The church in Zambia has continued to be an effective intermediary between political parties, even after the disputed results of the August 11 elections are now challenged in the constitutional court.
The country's democracy might even be considered as having been born out of prayer as the church successfully interceded in the political crisis in 1991, prior to the first multiparty elections, leading to the end of the one-party system.
Church groups and political leaders, including Kenneth Kaunda of the United National Independence Party (Unip) and Frederick Chiluba, a union firebrand turned politician, agreed to meet at the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Lusaka to iron out their differences. It was from that gathering that the 1991 elections were born. Chiluba became the leader of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), a grouping which was later to challenge and defeat Kaunda and remove him from power.
“As Zambians we must put our differences aside, the way many people did in 1991 when Unip was removed to bring in multi-party politics. We are one people, politics should not be allowed to drive a wedge between us,” said a pastor from the Ndola-based Bread of Life church. Bread of Life is among the congregations in the country that held a week of prayers for peace in Zambia after violence became the order of the day during campaigns close to election day.
The occurrence of prayer weeks by various denominations in the country heightened after president Lungu twice called for national prayer days that were superintended in Lusaka and covered live on national radio and television.
His arch rival Hakainde Hichilema was also seen at church gatherings, especially the Seventh Day Adventist Church where he is a member.
After elections Lungu has continued to interact with various church groups.
Sadly, despite all efforts by the church, violence has persisted in the southern part of the country. Just immediately after the results of the August 11 elections were announced, hundreds of people in Southern Province ran amok, beating up residents and destroying property. Police arrested and detained more than 150 suspects, but violence has continued in many parts of the province.
In the first wave of violence houses and business and government premises, including buildings housing the judiciary and the civic centre, were destroyed. In the second outbreak, several families fled to seek refuge in temporary campsites. This compelled controversial former Lusaka archbishop Emmanuel Milingo to re-emerge and condemn the rumpus.
“The people who are involved in these kinds of actions are destroying the One Zambia One Nation motto,” Milingo said on television earlier this week. It was unacceptable that a group of people could rise to attack another to a point that others were displaced, he observed.
Zambia is a deeply religious nation. What has been happening in the south, many argue, is contrary to the Christian values the nation, known for tolerance and tranquility, greatly cherishes.
“It is important that we continue to pray. As a church we held prayers before, including during the elections, and we have continued to do so even after,” said Joshua Banda of the Northmead Assemblies of God church in Lusaka.
The church has so far done a lot to try to end political violence among party members. But problems continue in parts of the country. “We must continue praying for us to defeat the devil,” intoned Zukas Zulu of a Pentecostal church in Twapia, Ndola.
Indeed Zambia’s democracy was born with the decisive and effective help of the church to unite the parties. It is clear that post-election violence has not ended and the current political situation looks like there could be a big role for impartial mediation again.
The long-term vision of the church, holding a close eye on the interests of the citizens instead of party politics, seems essential to regain peace.