Wednesday, 6 November 2013

The Story of Penza’s ‘Political’ Killing Retold

After shooting and killing five suspects just within a day, police went to kill three other suspects two weeks later, and arrested a newspaper vendor and a market trader as principle suspects as they tried to unravel the murder of former Zambian Finance Minister Ronald Penza

By Nyalubinge Ngwende
It was November 6, 1998.  One of Zambia’s political imposing figure—a finance minister of global acclaim—Ronald Penza, had his life robbed by six mask wearing intruders who broke into his house around 05.00 hours in the morning.

Within six hours of the killing police made an unusually fast response gunning down five suspects. And two weeks later then police spokesperson Beenwell Chifwembe announced that three more suspects had been gunned down, bringing to eight the number of suspects killed by the police. 

Among the first five suspects killed by the police was Chanda Chafya, a security guard who switched shifts with colleagues to guard Penza’s residence in Kabulanga area. Plain clothes police picked Chafya from his work place in the morning, six hours later he was dead. 

After a post-mortem at the instruction of Lusaka magistrate Freda Chulu, the pathologist at the country’s

University Teaching Hospital Mahendra Garg gave a preliminary report saying: “I believe the deceased died from multiple bullet injuries."

Robert Simeza, lawyer for the Chafya family, was quoted in the local and foreign press saying:

“Pictures taken during the post mortem showed that he must have been severely tortured or beaten, before being shot several times. Simeza said Chafya's relatives have given him firm instructions to bring a suit against the government for damages. The post mortem on Chafya came three weeks after his death. Simeza said: "Every time we are told that they are still investigating the matter. But what can you investigate on a corpse for three weeks? We got the distinct impression that they want to hide something."

Late Ronald Penza
Like in the cases of Paul Tembo and Wezi Kaunda, whose deaths chequer the Zambian politics of the 1990s with convincing similarities of possible state sponsored killings, the robbers the police told the country had killed Penza did not steal anything from his home.  

To digress a little, Penza’s is eulogised for imposing some rare admirable stature of leadership of seeking the betterment of society at the global stage.

According to the Times of Zambia, in the 70s, as a student union secretary general at the University of Zambia (UNZA) great east campus, Penza in his capacity “organised a march to the French Embassy in Lusaka, to protest against the French government's decision to supply sophisticated military weapons, including Mirage fighter jets, to the apartheid regime of South Africa” (Times of Zambia, May 30, 2008).

During the time at the helm of Zambia’s ministry of finance, Penza is remembered for reformist policies, including the weeding of excess workforce in the public service, hiving off subsidies to the farming sector and opening the economy to private investors.

Penza’s economic policies that were considered harsh and only good for the western world, did not just raise debate on the streets and drinking places, but brought with it the benefits of new terminologies like balanced budget, treasury bills and stock exchange and receivership entering the common man’s street parlance.

For a long time people in Zambia did not mind to know all about economics because the UNIP regime gave almost everything for free. Penza taught the country the basics of making choices and fiscal discipline. I remember while in grade 12 at Libala Secondary School and thereafter we started looking up these terminologies from economics books in public libraries. It was like the awakening of crawling creatures that had been living in the dark under a flat rock for long only to be dazzled by glaring light after the rock is suddenly lifted off. 

Penza superintended over Zambia’s aggressive privatisation programme which was hailed as the fastest ever privatisation programme to be implemented by a third world economy. About 243 State Owned Enterprises were offloaded on to the market only leaving out Zamtel, Zesco and Zanaco.  

Usually spotting bow-ties and wing collar white shirts, Penza was an example of the 20th century surrogate child for the Western neo-liberal economists traversing one of Africa’s emerging democracies and free market economies.

At Paris Club, the group of eight (G8), and among the Bretton Woods Institutions (World Bank and International Monetary Fund), Ronald Penza was held as one of Africa’s finest ministers of finance.  Zambians, in reference to the abundant of luxury goods that saw canned coca-cola, apples, buttercup and an end to the queuing for commodities common during the UNIP era, called the new economy “Penzanomics”. 

But early in 1998, Penza fell out of favour with his boss President Chiluba. What went wrong between the two is still obscure. At the end of that year November 6, in the early hours of Friday morning, Ronald Penza’s life was snatched by the bullets of six mask wearing assassins. 

The story then was that Penza had up to late in the night on the fateful day gathered for a merry making with his ethnic relatives from Mbala, including Mbita Chitala (then Derrick Chitala) and the late Dean Mungomba, who had abandoned the first MMD cabinet over perceived corruption in the new regime. Maybe the Mbala mafias were marrying and tossing for big showdown against MMD President Chiluba.

“One Western economist based in Lusaka speculated that Penza may have been killed because he knew too much about government corruption, including its stewardship over the crumbling remains of Zambia's biggest industry, the state-owned Zambian Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM).

He was once named among other ministers to have been financing a gun running circle that supplied UNITA arms. As a result “others speculated that Penza may have been planning to spill the beans over the deal that linked President Chiluba and his top ministers to Aero Zambia chairman David Torkoph who was flying arms in exchange of diamonds to Angola’s rebel group, UNITA using Zambian airspace.

Even the diplomatic community suspected the worst. 

"There's a deep sense of something going very wrong here," said one senior Western diplomat. Outright political assassination has not got a tradition in Zambia. It's not part of the culture. That is the disquieting thing. People are saying, where are we going to when that sort of thing happens?"

The question about who killed Ronald Penza is a puzzle, chequered with more questions than answers, and marred by incorrigible explanations by the police in an attempt to rule out political motives for his killing. 

The question of this murder is also heavily riddled as to how the Zambian police, which was so senile at the time, managed to investigate the case in rapid response and managed to gun down five suspects within six hours after the killing took place at Penza’s home.

How do you kill a key ‘suspect’ or witness of a murder in your hands and go on a fishing expedition to arrest a newspaper vendor and a market trader? Where was such a lead taken to the newspaper vendor and market trader taken from?


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