Zambia’s Independence and Our Elders Pensions,
by Gabriel C Banda
OCTOBER is another opportunity to deeply express appreciation and reflect on Zambia’s Independence journey. Many persons, from various walks of life, and from various places, worked for the Independence of Zambia.
And since Independence, 24th October 1964, up to present times, many persons, from various backgrounds, have contributed much in nourishing the vision and achievements of our society.
October 2016, 52 years from Zambia’s independence, is another time to reflect on the current situation of Zambia’s Freedom Fighters. Our focus for now is on the situation of those who took up public office. As we remember to praise those that fought for Independence and are still around, let us consider how their situation is and how it has come about.
Yes, there are many persons, thousands and thousands, into millions, that got involved in the struggle, with some being leaders that helped to organise it. There was much suffering and contribution during the journey for Independence.
After Independence, some became officials in the ruling party and the government. Some persons had, for reasons like that of being young then, not been actively involved in the struggle but became workers and officials in the government and the ruling party.
Zambia started off as a multi-party system but, due to various factors, among them the solving of inter-party violence, in 1972 transformed into the “One Party Participatory Democracy.” Many observers make the mistake of not distinguishing the reasons, type, structure, and systems involved in particular one party systems.The one party experiences were not the same.
In Zambia, the One Party state system, unlike in some other countries where there was banning of other parties, was actually some unified party system. Those from ANC and the ruling UNIP, many of who earlier before Independence had belonged to the same party ANC, were integrated. It was a form of Government of National Unity, a system recently more recommended, even temporarily, in various parts of the world, especially where there is great tension, conflict, and division.
There is no doubt that the merger helped deal with the problem of inter-party violence and tension. MPs and position holders concentrated on dealing with issues in their communities and the whole society.
-For persons of various backgrounds and places, the “One Zambia, One Nation” national motto was taking shape.The position of women became stronger in politics, society, and the economy, with women leading various directions.
-Also supporting this was the “Zambian Humanism,” a form of South Africa’s Ubuntu but much more practically and systematically organised. These were part of the foundation that has, through year 2016, made Zambia continue with relative cohesion and withstand big pressures where other nations have been shaken and destabilised.
This system unified the Party and Government structures. Officials, full time and voluntary, were greatly involved in public mobilisation and participation. Towards the end of the one party system, a leaders Pension and Benefit system was put into place to cover the public officials playing various roles.
There were advances made under Zambia’s One Party system. Of course, it had its challenges and limitations.
In December 1990, after calls for return to a multiparty system, President Kaunda signed away the One Party system, repealing Article 4 of the Constitution. He signed, putting aside the need for doing the planned Referendum.Going back to a multi-party system offered potential advancements in some aspects.
In some way, the One Party system experienced in Zambia had enabled some social cohesion that made it easier for persons of various backgrounds to go into political parties in relative unity. The system had enabled some level of togetherness available for respect for one another during a return to multiparty systems.
As preparations and campaigns for multiparty elections intensified, some officials in opposition said that when they took over government, they would make sure members of UNIP did not get any pensions. The opposition politicians in MMD openly pledged this at public rallies. They said they would push aside the benefits and pensions of UNIP officials who worked in the Party and the government.
Some who publicly pledged to ensure those from UNIP would not be paid pensions and benefits were even lawyers. The basis upon which they based their opposition to pensions of the targeted workers was not clear. The pledge not to pay benefits was openly repeated at rallies, such as the one at Woodlands Stadium, Lusaka.
As Zambia moved towards the elections, it was clear that some things had not been clearly settled. These included issues of distinguishing and apportioning assets of UNIP and Government. The leaders’ Pensions and Benefits were not discussed. It was assumed that, even with the words of MMD officials, the law would still continue and have the pensions administered.
Elections were held in October 1991, with Frederick Chiluba’s MMD taking over from President Kenneth Kaunda’s UNIP. Over the 25 years, there are some things that have worked better than were things at the time of the One Party state. Yet there are also things that have declined.
Among the negative legacies of the Frederick Chiluba MMD rule was the violation of the basic rights of those officials who worked in UNIP and government. Immediately upon coming to office, the MMD administration, true to the pre-election vows of its officials, nullified the Leaders Benefits and Pensions law. That action displaced into hardship many workers and officials. President Kaunda was for some time also affected.
Although, under international pressure, some adjustments were made for Dr Kaunda, and that after much suffering, the benefits of other positions were not re-instated or even settled through negotiation. Many officials who served government before 1991 have continued without pensions. 25 years later, in October 2016, this wrong, this violation of human rights in the name of politics, this evil against the elders, has not been corrected.
Presidential and other officials’ pensions are designed to make leaders concentrate on their jobs. They should not in future suffer because of their contribution to society. The presidency and government jobs should not just be for those who are already rich.
Also, giving Presidents and ministers and other officials good pensions helps prevent corruption and unfair practices for financial and resource benefit. Of course, there is need to put parameters and limits around Presidential benefits, such as the value of the house being built, but not to remove the benefits.
For now, as we remember October and Independence, let us consider the plight of those leaders and officials that were unfairly put into hardship because of the bias and hatred of those who came into office. It is time to settle the issue of pensions and benefits of Zambia’s government officials.
G C B, October 2016, LUSAKA.