Nevers Mumba, the anti-government president of the opposition MMD party, was arrested on 10 September for alleged criminal trespass at the national broadcaster ZNBC on 8 September (see below).
Police arrived at Mumba’s residence on Middleway in Kabulonga, Lusaka, but it reportedly took them an hour to produce a reason, in the form of a search warrant for illegal firearms and other offensive weapons. After finding nothing, Mumba was taken to Woodlands Police Station, nicknamed “Guantanamo Bay” by the Zambian Watchdog, as this is where most opposition leaders are detained due to its location in Lusaka’s posh suburbs. Here, Mumba was arrested for criminal trespass.
Some believed the real reason behind the arrest was a news conference held by the opposition UPND party on 9 September, at which UPND President Hakainde Hichilema, accompanied by Mumba and other senior politicians, reiterated his claim that last month’s elections were rigged. Mumba stayed in jail until 12 September, when he was released on K10,000 bail, even though the state objected, arguing that Mumba was a danger to national security, as he was allegedly planning to block the inauguration of President Lungu. Mumba pleaded not guilty.
The UPND was not impressed: “This arrest is nothing but part of a wider clampdown on democratic freedoms which started with the closure of the Post Newspapers, followed by Muvi TV, Komboni and Itezhi-Tezhi Radio Stations. It is part of a strategy to intimidate and shut the voices of the opposition and any dissenting voice following the controversial August elections, which are widely believed to have been won by the UPND,” stated UPND official Garry Nkombo.
Why Mumba matters
Nevers Mumba was elected MMD president at a string of provincial conventions in 2012, beating his closest rival, Felix Mutati, by a large margin. However, Mumba has failed to unite the MMD, and has especially lacked support from the party’s political heavyweights from the era under former President Banda. Thus, in May 2016, Felix Mutati, one of these heavyweights, was elected MMD president at a national convention, beating no one, as neither Mumba, nor most of the party’s National Executive Committee showed up. Mutati has the backing of former President Banda, and is himself supporting President Lungu (PF), in contrast to Mumba, who is supporting Hakainde Hichilema (UPND). Thus, some commentators have speculated that Mutati’s “coup”, ahead of last month’s elections, was made easier by the cooperation of state institutions, such as the Registrar of Societies, which promptly recognised Mutati as new MMD leader, despite the matter being in court. Thus, the leadership dispute remains unsettled. However, the confusion, and the fact that Banda and Mutati supported Lungu, is widely believed to have given the PF many votes in the MMD’s former strongholds. Accordingly, this week, Mutati was rewarded with a cabinet post. The real casualty is the MMD, as the former ruling party has become but a shadow of its former self. Having ruled Zambia for 20 years under succeeding Presidents Chiluba, Mwanawasa and Banda, MMD has just three MPs in the new parliament.