The discovery this week of another man believed to have been ritually killed (see Fact Box) led to widespread riots in Lusaka, including looting of shops and houses belonging to foreigners, as residents vented their fear. A Rwandan man was burned to death, and a Zambian man was beaten to death.
The unrest took off on 16 April in Chunga Township, when residents protested against the police’s failure to bring the perpetrators to book. The protest was reportedly sparked by a rumour that police had arrested two people in connection with the ritual killings.
Government suggested that the opposition was to blame for the killings, with President Lungu supporting the notion on 17 April, when he explained that the police had arrested four suspects: “Those sponsoring killings for political powers to go to State House will now be exposed following the arrest of four people with human ribs and organs in Lusaka,” Lungu said, according to the Post.
And the Daily Mail in its editorial on 18 April accused either “business people eager to get rich quickly”, “miracle-seeking pastors who need magical powers” or “foreigners from countries that practise ritual killings” of being behind the killings, expressing what many people believed.
That same day, pandemonium broke out in several townships. The riots started in George and Zingalume Townships in Lusaka West, but quickly spread to neighbouring Matero. Residents looted shops and houses belonging to Rwandans in particular. Foreigners took refuge at police stations, while some brave residents sought to protect their shops and the police post in Zingalume from being vandalised for the second time (the police post was set on fire in March after the discovery of the first four bodies). The riots spread to Mandevu, Chipata, Chaisa and Kabanana Townships in the north, and there were also reports of unrest in Lilanda and Chunga in the west and in Garden Township in town.
Some residents said they were tired of living in fear, while others complained that Rwandan nationals were taking all the business opportunities. One rumour claimed that human body parts had been found in a shop belonging to a Rwandan. Another suggested that the police had arrested a foreign national for the ritual killings, but then let him go. The police clarified that the foreigner had been arrested for breach of peace and had been released after paying a fine. The police also warned people against spreading false rumours on the Internet, explaining that this was a scheme used by criminals to loot shops belonging to both foreigners and Zambians. They denied that a nurse had been arrested, that a baby or body parts had been found in a fridge belonging to a foreign national, and that chloroform had been used.
In the evening on 18 April, Home Affairs Minister Davies Mwila stated that the police had deployed enough officers to end the violent attacks. “Today has been a very sad day for our country. Contrary to the false rumour being spread by criminal elements, the police have been working around the clock to bring the killings to an end. The anti-social and criminal conduct seen in the high-density areas north and west of the city of Lusaka must come to an immediate end. We must avoid taking the law into our own hands”.
However, on 19 April, residents in 10 Miles north of Lusaka, in Bauleni and Chainda to the east, and in Chawama to the south also rioted and looted shops belonging to Rwandan and Burundian nationals, while unrest resumed in some of the townships first affected. Accordingly, government had to call in the army. President Lungu made a special order to deploy 440 soldiers to patrol the affected townships. Lungu threatened “drastic measures” if the riots were politically instigated. This was after PF Secretary General Mumbi Phiri alleged that the main opposition UPND party was inciting Zambians to rise against foreigners by claiming that foreigners were helping the ruling PF party rig the up-coming election.
The attacks were reminiscent of those carried out on foreigners in South Africa in the beginning of 2015, which almost resulted in a diplomatic crisis, as neighbouring countries had to evacuate their citizens from South Africa. Commentators in Zambia were therefore quick to condemn the violence, including the Human Rights Commission, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the Law Association of Zambia, the Council of Churches and the opposition in the form of Hakainde Hichilema (UPND) and Edith Nawakwi (FDD).
The police first apprehended 4 people in connection with the ritual murders. The 4 were found in possession of articles that are being subjected to forensic examination to determine whether they were human flesh or not. Later, the police apprehended another 7 people. 2 of the arrested people are foreigners.
A total of 257 residents were arrested for riotous behaviour.
62 shops were looted, but some goods have been recovered.
2 people died in Kanyama. 1 Rwandan man was burned to death, while 3 Zambians were badly beaten, and 1 of them has since died.
More than 300 people from Rwanda, Burundi and the DR Congo sought protection at Saint Ignatius Catholic Church in Lusaka. One Congolese man, Jose Umugwaneza, expressed surprise to see few individuals fanning the riots, arguing that Zambians were good and peaceful people. President Lungu visited the church, and apologised for the attacks.