”

“There is a sentiment of disappointment among the people, of betrayal of what was promised [by the Hichilema government] but has not been delivered,” Akende told Peoples Dispatch.

“These sentiments have grown against the backdrop of the people seeing the Socialist Party as an alternative [political force] in the 2026 general elections…The SP is fighting for the rights and the livelihoods of the people, and the repression will grow, but we are prepared,” she added.