In Rwanda the most potent and devastating weapon used to carry out genocide was a machete. In Zambia its look-alike, the Panga, has become a weapon of intimidation and political violence that starts where political tolerance and reason fails, but police and lawmakers seem to wait for the worst to happen before they can do anything to outlaw the weapon
PF Matero youth Chairperson Heita Bwalya displays Pangas
By Nyalubinge Ngwende
Pangas have become the most potent and dangerous-easy-to-acquire weapons to conduct political violence under the Patriotic Front.
In Matero when church pastors, political leaders and civil society activists gathered to demand for ‘Black Friday’ to press government over a people driven constitution and respect for civil rights, among them the freedom of association, a group of brutes entered the church with Pangas and planks to break up the church vigil. The ruling party PF youths, displaying their choice of weapon before Muvi TV cameras, later confessed to have been sent by area ward councilor, Morris Pio to carry out the act of violence.
It did not just end there and not just with their opponents. Because when the PF power brokering tactics that saw two groups emerge, differing over the endorsing of President Michael Sata as the sole candidate for 2016, the opposing groups resorted to use of Pangas. To show that nothing is settled through dialogue in PF, the factions resorted to settling their difference with Pangas on the road to Kenneth Kaunda International Airport, as they tried to block each other from witnessing President Sata laying a foundation stone for the new plane terminal infrastructure.
The PF members hacked each other as ‘scare-crows’ in police uniform stood-by musing at the orgy and doing nothing. One life was lost and a PF Lusaka youth leader is facing charges of murder in the High Court.
The PF has now earned itself an infamous tag of Panga Family because of the frequency and prominence that its members resort to use the machete-type sharp weapon hacking and maiming others they have differed with in opinion.
The reason that a mob of ruling party cadres can get around our townships wielding Pangas, waving these weapons in front of television cameras, as they goby wrecking havoc shows how relaxed the law restricting dangerous weapons like this has become.
Or is it that the police are just unwilling to strongly deal with lawlessness involving members of the ruling party? If not, but why, apart from the case of murder in high court, no one, not even those who appeared on Muvi TV confessing to breaking up the Black Friday church gathering, has ever been arrested for carrying dangerous weapons that are capable of maiming and killing?
It raises a lot of questions on the part of the police and how they treat political violence in relation to public peace. They were quick at arresting and detaining Alliance for Better Zambia leader Fr Frank Bwalya for rightly defining President Sata as ‘Cumbu Mushololwa’—a bemba tribe jibe meaning someone who does not take advice, like a crooked sweet potato that cannot be straightened unless it breaks. However, they have lamentably failed to cite anyone of faces that have appeared in newspaper and television pictures with Pangas in raised hands. At the same time they have been brutalizing opposition members for peaceful demonstrations.
Worse more are the levels of denial among the politicians, especially the government leadership, to fail to see
In the last sitting of parliament vice president Guy Scott was in complete denial that those who were involved in the killing of a cadre on the road to KKIA were not PF members, but opposition hooligans who had infiltrated the ruling party.
Though Scott did not want to accept the problem of the Panga Family and its violence as squarely lying on the ruling party, at least, if he were a serious leader of government business in the house, the man was going to propose to parliament the need to seek stiffer regulation over the presence of Pangas in public.
Pangas are an essential tool for domestic use for pruning overgrowth of trees, cutting sticks and thatch for fencing and also as a potential weapon for security against buglers in homes that cannot afford firearms.
However, its presence in the hands of political thugs, around and during any place of political activity, a panga has proved to be a devastating weapon of merciless violence. It replaces any sense of tolerance and has assumed the basest means by which political dissent is intimidated into silence.
When politics got bad in Rwanda, the machete—which is the Panga type—became a weapon of genocide. It is dangerous, but cheaper and easier to acquire because blacksmiths all around the townships can easily make it. The equally quite heavy steel it is forged from and, given its sharp edge, it means any youthful effort of attack on another human being can cause serious wounding or cut off a limb or kill instantly.
As already seen, the Panga is becoming a potential weapon of intimidation and unspeakable violence that can undermine free political thought and decision. With it around and with no deliberate measures taken to forestall its entry into any arena of political competition, the way it will play out during 2016 when the country returns to general elections shall only be told by those who will face the sharp side of this machete.
It is for this that our lawmakers should seek to outlaw this weapon in public and anyone found in its possession must face the wrath of the law, enough to deter would be offenders. It would not be extreme if anyone were found with a Panga nearer any political activity to face a charge of being in possession of a weapon of murder and political violence which should carry not less than 25 years jail term.
Maybe in this way we can reduce the violent type in the Panga Family, save them from killing their own at this time and also turning the same senselessness on members of the opposition as the political things get thicker for the ruling party towards 2016.