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"Hear the Cry of the Poor"


"Hear the Cry of the Poor"
A Pastoral Letter on the Current Suffering of the People of Zambia
July 1993

As the impact of economic policies guided by the Structural Adjustment Programme became more evident in the lives of ordinary Zambians, the Church spoke out strongly to challenge the Government to pay more attention to the immense suffering of the people. The letter challenges the primacy accorded to free market dominance and notes the decline in social indicators of well-being. SAP is not a natural law but a human creation that needs to be questioned in terms of its timing, content and direction. The letter is critical of a programme that pays more attention to fiscal management than to human development. Three specific recommendations are made at the conclusion, for an independent tribunal to negotiate prices and wages, a national task force on social services and a national forum to evaluate SAP. Unless concrete action is taken soon, Government policies that show lack of social concern can lead to an “economic apartheid” in which the gap between rich and poor widens. The call to look closely at the social consequences of SAP laid the foundation for the SAP Monitoring Project begun in [l994] by the CCJP. It is significant that President Chiluba initially criticised the Bishops’ letter but later acknowledged its importance.

    “People are the greatest resource of every Country.” How often we hear that statement! And how true it is for us here in Zambia! Our people are indeed our greatest resource, our richest treasures, and our best hope for the future.
  1. Yet today in Zambia we hear of the frightening exhaustion of that resource, of its diminishment, deterioration, exploitation. We sadly note that this resource is being reduced amidst great suffering, a suffering which by and large seems to go on unnoticed by those in power and is often inadequately responded to by Government programmes.

  2. We are aware of, and we do commend, our Government’s efforts last year to deal with the tragic effects of the drought. We appreciate the recent expression of concern on the part of President Chiluba regarding the issue of wages for civil servants and teachers. We echo his call for restraint in the face of inflation. But we feel that much more needs to be said and to be done if we are to meet effectively the massive problem of human suffering in Zambia today.

  3. As pastoral leaders, we cannot be silent in the face of this suffering or our people. The word of God challenges us: “If you refuse to hear the cry of the poor, your own cry for help will not be heard.” (Proverbs 21:13)

  4. As pastoral leaders, then, we must speak out and call upon all people of good will to deal more forthrightly with this increasing suffering in our midst.

    The People’s Suffering

  5. We all know of our people’s suffering. The story of the Mulenga family is, sad to say, a story all too common today’

  6. The wife, Mary Mulenga, had been unwell for some time and was being treated for T.B. by the clinic near to her compound home. Because of high food prices, she was not eating regularly. One day she finished up her drugs. But because of her weakened condition, she was unable to walk to the clinic and her health grew worse. Her husband, Moses Mulenga, was also sick, but he managed to get to the clinic to plead on his wife’s behalf. His effort was in vain: the clinic was closed because of a strike of health workers. The community worker came along and after hearing the story advised Moses that the UTH was the only alternative. By this time Mary was so sick that she was unable to travel by bus and so had to go by taxi which cost K4000. On arrival at UTH, Moses was asked for K2000 for admission fee. Having spent so much on taxi, there was no cash remaining. It took Moses two days before he found the admission fee. By the time Mary could be admitted to the ward, she was sicker than ever.

  7. This kind of hardship story, though not universal, can be told again and again today in Zambia. It illustrates the different elements in the human suffering that so many of our people are enduring. Mary faced rising food prices, poor health care, high transport costs, lack of necessary funds, unsympathetic public servants. These are but a few of the threatening burdens experienced every day by our people, our greatest resource.

  8. A series of recent reports from our Government and from non-Governmental organisations tell of the extent of the suffering of our fellow Zambians. [1]
    1. 20% of all children born die before the age of five.
    2. 40% of all children under five are short for their age, a condition reflecting chronic malnutrition.
    3. Between 20 and 25% of under-five hospitals admissions are related to malnutrition.
    4. The maternal mortality rate has almost doubled over the past decade, from 110 to 200 per 100,000 deliveries.
    5. The proportion of school children enrolled in primary grades has been declining in recent years; for example, only 56% of the 7 year old in Lusaka can find places in Grade One.
    6. 80% of our rural population and almost 50% of our urban population live below the poverty line.
    7. An annual inflation rate of close to 200% is placing unbearable burdens on parents struggling to feed their families.
    8. Only 350,000 people are currently employed in the formal sector and future retrenchments may cut back this figure further by more than 75,000.

  9. While these are only figures, they are figures with faces, the human faces of suffering people. What these figures mean in real life is one meal a day, and a very meagre meal at that; little or no medical care; poor housing and clothing; children unable to go to school because parents lack money for fees and uniforms; etc., Rising numbers of street children and an increase in prostitution (with the sad effects of spreading of AIDS) are two more instances of this human suffering.

    Threats To Society

  10. We believe that this sad state of suffering is giving rise to serious social unrest and conflict in Zambia today that threatens our new democracy. For instance:
    1. Strikes have closed our schools for almost two months and our children are missing out on education.
    2. Further strikes are affecting the operation of our public services such as health clinics.
    3. Crime is reaching frightening proportions and insecurity menaces both urban and rural areas.
    4. Some politically irresponsible people are calling for disruption of society through massive demonstrations and strikes.
    5. Political apathy is growing as only 10% to 15% of registered voters turn out in local and by-elections.

  11. In addition, there are many signs of serious moral problems connected with this human suffering. We are concerned about the moral implications of the situation whereby the gap between the rich and the poor in our society appears to be widening. Many people demonstrate a “get-rich quickly” mentality that takes advantage of the difficult economic situation. For example, some traders manipulate prices of scarce commodities, justifying themselves as simply following “market-led” policies without any consideration of the effect on the poor. In remote rural areas, maize is currently being purchased at very low prices from peasant farmers in desperate need of cash and worried about getting their crop to markets.

  12. Moreover, the issue of public corruption continues to surface in political discussions. It seems clear that people are not yet satisfied that the Government has taken the necessary steps to bring discipline in its ranks. Stronger leadership at the highest levels needs to be shown to build up public confidence and to set examples and standards of honesty and selflessness. This is particularly true at a time when many people complain that Government officials are not bearing equally the burden of our economic reforms.

    The Impact Of SAP

  13. What is causing all this suffering” And what is being done to halt the suffering”?

  14. We all know too well the difficult condition of our economy. Everyone is ready to acknowledge that the MMD Government inherited a bankrupt economy. But we are now almost two years into new Government of the Third Republic. It is well past the time to stop recounting and blaming the mistakes of the previous regime. We need to know what is being done now for the future.

  15. Our new Government has gone fully into a “structural adjustment programme” (SAP) that it claims will increase the economic growth of the Country. But as we emphasised in our Pastoral Letter of March 1992, The Future is Ours, “we must recall the fundamental norm for judging the success of any economic reforms: they must serve all the people.” (#25)

  16. Officials of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and representatives of the donor countries are praising the Government for strictly following the SAP conditions. We hear reports in the media that Zambia is doing well in implementing the economic reform programme.

  17. But we have to ask: “who is Zambia”? In the light of the human suffering described above, what Zambia are they talking about when they say, “Zambia is doing well”?

  18. The Government has repeatedly told us the SAP will mean, “short term pain but long term gain.” We can certainly attest to the fact that there is indeed considerable short-term pain, suffered especially by the poor majority. But whether or not there will in fact be long-term gain is still a very open question. And how many Zambians will be around to experience that promised “long-term gain”? Are we not facing a frightening situation of the “survival of the fittest” in our Nation”?

  19. SAP is not a fixed law of nature that cannot be modified. It is a human creation, a product of theory and practice. As a human creation, it needs to be continually subject to ethical consideration as well as to economic analysis. It must not be blindly accepted as the only possible answer to Zambia’s problems.

  20. We are not questioning the basic necessity to introduce economic reforms into Zambia. Nor are we asking for a return to failed programmes of the past. But we are calling attention to several important questions that are widely raised about the Government’s current implementation of the structural adjustment programme:
    1. Timing: Why has there been such a rapid removal of subsidies, especially before any effective programme to cushion the effects on the most vulnerable in our society has been put in place?
    1. Content: Why are so many elements essential to integral human development lacking in the programme, e.g., human capital improvement (education and health), employment generation, promotion of small-scale entrepreneurship, regional cooperation?
    2. Direction: Is a discredited “trickle-down” approach to economic growth being promoted, one that only benefits a privileged few in hopes that it will later reach the general public?

  21. Without going into the details of the many critical analyses of the structural adjustment programme, we at least ask the Government to acknowledge that there are substantial and legitimate challenges raised about many elements of its operation in Zambia and elsewhere, challenges coming, for instance, from UNICEF, UNDP, ILO, UN-ECA, OXFAM,[2]as well as from many sectors within Zambia itself (e.g., trade unions, business and farming groups, academics, social workers, Churches and ordinary citizens). These challenges cannot be dismissed simply as political criticisms.

  22. In looking at the operation of the structural adjustment programme, both in earlier stages during the Second Republic and in its full extent in the Third Republic, we must acknowledge that we neither see the promised benefits to date nor do we see convincing evidence that the promised benefits will be forthcoming in the near future. If SAP is in fact such a good programme for economic recovery, can the Government tell us more specifically what are the visible signs of improvement in the lives of our people? We frequently hear from Government officials about improvement in economic indicators such as budget expenditures and new investments. But what about social indicators that tell us what is happening in people’s lives”

  23. The Government has repeated its resolve to cushion the effects of the structural adjustment programme through social action programmes, welfare efforts, etc. But it has to be said that so far these efforts have not been effectively reaching the people. Adequate funding, personnel, timing and strategies are not present. The social action measures often appear to be merely an “after-thought” and not an integral part of the Government’s economic reform measures. In effect, it seems that more attention has been paid to fiscal management programmes than to the human development programmes.

  24. We want to call attention to two other aspects of the Government’s economic liberalisation programme that have important social dimensions. Privatisation should be carried forward in ways that safeguard the delivery of public services to all, respect the rights of workers in the period of transition, and give priority to widespread ownership among Zambians. Land reform should especially protect small family farms and the right of Zambians to own land. Favourable rural development should be promoted to attract urban dwellers to resettle on the land.

    A Call To Action

  25. Listening to the cry of the poor, then, what are we asking for? We call upon the Government to take action to manifest three qualities that presently we find sadly lacking:
    1. Compassion: Whether an accurate perception or not, the public is losing faith in the Government’s statement of concern for their problems and suffering. Aside from publicity visits to compounds by some ministers, very little concrete expression of real concern for the poor is heard or seen from Government officials. Appeals for Zambians to “make sacrifices” and “tighten belts” can only be perceived as cynical at best, abusive at worst, when they come from officials who receive such disproportionately high salaries, allowances and benefits.
    1. Commitment: There seems to be very little effective action-taking place in responding to the suffering of the people. Ordinary citizens hear more about assistance than actually see it. The sorry experience of the 1992 “Social Action Programme” raises questions about the Government’s desire and ability to deliver what it promises.
    2. Competence: What is actually happening to so much money coming in from international donors” Why have we not seen full reports on expenditures on social rehabilitation and relief activities”. Much attention and technical assistance is focused on improving fiscal management, debt negotiations, tax restructuring, privatisation procedures, etc., but proportionately less attention seems to be given to social programmes.

    Specific Recommendations

  26. It is neither the role nor the expertise of the Church to offer detailed programmes to meet our economic crisis. Many others, inside and outside the Government, are making such proposals. But we do now offer here three specific recommendations that arise from our position as pastoral leaders and from our perspective of social justice and concern for the poor.
    1. An independent tribunal to negotiate prices and wages: Without returning to Government control over the setting of prices and wages, can we not find some way of cooperating to slow down the rapid and arbitrary increase of prices that is causing such hardship to our people? Could Zambia experiment with a programme used in some other countries, namely, an independent advisory committee made up of representatives of consumers, unions, and businesses? The purpose of the committee would be to work out compromises that would satisfy buyers and sellers, employers and employees. A free market economy that does not have adequate social controls does not work fairly for the majority of Zambians.
    1. A National Task Force on social services: It might be true that the Government does have several programmes in place to cushion the impact of SAP on the poor and most vulnerable in our society. But these programmes do not appear to be well planned or widely publicised. For example, what is actually being done right now to meet the needs of the growing numbers of the hungry - a hunger not caused by lack of supplies (such as was the case last year during the drought) but a lack of purchasing power?[3] There is need for a National task force that would manage a social action programme that would set proper priorities, ensure effective implementation and monitoring and promote overall coordination with other programmes. Without such an effort, the poor will continue to be served more with words than with deeds, more with rhetoric than with action.

    2. A National Forum for evaluating the structural adjustment programme: Every day we hear calls from different parts of Zambian society to critically examine SAP and its economic and social effect on the Nation. The Government cannot simply ignore these calls or dismiss them as politically motivated. A number of reports have already been submitted, and a number of studies are under way, that give rise to substantial questions about the SAP. The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and Zambia’s many generous donors cannot be unaware of both the social suffering and the political instability that SAP is causing. In a democracy, major policies that strongly affect the well-being of the people must have the informed support of the people. Now is the time to hold truly open and democratic debate on the SAP in order to ensure popular awareness of and participation in economic reforms that really benefit all the people both now and in the future.


  27. We are indeed at a critical moment in the life of our new democracy. There is a great danger that Government policies, if not combined with clear social concern, will bring about a situation of “economic apartheid” in Zambia. The gap between rich and poor widens. The suffering of the poor increases daily. This is not only a moral scandal but also a dangerous threat to our democratic stability. In many instances, this is silent suffering that breeds a potential for anarchy. As we said in our 1990 Pastoral Letter during the crisis of the Second Republic, the anger and frustration of a suffering people can give rise to exploitive situations.

  28. To promote the peace and justice in Zambia for which our people struggled in bringing about the democracy of the Third Republic, we must face up squarely to the current crisis that we are experiencing. It is a crisis of human suffering. We call upon the Government for stronger practical action. As pastoral leaders, we pledge ourselves and our Church, institutions and members to be involved as fully as possible in meeting this suffering of our people.

    We must all "hear the cry of the poor"!

    Lusaka, Zambia, 23 July 1993

    The Catholic Bishops of Zambia

  Bishop Dennis H. de Jong   Ndola Diocese, ZEC Chairman   Archbishop Adrian Mung’andu   Lusaka Archdiocese   Archbishop James Spaita   Kasama Archdiocese   Bishop Medardo Mazombwe   Chipata Diocese   Bishop Abdon Potani, OFM. Conv.   Solwezi Diocese   Bishop Raymond Mpezele   Livingstone Diocese   Bishop Telesphore G. Mpundu   Mbala-Mpika Diocese   Bishop Paul Lungu, S.J.   Monze Diocese   Very Rev. Fr Joseph Musonda   Administrator, Mansa Diocese   Archbishop Adam Kozlowiecki, S.J.   Retired Archbishop of Lusaka   Bishop James Corboy, S.J.   Retired Bishop of Monze


[1]See in particular the following reports: Zambia Demographic and Health Survey 1992, prepared by the University of Zambia and the Central Statistics Office, Lusaka, March 1993; Zambia: Constraints to Social Service Delivery, study commissioned by the World Bank, Lusaka, May 1993; The State of World Rural Poverty: An Inquiry into its Causes and Consequences, published for the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development, 1992; Monthly Reports from the Central Statistical Office for the "Food Security, Nutrition and Health Monitoring System"; Food Security Bulletin, published by the "Zambia Early Warning Unit" of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries.