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Liberty In Sorrow: Zambia should investigate Iglesia Ni Cristo stampede but unban the church

 

By Elias Munshya, BA, LLB, MA, MA, LLM, MBA, MDIV.

March 6, 2017 was a sad day for Zambia. Eight souls perished in a stampede as they gathered to receive food handouts from a church organisation known as Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC). This church organisation was first registered in the Philippines in about 1914 and from humble beginnings and ridicule it has grown in its outreach efforts around the world. One such efforts in Zambia led to it organising an event where it promised to distribute food hampers to the poor of Lusaka. With this promise, thousands turned out. Perhaps due to poor organisation and lack of good crowd control, 8 of our people unfortunately died. May the souls of our departed rest in eternal peace.

With tears in our eyes, and a strong sense of loss, the government of the republic of Zambia (GRZ) reacted swiftly. Government ministers addressed the nation. They explained what had happened and assured the nation that they are doing thorough investigations. They also expressed profound sorrow from our head of state. Lungu mourned with us. Tyranny, however, must be confronted regardless of where we are at in our heavy hearts. In moments of disappointment and pain, we must remain vigilant to safeguard the most sacred of our liberties. Nothing erodes liberty like giving in and giving up in the face of fear. Mourning we needed to mourn and investigations we needed to explore, the state, however, in addition to other measures decided to ban the Iglesia Ni Cristo. And this honour apparently fell in the hands of the Minister of Religious Affairs and National Guidance, Rev. Godfridah Sumaili. She addressed the nation and announced the ban of the Church of Christ (Iglesia Ni Cristo). It is my opinion that the ban was excessive, unnecessary and must be vigilantly rejected. For the following reasons.

First, the primary role of the church such as INC is religious worship. INC has several members in Zambia. They mostly meet in smaller houses of worship and have a very reasonable number in attendance each week. INC, however, organises a few large meetings such as crusades. It so happens that the church perhaps punched above its weight and underestimated how many people would show up to receive free food. What Rev. Sumaili perhaps needed to do was to ban the church from having large gatherings, rather than banning it from meeting at all. Banning the church from worship disproportionately violates their freedom of worship. It does not make sense to ban a church from worshipping for contravening the law that applies to something they did outside of worship. If for example there is a mine accident, it is reasonable for the state to intervene and ban a company from mining until safety issues are resolved. That is perhaps what was needed here – to ban the church from holding large gatherings while leaving its freedom to worship intact. The problem was not worship, the problem was the church holding a large gathering with little to no crowd control.

Second, the ban sends a chill down the spine of all religious denominations in Zambia. The Ministry of Religion and National Guidance must have no role in banning churches. It does not register them and therefore it has no business banning institutions that it does not register or regulate. Consequently, the government of the republic of Zambia does not regulate Zambians’ exercise of the freedom of worship. If we let Rev. Sumaili’s ban in place, it will set a very bad precedent where she might have the liberty now to begin banning churches indiscriminately. Political power need not be unreasonably trusted. Rev. Sumaili could be a good person, but her exercise of state power must be tempered by reasonableness. Erosion of liberties does not happen suddenly. It always starts very subtly. It is up to Zambians to be vigilant and push back against the state’s interference in religious liberties.

Third, the Ministry of Religion and National Guidance (MRNG) is a new ministry trying to find its raison d’etre. We must not let that be the banning of churches for reasons completely unrelated to Zambians’ freedom of worship. The dread we must all have with a ministry that seems to be wanting to regulate how Zambians worship is the impact that such a ministry may have on constitutional liberties. Zambia is a Christian nation. But the Christian nation declaration confers no reliable or enforceable rights on Christians as opposed to others. The Zambian state lacks the competence to arbitrate between competing religious doctrines. The MRNG should know that it has no role and no business whatsoever in guiding how Zambians will choose to worship or not worship. If at all there is any misunderstanding as to the role of the MRNG and its minister, let it be known, that Zambians will not sit idly while the state plays with their liberties like ping-pong.

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E. Munshya, BA, LLB, MA, MA, LLM, MBA, MDIV

Fourth, I am aware that Zambian government ministers are mostly people of conscience and the constitution accords them the liberty to worship. But the individual ministers’ religion should have no bearing whatsoever in how they promulgate public policy, particularly as far as churches and religion are concerned. The Zambian state has no business regulating how Zambians choose to exercise their constitutional liberty to worship. A few years ago, when around Easter police and immigration officers raided churches to hunt for illegal immigrants, I condemned such activities because they disproportionately targeted religious denominations. The state must not be sending guns to disrupt people gathered to worship God. The Zambian constitution’s religious liberty is afforded to both legal residents and illegal residents. The state should not be barging into churches to arrest worshippers who do not have immigration papers. If the state wants to arrest illegals, let it do so anywhere else and not in church. Religious freedom is too precious a liberty to sacrifice at the hand of political convenience.

I urge Hon. Sumaili to reverse her ban on the Iglesia Ni Cristo. The ban makes no sense and it is not rationally connected to her trying to prevent another stampede from happening. Stopping INC from worship limits the church members’ freedom of worship. If it is the stampede the state wants to prevent, it can take measures aimed at reducing those stampedes. Banning the church out-rightly is disproportionate and sets a very bad precedent. And we must not allow that to happen. Not in Zambia.

The Temptation of Nevers Sekwila Mumba (Part I): Politics of Personal Sacrifice

By E. Munshya wa Munshya

It is Frank Talk time on prime time television in the early 1990s. One evening, the whole nation is listening in as journalist Frank Mutubila introduces his guest on ZNBC TV. Pastor Nevers Mumba sits confidently in his chair. Next to him is his wife. They are appearing on a program that follows and features news personalities. In the middle of the interview, smart Frank Mutubila probes Nevers about whether he would consider running for public office.“I am a preacher”, Nevers exclaims. And continues, “any involvement in politics would be a demotion.” Those words would become the most memorable lines of that Frank Talk interview.

When NeverNevers Sekwila Mumbas is saying that politics would be demotion. It really means just that. His name had become a household name in Zambia. He was an international preacher attracting the very best of international charismatic preachers. In a Christian nation, Nevers had access to State House at any time. Among his closest friends were President Frederick Chiluba and his Vice-President Godfrey Miyanda. Nevers Mumba was for all reasons a man with a lot of influence, the influence that came as a result of his faith commitment and leadership within the charismatic Pentecostal movement. His yearly Victory conferences became pilgrimages for Zambian Pentecostals.

Nevers’ influence did not just involve the MMD regime, however. President Kenneth Kaunda counted among many admirers of Nevers. In the dwindling days of his presidency, Kenneth Kaunda, a Chinsali native had turned to Nevers, another Chinsali native for counsel. The meeting at State House that Nevers had with Kaunda occupied several pages in Nevers’ book Integrity With Fire. According to Nevers and using Pentecostal language – President Kenneth Kaunda had given his life to the Lord after meeting Nevers at State House around 1990.

After winning the 1991 elections, President Frederick Chiluba’s government policy was to recognise and respect church leaders. Ignored for a long time under the leadership of Kaunda, Chiluba was going to give more visibility to Pentecostal leaders. He lavished them with recognition and Nevers Mumba was among those Chiluba honored with Zambian diplomatic passports. The reason for this honor was simple: “Christian preachers were envoys of the Christian nation of Zambia.”

On television, The Zambia Shall be Saved program was featured weekly, and sometimes appeared twice a week. In that program, Pastor Nevers Mumba became a firebrand of what it meant for Zambia to be a Christian nation. He would preach about faith, about prosperity, about international exposure. He would also preach about black consciousness. In those programs Nevers would testify about his wealth, his vision and the plans for his church and consequently for Zambia. Things were going well it seems. Zambia was going to be saved, and indeed it was getting saved.

Nevers was an alumnus of Hillcrest Technical School in Livingstone. After completing high school he interned for a few months in the Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines. But this was not going to last long. He was to meet Evangelist Reinhard Bonkke in the early 1980s. When Bonkke met Nevers it was like at first sight. Nevers was going to be Bonkke’s Bemba interpreter and before long a scholarship had been arranged for him to study in the USA.

Upon return from the USA around 1983, Nevers registered a ministry under the Companies Act. In those days, Kenneth Kaunda had banned registration of new religious movements. The only recourse for beginners like Nevers was to use the Companies Act. Victory Ministries Inc. was born and with it came the influence, the splendor and the pomp. The poor boy from Chinsali had finally broken into the big league. For Nevers, what Kaunda had said about Zambia being free in 1962, he was going to tweak it and call rebrand it as “Zambia shall be saved.” This was going to be his mantra for life.

That splendor characterized Nevers’ life is an understatement. Ministry supporters of his had given him a mansion in Riverside, Kitwe. Victory Ministries was a staple all over the country. Crusades were held across the nation. Nevers Mumba was that embodiment of those rich American preachers. If any one could say there is money in Christian ministry, Nevers had broken that ceiling. He was swimming in money, in power and in influence. Given that influence, it is true; becoming a politician would truly be a demotion.

And then something happened.

It was in 1997, in Kabwe. Nevers had somewhat a change of heart or mind. We may never know. Or may be he had another born again experience. He announced that he had formed an organization to push for political reforms in Zambia. The National Christian Coalition was going to take on President Chiluba’s government.

When Nevers is making the decision to challenge Chiluba in this manner. He knew that this move would come at great personal and ministry risk. Indeed, if Nevers had cared about his own welfare he knew that challenging the Chiluba government would be a risky move. And it is this move that many analysts of Nevers never pay attention to. By breaking with the Chiluba government, Nevers had demonstrated tremendous courage. He knew he was going to lose all the honor, splendor and respect the Chiluba government had accorded him. In fact, he knew that the words he had spoken to Frank Mutubila earlier would come back to bite him.

But for Nevers, the nation was at stake. Chiluba had become corrupt. The promise of a Christian nation was not leading to a more moral nation. In that context, Nevers felt he could do something about it. He risked it all. And indeed the response from those in power was swift fierce.

After the NCC announcement, Vice-President Miyanda went to ZNBC. He berated Nevers Mumba. The war of words had now become the war between two of the countries’ foremost Pentecostal firebrands: Nevers in one corner and General Miyanda in another. Clearly, Nevers had fallen out of the league. With those words from General Miyanda, Nevers’ world started to shrink. And it shrunk faster than Nevers had expected. The sacrifice he had envisioned for his people was going to demand more than he could handle. If he had been tested and tried many times while preaching, the new political frontier was a temptation on steroids.

Nevers’ fellow preachers were next to call him out. He was a traitor, some of them screamed. He was challenging his fellow brother in Christ, some exclaimed. Some of his detractors accused him of leaving the “calling”, a treasonous crime within the Pentecostal fraternity. The words he had used to Frank Mutubila were replayed over and over again. Some even suggested that he was selfish just wanting to get into politics for more power, splendor and influence. Any one who has watched Nevers knows that he has far given more to politics than he had taken out. And if there was any doubt about that – challenging Chiluba’s corruption was the first step.

Chiluba’s machinery continued to respond swiftly. The NCC’s status as a society was threatened. Nevers had to quickly transform it into a political party and rename it the National Citizens Coalition. Chiluba summoned the Zambia Revenue Authority to audit the Victory Ministries Inc., which had for all these years operated as a non-profit company. Nevers was going to pay back back-taxes in millions of Kwachas. All the privileges Nevers had were to be withdrawn. The diplomatic passport was withdrawn too. Nevers might have bargained for too much. And he had bitten a bigger chunk he could not swallow.

But when he started speaking about his journey towards politics, Nevers was loved by the opposition and by civil society. As a close preacher to Chiluba he had noticed the abuse and corruption going on with Chiluba. Nevers had noticed how the government was working against the Zambians instead of working for the Zambians. Chiluba’s closest confidante, Michael Sata, was also on hand to berate the “disgraced preacher”. It was Nevers against Chiluba, Miyanda and Sata. It was Nevers against the machines of power and the testing and trails were only going to get fiercer.

That mansion in Kitwe was going to be subject of litigation. Victory Ministries faced closure. The Zambia Shall be Saved program on TV was only saved by court intervention. The temptation of Nevers Mumba had only started to intensify.

Pentecostal political theology is still in its infancy as an academic subject. Many observers of Pentecostal political theology especially in Africa do characterize it as one that attempts to maintain the status quo. At best, most analysts see Pentecostals as perpetrators of the status quo. As such, Nevers Mumba’s decision to challenge the status quo was a bit unusual and a departure from what is expected of a Pentecostal preacher. In this regard then, Nevers becomes an embodiment of that spirit of resistance against corruption and abuse of power. After noticing that Zambia was going the wrong direction, Nevers bucked his own Pentecostal movement to challenge the excesses of his brother in Christ, Frederick Chiluba. This Nevers did at great cost to his own life and in fact, to his own integrity.

Pentecostalism is for many reasons predicated on an understanding of God who can do anything. As a faith that lacks a central authority, it is by nature quite chaotic and dynamic. In Pentecostalism God speaks directly, but more than that, God continues to speak daily to his people. As such, when Nevers says he could not join politics that is what God could have told him in 1992, but by progressive revelation may be God told Nevers something else by 1997. He had to abandon the church in order to challenge the corruption he saw in the Chiluba government.

This contrasts Nevers and President Michael Sata. Both of them were close to the Chiluba axis of power. But when he noticed corruption, Nevers broke with Chiluba at great personal and family cost. Sata on the other hand stayed with Chiluba in the middle of the worst corruption Zambia has ever seen. In fact, Michael Sata only left Chiluba after it was apparent that Chiluba had dribbled him on succession. Nevers’ decision to leave Chiluba’s MMD was a decision for others, for Zambia. Sata’s decision to leave, however, was based on personal ambition – the desire to be President and only leave corruption when he gets disappointed from being adopted as MMD candidate.

By the time Nevers was campaigning to be president of Zambia for the 2001 elections, he had been reduced to a pauper. The levers of power had worked their way into Nevers’ life. He had lost everything. The only thing he was left with was that Pentecostal confidence in the God who can “do anything.” Nevers had lost his house, his reputation stained, and his friends had run away from him. He had not committed any crimes, or may be the only crime was to cry out against the shoes, the designers Bombasa, and theft he saw in the Chiluba administration. And for doing that, he suffered for it. Politics for Nevers had been a demotion, but a demotion he fully believed was for the good of the nation.

By the end of the 1990s, Nevers’ children had just become teenagers. They needed a father who would provide for them. Having lost the income, the influence, the power, Nevers had paid a huge price for politics. His passion for the ordinary Zambia led him to make these sacrifices. He had some solace in a few friends outside of Zambia who would invite him to preach. Having lost the Kitwe home – Nevers had become a destitute. Politics and a passion for his people and his nation had not made him richer but poorer. And daily, he had to agonize about what happens to his children, and to his family. The days of splendor and glory are over. With a simple stroke of a microphone he could have returned to preaching full time. And as usual, there was going to be more people to welcome back the prodigal preacher.

The temptation of Nevers was too great to bear. The man who could advice presidents was now living in a guest wing at his in-laws. Cruel life. But for a good cause. The cause of his nation.

And then the call came.

Nevers Mumba’s one of his eleven challengers in the 2001 elections had now been president for almost a year. Levy Mwanawasa had been handpicked by President Frederick Chiluba to succeed him. When Levy won the elections, he adopted the fight against corruption as the motto of his presidency. Levy Mwanawasa started proceedings to have Chiluba prosecuted for corruption and theft. Nevers Mumba’s fight against Chiluba’s corruption had now been confirmed that Chiluba was no longer in power. President Chiluba, a man of the people had by the end of his second term faced serious accusation of theft and corruption.

When Mwanawasa made the moves to prosecute Chiluba, Nevers Mumba was among the first to support the decision. The Post Newspapers carried Nevers Mumba’s reaction to President Mwanawasa’s efforts. “It was an answer to God’s justice”, Pastor Nevers Mumba had said. May be, as he is saying this, he has in mind the injustice he had suffered at the hand of President Frederick Chiluba. For now, it was just early 2002 and President Mwanawasa had noticed, a Chinsali born Bemba, and former preacher who shared his ideals against corruption.

Levy Mwanawasa’s crack at the presidency proved difficult. Chiluba’s influence within the levers of power was so endemic. If he had to prosecute Chiluba, Mwanawasa needed partners. But partners within the MMD government proved difficult to keep. And so he had to look elsewhere.

Within the MMD, almost all of the senior leaders had been soiled by the Chiluba corruption. Vice-President Kavindele himself had won the MMD vice-presidency under very controversial circumstances at the 2001 convention. By 2003, the Bemba speaking faction in the MMD had been dissatisfied with Mwanawasa. President Mwanawasa was going to find a perfect fit to help him win the Bemba hearts and to fortify his fight against corruption.

It was early 2003. In an evening broadcast, President Mwanawasa had made a choice of a new Vice-President. Nevers Sekwila Mumba from the living room of his in-laws went through the formalities of appointment. He had become Zambia’s Vice-President. Becoming the first preacher to become Vice-President and the second Chinsalian to become Vice-President after Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe in 1967.

President Mwanawasa had found a partner in the fight. President Mwanawasa had also found a well-spoken preacher to help him deal with the public relations issues facing his government. Nevers was swift, flamboyant and hard working. His personality made him likeable. The image of a clean, handsome man coming into office enthralled many.

But this honeymoon was never to last long.

In 2004, Nevers’ crack at executive privilege had been curtailed. President Mwanawasa had fired him. And with his firing – Nevers’ trials and temptations continued.

Beyond “House, Money, Car”: Why Ms. Kay Figo Deserved Compensation

By E. Munshya, LLB (Hons), M.Div.

Zambia should change laws that unfairly disadvantage women - Munshya

Zambia should change laws that unfairly disadvantage women – Munshya

The facts of the 2012 case of one Ms. Kay Figo and her lover Mr. Van are very well defined. Around 2007 a 55 year-old Mr. Van  met a 21-year Ms. Kay Figo at a Kabwata nightclub. Due to love at first sight, Mr. Van that night invited Ms Kay to his Makeni home.  They  lived together for a period of 5 years. The relationship had broken down for at least two years of those five years. Noting that the relationship had broken down, Ms. Kay sued Mr. Van before the Lusaka Local Court. Ms. Kay’s argument was that she deserved compensation from Mr. Van for lost time while “dating” him. She wanted the court to recognise her time with Mr. Van as deserving some level of legal or equitable recognition. Some reports suggest that Ms. Figo had actually wanted this 5-year cohabitation to be recognized as a common law or some form of customary marriage. Mr. Van argued that, to the contrary, he did not need to compensate her because as far as he was concerned he was not married to her. It was also Mr. Van’s argument that during the 5 years he had lived with Ms. Kay he had tried repeatedly to reach her family so that he could get her to marry him. Reaching family suggest that Mr. Van might have wanted to marry her through customary law and practice. He argues further that she was not willing to introduce him to her family. As such she refused his proposal for marriage. That having been the case, he argued that she was un-deserving of any compensation.

This matter has received lots of media attention. Some in the media have characterized Kay as an “untaught” girl and as a gold digger just out to get Mr. Van for his money. Indeed that Kay was quite specific about the amount of compensation she wanted from her former lover, only went to stoke the suspicions in many that she was an opportunist going for a “house, money and car”.

The Lusaka Local Court reached its decision in October 2012. The local court justices dismissed Ms. Kay’s action declaring that since she had not been married to Mr. Van, she had no recourse to any compensation. The courts declared that there was no valid marriage contract upon which compensation can be ordered. As such, Ms. Kay was unsuccessful in this claim.

I find the decision of the court to be unfair. I wish to paint this decision within a wider framework of both law and tradition to argue that there is need for Zambia to change its legal framework as to recognise compensation in cases such as the one under consideration.

Ms. Kay Figo

Ms. Kay Figo

In Zambia today, there are principally two ways by which marriage can be contracted. The first is marriage under the Act and the second one is the marriage under Zambian traditions and customs. Marriage under the Act is primarily modelled after European system (sometimes misusing the Bible as justification). In this marriage, two people can contract a marriage and have it solemnized by the registrar of marriage or a gazetted minister of religion. The marriages contracted under Zambian laws and tradition is valid only after definite steps are taken. Legal jurisprudence right now as it stands in the Supreme Court precedence is that a marriage under customary law can only be valid if the man has paid some form of dowry or “lobola” to the family of the woman.

The consequence of the law as it stands right now is that regardless of how long a man has lived with a woman, that union cannot be recognized as a marriage unless he has “reached” the woman’s family and some form of dowry has been paid to the woman’s family. It is not my intention to change the way our traditions or the law defines what a marriage is. I would leave that up to the traditionalists and to the Zambian parliament.

My argument is that there has to be some form of legal or customary recognition of some unions contracted in the manner similar to Ms. Kay and Mr. Van’s. My argument is that leaving the law as it is would disadvantage women who are at the receiving end of unbalanced power within society. Indeed, in much of the English Common law jurisdictions, the law has moved on to where it imposes a “marriage” upon any couple that has cohabited for a specific period of time. In Canada for example, the “marriage under common law” is imposed upon any couple that has lived together for at least 12 continuous months. Privileges for such recognition vary from one Canadian jurisdiction to another.

In the case of Zambia, a couple should either be married or if not then it is cohabiting with the later receiving no legal or equitable protection at all. There is no middle ground. Marriage receives both legal and equitable protection while cohabitation does not. I do not wish to encourage cohabitation. Indeed, a marriage is far much better than two people just cohabiting. But there comes a time where women are disadvantaged due to the unfair balances of power after the cohabitation is over. Indeed, in the case of Ms. Kay and Mr. Van, the man took this young girl from a bar and lived with her for 5 years. That they were cohabiting without being married is clear for all to see. But in the event that the relationship comes to an end it would be unconscionable for the woman to walk out of that relationship without some amount of consideration.

She was a de-facto spouse to Mr. Van while she lived with him. She cleaned his house and took out his garbage every night or probably once a week. She worked hard for him. She provided him with the love and affection he needed. This love and affection made him work well and work hard in his businesses. For at least a majority of those five years, she was there for him. Honestly, that after these years she deserved some form of a “house, money or car” from him. He must not be allowed to dismiss her that easily.

Many commentators have discussed how a “gold-digger” Ms. Kay is. In fact, many have questioned her moral values as “ a girl picked from a bar.” Indeed, I find such criticisms very unfair. Why aren’t the same people condemning the 55-year-old Mr. Van who pounced on this innocent girl? Why is it that when it comes to such matters, the woman gets the most condemnation while the man goes scot-free? In fact, Mr. Van has been left off the hook such that there are reports that he has now started another “cohabitation” with another young woman.

If indeed, Ms. Kay is a bar girl, that criticism should also be leveled against Mr. Van who took her from the bar and within the same night took her to his house in Makeni. He loved her and lived with her for five solid years. Honestly, after having enjoyed her youth and her innocence, Mr. Van cannot and should not get away so easily. He must at least offer reasonable compensation to her. It is just the right thing to do.

She has lost the case. Probably, as a controversial musician, she will even sell more records after this episode. However, she will bear the brunt of this saga while Mr. Van goes scot free to begin pouncing on another girl at a shabeen in Shang’ombo.

Only that next time, we must make Mr. Van realize that once he picks another girl, he would not discard her so easily. The “not married to you” nonsense should not be tolerated. If you cannot marry the girl then do not cohabit with her. But if you so wish to cohabit with her then you should be able to offer any compensation that would normally fall on a marriage of similar length. Here is a number from Ms. Figo.

(c) E. Munshya, LLB, M.Div. (2012). This article was originally published on this website on 5 October 2012. It is republished here in 2014. All rights reserved.