The new struggle for democracy in Africa has only just begun

Issued by Mmusi Maimane – Leader of the Democratic Alliance
31 Aug 2017 in News

The following remarks were made today by DA Leader, Mmusi Maimane, at a press conference at Parliament in Cape Town. The Leader was joined by the leader of Zambia’s opposition party, the United Party for National Development (UPND), Hakainde Hichilema. Mr. Hichilema’s full address is attached here

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for joining us this morning.

Today I am reminded of the words of Coretta Scott King, the wife of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr who once said, “Freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation”.

These words were true then, are true now, and will be true for generations to come. Today, all the across the African continent, a new fight for freedom is underway.

For the previous generation in Africa, the struggle for liberation from colonial powers was their mission. Today, our generation is engaged in a new struggle: the fight for a post-liberation Africa.  Our challenge is to free ourselves from the liberation movements of old, who have captured entire nations for their own personal gain. And across the continent, new leaders are rising up to this challenge.

Today I am joined by a pioneer of this new struggle – my brother, my friend, and the leader of the United Party for National Development (UPND) in Zambia, Hakainde Hichilema.

Mr Hichilema, or “HH” as he is better known, has recently been released from prison following a sustained campaign of international pressure by many countries and organisations, including the DA. We wanted to celebrate HH’s release with him and the people of Zambia, but we have still received no reply to our request to the Zambian government to visit that country again. So, instead, we invited HH to celebrate with us here.

Today we are grateful for his release and his safety, and we look forward to what he will go on to achieve in Zambian politics.

Hakainde and I first met almost 5 years ago while campaigning together on the continent, and have since become not just colleagues, but personal friends. Hakainde and I both share the values of democracy, constitutionalism, the rule of law, the advancement of human rights across Africa, intolerance of corruption and a commitment to the defence of an independent judiciary and a free press.

These are the values we believe will bring development, growth, and prosperity to Africa, lifting millions out of the poverty and hopelessness faced every day. We believe in the future of Africa, a continent full of latent potential.

Mr Hichilema is not just a fellow democrat, but a strong businessman who views inclusive market led economic growth as the way forward in building a strong and vibrant Africa.

My partnership with Mr Hichilema and his party is not only as the Leader of the DA, which is a sister party to the UPND and a fellow member of the African Liberal Network. It is also in my capacity as Chairperson of the Southern African Partnership for Democratic Change (SAPDC), a network of opposition parties throughout the region who work together, share best practice and support one another to further democracy in the region and rid the region of corrupt, self-centred “Big Man” governments.

In his country of Zambia, the fight for freedom has intensified over the past 12 months, and democracy is under serious threat. Under the incumbent President, Edgar Lungu, Zambia is fast heading towards a dictatorship. Zambia is currently under a declared state of emergency. This is characterised by increased security measures and the suppression of free speech and press freedom. Opposition party members have been intimidated, harassed and arrested en masse, and have been suspended from participating in Parliament.

However, the world only came to appreciate the extent of Zambia’s instability when Mr Hichilema was arrested, detained without trial under fabricated charges of treason, and subjected to 127 days in imprisonment, without visitation rights, often in solitary confinement and suffering inhumane treatment and violations of his human rights. Mr Hichilema will give us a first-hand account of his experience in a short while.

The simple truth is that Mr Hichilema posed a real challenge and democratic threat to the Lungu rule, and as such was vilified and victimised. This is a completely unacceptable abuse of democracy, and should concern all true democrats across the continent.

Despite Mr Hichilema’s arrest, neither President Zuma nor the South African government uttered a single word about this flagrant abuse of human rights, the rule of law, and democratic process. In fact, President Zuma travelled to Zambia, and met with President Lungu while Mr Hichilema was in prison. And still, he said nothing, as if it was business as usual. Worryingly, this is not just an anomaly, but a trend under the the party of liberation in South Africa.

Zambia played a pivotal role in the struggle against apartheid, and South Africa is a leader on the continent. It is therefore deeply regrettable that our government and President Zuma has done absolutely nothing to stand up for basic freedoms and democracy in Zambia when it is now under threat. The state of emergency now in place in Zambia bears many similarities to the state of emergency that existed in South Africa in the 1980s. Zambia stood up for our freedom then. Why will South Africa not stand up for the freedoms of Zambians now?

President Zuma is now the incoming Chair of SADC. He has an opportunity to reassert South Africa’s leadership position in the region and the continent and to reassert the values that South Africa will stand for on the continent. But our government’s track record does not give us cause to hope that this will happen.

In 2015, the South African government aided and abetted the escape of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who was then – and still is – wanted on charges of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

The government stooped to a new low this month by granting Zimbabwean First Lady, Grace Mugabe, diplomatic immunity and allowing her to leave our country after she had beaten a young South African woman with a wire cord in a hotel room in Johannesburg. Grace Mugabe was facing charges of assault in South Africa before, once again, our government ensured she was safely escorted to her home country.

For Africa to prosper as a continent, we must break the stronghold of liberation movements and the dictators which they create. We are going to have to relegate all forms of narrow Nationalist politics to the scrapheap of history.

We are going to have to make a fresh start, and we must begin by restoring the supremacy of the constitutional rights of the individual citizen in these nations. That is the new fight which our generation is engaged in. We call on all those on the continent who share this belief and this vision to join us in this endeavour.

The DA will restore South Africa’s rightful role as a leader on the continent. We will stand up for democracy, constitutional rights and the rule of law on the continent. We will work to bring fundamental reform to the African Union (AU), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) so that accountability is achieved when leaders on the continent abuse their people.

Through existing platforms, such as the SAPDC that I chair, we will continue to push for regional bodies – SADC and the AU – to work constructively with leaders, from both governing and opposition parties in states across the continent to bring about real change in Africa.

Because ultimately, in the words of Coretta Scott King, for Africa to truly be free, we are going to have to win that freedom for our generation.

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika