from ARNOLD MULENGA in Lusaka, Zambia
LUSAKA – A MYSTERIOUS spate of deadly gas attacks engulfing Zambia in recent weeks is a severe test to the country’s status as a beacon of stability in Africa and whose democracy has set a high bar for the continent and beyond.
The Southern African nation is gripped by fear and anxiety in the midst of the incidents where people are sprayed with the poisonous substances suspected to be gas.
Victims are then physically attacked after becoming dizzy.
At least ten people have been killed during the attacks but subsequent mob justice meted on suspects, has claimed more, with police confirming at least 43 deaths and 23 injuries.
Police have confirmed that 511 reports connected to chemical spraying of poisonous substances on households have so far been received with 1 687 victims.
Kingford Nasilele, PF’s Provincial vice secretary for the Western province, is one of victims killed during mob justice.
Agitated members of the public have burnt infrastructure.
The attacks were first reported in the Copperbelt region in the north and have spread to the capital, Lusaka.
There has been a growing number of unguarded statements in the media from both the ruling and opposition parties on the identity of the perpetrators, a situation that has heightened inter-party tensions.
President Edgar Lungu has expressed dismay at the war of words between mainly his Patriotic Front (PF) and the United Party for National Development (UPND).
The arrest of a senior official of the ruling party in relation to the deadly incidents amplify the vow by the president that a crackdown against the spiraling crime would spare co-culprits, even those within his party’s ranks.
“We are coming for you whether from ruling or opposition party, church, or NGO (non-governmental organiation,” Lungu said.
“We are coming for you regardless of who you are or what you are. No red herring will distract the current investigations,” he added.
At the time of publication, police had arrested 16 suspects.
Among those arrested is Evans Mulenga (aged 37), who is Information Publicity Secretary for the ruling party in the Chingola constituency in the Copperbelt.
It is alleged sometime last month (January), he was found in possession of chemicals suspected to be namely chlorocresol, sulphamethoxazol, acetone, clonazepam and chlorpheniramine.
These are allegedly being used in acts of terrorism.
Magistrate Peggy Banda has adjourned the matter to March 6.
Lungu last week deployed the army to quell the disturbances.
Kakoma Kanganja, the Inspector General of Police, assured members of the public that the situation was under control.
He reported that the number of reports of chemical spraying in households and incidents involving members of the public taking the law in to their own hands had reduced.
“However, officers from Defence and Security Wings are alert and still monitoring the situation,” Kanganja said.
“I am warning all those that have not been arrested yet that their days are numbered and soon they will be behind bars,” the police chief warned.
Kankanja also warned Zambians abusing social media for hate speech and cause fear and alarm in the nation.
“I can only promise that we are coming for you. The arrest of (one) Mubanga Elizabeth Chirwa and Jimmy Bwembya is a clear demonstration that there is no hiding place in the cyberspace. We are on top of things,” he said.
This is the worst spell of tensions afflicting the Southern African nation since a series of fires razing down some infrastructure, including the major market in Lusaka in 2017.
Lungu pointed out with Zambia internationally-lauded for its stability, these incidents were alien to the Southern African country.
“Zambians are not known for inflicting harm on fellow citizens and destroying institutions that are meant to serve them like hospitals and police stations. So where has this culture come from?” the president asked.
– CAJ News