Text Size

Discipleship and Citizenship

   

Discipleship and Citizenship
   
A Pastoral Letter on the Current Political Climate and 2001 General Elections
   
20 July 2001
   
   

The tripartite elections, were eagerly awaited by everyone, politicians and the citizens alike. This were important elections since the Country was going to hold presidential, parliamentary, and local Government elections at the same time, hence the term – tripartite!

After ten years in power, and presiding over a social situation that the Bishops had in the same year described as a "crisis", the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) Government faced stiff competition from a motley of political parties.

As the time of the elections draw near, the Bishops called upon all Christians to show their true colours as true and good followers of Jesus Christ as well as good law-abiding citizens. This was the time for Christians to look for leaders who are Godfearing, upright, and who have love for the people. This was a time when Christians were challenged to get involved by turning out in huge numbers to participate in the elections.

Introduction

"Yes, I know what plans I have in mind for you. Yahweh declares, plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future full of hope." [Jeremiah 29:11]

To all Catholic Christians and all peace loving Zambians! May the peace and justice of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all!

    The political climate in the Country, especially as we draw near to this year’s tripartite elections, is extremely worrying to us. It is in the light of this challenging political climate and in keeping with our tradition, that we address this pastoral letter to you as a guide on what is expected of Christians.
  1. This year’s elections will be very important because we shall have three elections at the same time, hence being called tripartite. We shall go to the polls not only to elect the new republican president, but also the new members of parliament and new Councillors.
  2. The concern we have is that the depth of the current social crisis and loss of trust in the political system may have a serious negative effect on the electoral process, and thus affect the peaceful future of our Country. Having said that, we must hasten to add that there are also signs of hope such as the resilience of our people in the face of these deep socio-economic problems, as well as the maturity that Zambians have shown in the past elections.

    Today’s Socio-Political Context

    "The foundation of good Government must be established on the sound basis of laws which protect the rights and define the obligations of citizens… That is why the (African) Synod rightly considered that an authentic democracy, which respects pluralism, ‘is one of the principal routes along which the Church travels together with the people…The lay Christian, engaged in the democratic struggle according to the spirit of the Gospel, is the sign of a Church which participates in the promotion of the rule of law everywhere in Africa’" [The Church in Africa, #112]

  3. In our Statements of 28th January 2001, 10th June 2000, and the one which we issued together with other Churches, of 25th January 2001, we called for solidarity in the face of our Country’s deepening social crisis as we move towards elections.
  4. We have just come out of a trying period of prolonged strikes by civil servants, nurses, and teachers. These strikes indicate just how appalling our socio-economic conditions have become. Not only do many of our people get a pittance for salaries, but are also doubly hit by the high cost of living. We are told that over eighty percent of our people, eight million of our brothers and sisters, are living in abject poverty. Our health and education systems are barely surviving on shoestring budgets.
  5. In the face of these deep social problems, our politicians are often perceived to be more interested in political power than in serving the people. The failure by politicians to deliver on their promises has alienated a lot of people from taking a keen interest in political issues. Today people see many politicians jump from one party to another with ease, as they seem to seek the party that would offer them the best options to rise to the top quickly. The proliferation of political parties, most of which do not have a strong agenda, is another issue that has made our people sceptical regarding politics.
  6. It is not surprising therefore that we are experiencing serious political apathy in Zambia today. We have already seen the cost of this apathy in the dismal start to the registration of voters. This is a major source of worry to us. We fear that this apathy may end up defeating the democracy we are trying to build in Zambia. Apathy is destructive. It means denying oneself the chance to elect leaders of one’s choice.
  7. Election time is an appropriate time to take our politicians to task. They should tell the Nation how committed they have been in addressing such important areas as health, education, and agriculture, and meeting the crucial challenge of eradicating poverty. Aspiring candidates should tell the Nation what they would do to promote the common good.
  8. However, people can only take politicians to task if they discover the connection between politics and bread and butter issues. This is where civil society and the Church come in. We feel we are not doing enough to prepare our Country adequately for issue-based free and fair elections. At the moment, our civic education strategies seem to end up in workshops only. We need to have a greater impact on the ground – especially in rural areas.
  9. We also note with sadness that institutions of democracy that can make a difference to the electoral process, like the Electoral Commission, and the Permanent Human Rights Commission, continue to suffer from inadequate funding that makes them weak and ineffective.
  10. Our greatest worry so far is the alarming growth and persistence of political violence as was reported in the Mkushi, Chama, and Chawama by-elections. Sadly it has even reached the level of using firearms in petty political conflicts, as was the case in Kabwata recently! Political parties should not regard themselves as enemies who should eliminate one another. They need each other. An opposition leader is not an enemy to be eliminated but a colleague with different political views. We have also sadly noticed the development of a culture of cadres, such as the Ku-Klux-Klan, who are becoming a law unto themselves, taking the place of law enforcement agencies and taking control over political decisions. We call upon political leaders to abandon this practice and promote a real multi-party spirit.
  11. Finally, there is need to level the playing field well ahead of the elections. In spite of the clear provisions in the Electoral Act and the Electoral Code of Conduct, there is very little effort to curb the malpractices like bribery and the use of Government resources during elections. The role of District Administrators, for instance, as civil servants in the electoral process, should also be clarified sooner rather than later by the Government, according to the clear instructions of the law that forbid civil servants to participate directly in partisan politics. Their involvement within the structures of the ruling party, where many of them hold active political office, makes them a liability during the electoral process as they are poised to give the ruling party undue advantage when we come to the actual elections.

    The Social Teaching Of The Church

  12. Pope John-Paul II has reminded us of the importance the Church attaches to elections and true democracy in the following words:
    "The Church values the democratic system in as much as it ensures the participation of citizens in making political choices, guarantees to the governed the possibility of electing and holding accountable those who govern them, and replacing them through peaceful means when appropriate." [John-Paul II, One Hundred Years, #46]
  13. We chose the theme of "discipleship and citizenship" to represent the two-fold calling for Christians in the political arena. As law-abiding Christian citizens, we are expected to respond positively to the legitimate demand of the State to go and vote. However, as Christians, disciples of Jesus, our response to the State is one that should be guided by Christ’s example of the strong values of justice, concern for the poor, fairness, tolerance, honesty, respect for the other, and personal integrity, among others. This is how we can demonstrate our true love of neighbour as the lawyer learned from Jesus when he asked about what he needed to do to inherit eternal life (Luke10: 25-37).
  14. Election time is an opportune time for Christians to use peaceful and non-corrupt means to elect leaders of their choice. We also call upon Christians with leadership qualities to stand as candidates so that they can infuse politics with Christian values. The politically charged climate in Zambia today demands that every Christian leads by example. We are all called upon to take the lead in bringing about peaceful, free and fair elections.
  15. The Church’s social teaching speaks of politics as a vocation, a way of building up society for the common good. This is something we who are baptised cannot ignore; we cannot put it aside as unimportant.
  16. Discipleship demands from the Christian, during election time, to show special tolerance to other people with opposing views. It is a time to foster peace by showing great restraint and refraining from acts of violence. It is also the time to respond to the moral and legal duty to participate fully in the choosing of new political leaders.
  17. We are also called upon to be prophetic, to question and expose malpractices like bribery and corruption. The Church cannot be comfortable in an environment of corruption and violence. We are called upon to stand up for what is right. To play this role effectively, we need to be guided by the Holy Spirit through personal prayer. In doing this we can help to minimise the negative trends that mar our electoral process.

    Call To Action

    "In the pluralistic societies of our day, it is especially due to the commitment of Catholics in public life that the Church can exercise a positive influence. Whether they be professionals or teachers, businessmen or civil servants, law enforcement agents or politicians, Catholics are expected to bear witness to goodness, truth, justice and love of God in their daily life. "The task of the faithful lay person… is to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, especially in those places where only a lay person is able to render the Church present” [John-Paul II, The Church in Africa, #108]

  18. The words of our Pope remind all of us Christians of the values we need to carry over into all aspects of our life especially the electoral process. In this sense, we urge all Christians to go out in huge numbers to register as voters and to go out to vote on Election Day.
  19. We encourage those who feel specially called to serve to put themselves up as candidates. Politics need people with high credibility. Their presence in the political arena can bring gospel values to the political process. They should not deny the people of Zambia quality leadership
  20. Christians must use election time to critically evaluate the candidates who put themselves up for elections. They must be evaluated against agreed criteria of values inspired by the social teaching of the Church. The Christian voter must vote for a candidate who is:
    • God fearing
    • Respectful of human life and the dignity of each person
    • Ready to work for the common good
    • A person of integrity
    • Concerned about the poor and vulnerable people
    • Ready to serve not to be served
    • Of high moral behaviour
    • Of proven good personal background

    Those who have already been in office must be evaluated on their record in office.

    • How much did they exemplify service to the people?
    • Did they always visit the electorate?
    • Were they accused of any impropriety while in office?
    • What is their stand on such critical issues like education, health, agriculture, and fighting poverty?
    • Did they show a special concern for the poor?
    • Did they enrich themselves instead of helping people?

    Government Leaders

    "The Synod prayed fervently to the Lord that there would arise in Africa holy politicians – both men and women – and there would be saintly Heads of State, who profoundly love their own people and wish to serve rather than be served" [Church in Africa, #111]

  21. We call upon Government leaders to provide an impartial framework for the electoral process. They are privileged to ensure that the provisions of the Electoral Code of Conduct and Electoral Act are applied strictly and fairly.
  22. We specifically ask for the suspension of the Presidential Fund during the general elections and in election areas during by-elections. Government leaders should also refrain from threatening people with "development sanctions" if they voted for other parties.

    The Police

  23. We call upon the police to act professionally. Theirs is a cardinal duty to maintain a level playing field for all political parties. They are expected to be impartial in all situations. They should clamp down on violence and arrest promptly those caught in bribery scandals regardless of what political parties they belong to.

    The Media

  24. We call upon the media to preserve with pride its noble duty to inform and educate the citizenry during the electoral period and to promote intelligent debate of the issues. It should be professional and ensure full and fair coverage of all parties. We also expect the media to raise pertinent issues for National debate. In particular, we request the Government press, radio and television to give fair coverage to all political parties.

    Political Parties

  25. We call upon all political parties to stick to issues rather than engage in trading insults with other political parties. They should give the voters clear options on specific policies to be pursued. They should show great restraint in dealing with those in other parties. During election time there ought to be a firm exercise of inter-party and intra-party tolerance. Our plural democracy is founded on respecting opposing views. We urge the political parties to strengthen their internal systems and structures to curb the rising hooliganism. Explicit rejection of violence should come immediately and clearly from the highest authorities in all parties.

    Civil Society Groups

  26. We call upon the civil society groups to build upon the mature vigilance exhibited during the third term campaign to ensure that electoral malpractices are minimized. We encourage them to engage in community based public education. Let them promote civic education that is focused on helping people make informed choices in free and fair fashion.

    Church Leaders

  27. We call upon our fellow Church leaders, at all levels, to remain strictly non-partisan but vigilant. Our responsibility is to give people direction and advice, not to take sides. We have a challenge to lead by example. Political leaders will be looking at our integrity for inspiration. But the challenge to remain non-partisan should never take away the duty to keep our prophetic voice alive. It is our duty to denounce electoral malpractices.

    Conclusion

  28. In the days ahead of us as we approach these important elections, we will make efforts to cooperate with Government officials, political leaders, civil society organisations and all peace-loving Zambian to promote the environment necessary for a good electoral process. In these efforts, we will be encouraging the "discipleship and citizenship" so necessary for the future of our beloved Zambia.

    Finally, we invite you to prayer for a successful outcome of the electoral process and impart upon you God’s blessings.

The Catholic Bishops of Zambia

 

        Archbishop Medardo J. Mazombwe,     Archbishop of Lusaka- President, ZEC     Archbishop James Spaita,     Archbishop of Kasama     Cardinal Adam Kozlowiecki, SJ,     Archbishop Emeritus, Lusaka     Archbishop Adrian Mung'andu,     Archbishop Emeritus, Lusaka     Bishop Telesphore-George Mpundu,     Bishop of Mpika     Bishop Dennis de Jong,     Bishop of Ndola     Bishop Aaron A. Chisha,     Bishop of Mansa     Bishop Raymond Mpezele,     Bishop of Livingstone     Bishop Noel O'Regan, S.M.A.,     Bishop of Solwezi     Bishop Paul Duffy, OMI,     Bishop of Mongu     Bishop Emilio Patriaca,     Bishop of Monze     Mgr. George Lungu,     Apostolic Administrator, Chipata