We greet you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As is our tradition, we hold the first plenary meeting in January of every year. It is the moment of grace during which we reflect and deliberate on our task as shepherds of the flock of the Catholic faithful in Zambia. In addition, we seize the occasion to review and evaluate the context within which we exercise our ministry of evangelization in order to discern our relevance to society as a Church. As pastors of the Church and teachers in the matters of faith and morals, we always feel duty bound to teach on issues affecting our faithful and the people of good will, for “woe to us if we do not preach the word of God in and out of season” (I Cor 9:16; 2 Tim 4:2).
Our country is moving towards the 2016 tripartite elections. Zambians should be looking forward to this occasion with joy and great expectation. Ideally, elections are supposed to provide an opportunity of choosing our desired representatives in Councils, Parliament and a President of our choice in peace and tranquillity.
However the political culture that persistently clouds our election does not depict a maturing democracy and maturing democrats. Zambia is paying a great price through political hooliganism and apparently the leadership in all our political parties has failed to uproot political violence. In some cases they actually seem to encourage and fan it by inflammatory speeches. We also don’t see perpetrators of violence in political parties punished by their own leadership.
We appeal for a new political spirit and a democratic culture among our political leaders and their members. Let us make 2016 different in terms of providing a better and tolerant political environment. Political party leaders at all levels must commit themselves to a peaceful electoral process and the control of their members. Political parties must choose candidates of good standing who are committed to the promotion of the common good.
We urge our leaders in government to be the torch-bearers in the promotion of true reconciliation and peace. The role of the District Commissioner (DC) in this electoral process must be watched and seriously scrutinised. DCs should not act and work as party cadres wherever they are and using government resources.
We are very concerned about the selective application of the Public Order Act by the Police Service. In many cases, it is applied almost always in favour of the ruling party and those they favour. This disadvantages opposition political parties. Police must sternly but impartially apply the law to quell violence.
We advise the youths to claim their genuine political space in the electoral process. They should refuse to be used as mere tools of violence by politicians. We call upon the media to be professional by reporting truthfully, objectively and factually as they inform the public. We urge them to provide equitable coverage in the electoral process and avoid being fronts of partisan politics. Whichever media platform one uses, should not fuel hate speech or insults in the name of the right to freely express oneself. We also want a responsible use and reception of social media.
We urge all Christians to use their prophetic voice in their communities to promote unity in the country and to denounce all forms of fraud in the electoral process. We urge them to refuse any politician to use their churches and liturgical functions as campaign forums.
We call upon our fellow church leaders to remain non-partisan yet vigilant. They must also keep the prophetic voice alive and denounce all forms of electoral malpractice and political violence.
Likewise, we appeal particularly to our own catholic priests to remain non-partisan. It is morally wrong for the catholic priest to use the pulpit to campaign for, or de-campaign any political party or parties or to give politicians any platform to speak during liturgical celebrations.
After so many aborted processes and huge expenditure of public resources, the President took a bold step and assented to the amendments of our Republican Constitution on 5th January 2016. This was despite the unresolved contest with stakeholders on the process and mode of adoption. The question now arises as to what next?
Government has not given any road map for the post assenting period with respect to the application of the new Constitution. Even as we move towards August elections, the new Constitution has implications that impinge on the elections and this should be looked at.
Further, even when the constitution has been assented to, there have been no efforts to make it easily accessible and affordable to the majority Zambians. If the President made this constitutional assent in good faith, we appeal to him to prevail over relevant ministries and government departments to popularize the new constitution and publicise the post assent constitutional roadmap.
Prior to the enactment of the constitution, the government promised the public that those articles that would be left out shall be subjected to the referendum that would run concurrently with the tripartite elections.
Sadly, the Bill of Rights has been sidelined. Many of the constitutional changes we need to make that could improve the people’s quality of life and dignity hinge on reforming the bill of rights. It is imperative that a clear and well defined roadmap on the proposed referendum be presented to the nation.
A new dangerous phenomenon that has cropped up in the Zambian politics is that of regionalism and tribalism. We should all be proud of our ethnic roots and love each other as God’s children. No tribe is more valuable or important than the other. What makes us great is our unity in diversity and we should all thank God for it.
The transition from 2015 into 2016 can be classified as a challenging period in as far as livelihoods of Zambians is concerned. The cost of living has gone up due to escalation in inflation. We are experiencing massive loss of jobs for bread winners and households are being left with no income. Although the major cause in the slump of the economy has been attributed to external factors, and while appreciating what the government is doing to offset the challenge, this situation must be arrested locally. Government should demonstrate commitment to good stewardship of financial resources during this time.
We also strongly appeal to all companies and employers that before retrenchments are carried out, other measures to achieve financial solvency must be attempted.
Zambia is experiencing unfavourable rain pattern. This pattern shows that the country’s food security will be under extreme pressure. In the case of calamity such as this, we urge the Zambian Government to plan ahead so that no Zambian citizen should go without food this year. The relevant government ministries should mobilize resources to assist those who will be in dire need of help. However, food relief should be not used to gain political mileage.
The climate change calls us to re-examine the way we take care of our common home, the earth. Pope Francis cautions us that if we do not take personal as well as corporate responsibility for the earth which is our home, we will destroy the home for our future generation (Laudato si, 2015, #14).
We also urge the government to put in place strong measures to monitor the exploitation of natural resources in Zambia by investors, both foreign and local.
We call upon our brothers and sisters to take this year as the year of tolerance and love. In the words St. Paul the Apostle, we make a special appeal to you to “make [our] joy complete by being of a single mind, one in love, one in heart and one in mind. Nothing is to be done out of jealousy or vanity; instead, out of humility of mind everyone should give preference to others, everyone pursuing not self-interest but those of others” (Phi 2:2-4). Above all “do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody” (Rm 12:18).
We end with the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”
May the peace of the Lord remain with you all!
Issued at Kapingila House, Lusaka, Zambia on 23rd January, 2016 and signed by: Most Rev. Telesphore-George Mpundu, Archbishop of Lusaka and ZEC President, Rt. Rev. Alick Banda – Bishop of Ndola and ZEC Vice-President. Most Rev. Ignatius Chama, Archbishop Kasama and Apostolic Administrator of Mpika, Rt. Rev. Raymond Mpezele – Bishop of Livingstone, Rt. Rev. George Cosmas Zumaile Lungu – Bishop of Chipata, Rt. Rev. Charles Kasonde, Bishop of Solwezi, Rt. Rev. Evans Chinyama Chinyemba, OMI – Bishop of Mongu, Rt. Rev. Clement Mulenga, SDB – Bishop of Kabwe, Rt. Rev. Patrick Chilekwa Chisanga, OFM Conv. Bishop of Mansa, Rt. Rev. Moses Hamungole, Bishop of Monze, Rt. Rev. Benjamin Phiri – Auxiliary Bishop of Chipata, Rt. Rev. Aaron Chisha – Bishop Emeritus of Mansa. Mons. Justin Mulenga – Bishop Elect of Mpika