RIGHT OF REPLY
We have noted, with increasing alarm, your press statements issued exclusively to the Zambian media related to The Post and The Mast, both newspaper publications in Zambia.
Although these statements do not appear on your official communication platforms such as your website and other outlets, and thus might not support the official position of NUMSA, we are however compelled to respond because they purport to represent a view of the Union and primarily based on the extent of your misdirection on the matters.
We have taken it upon ourselves to brief you.
The Post Newspaper
This publication was founded as an independent weekly newspaper in 1990 by Michael Hall, John Mukela and Masautso Phiri. Mr. Fred M’membe joined as accountant and later rose to the position of editor and was reported as one of the shareholders.
The publication later became a daily and also published a sister publication, The Sunday Post, and later on The Saturday Post.
In 2009, the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) issued a distress warrant to recover K53-billion ($5-million) in tax arrears, obligations and penalties.
The paper disputed the debt and took the matter to the courts of law. The matter went up to the Supreme Court.
In June 2016, almost seven years after the matter had commenced, the Supreme Court of Zambia ruled in favour of the ZRA and directed that the taxes owed be recovered for the benefit of the country. The court ruled that the assessment was accurate and it was incumbent upon ZRA to recover the debt and the process was within the law.
The debt was now standing at K60-million ($6.1-million).
The ZRA began a process to recover and recoup the taxes owed.
The Post was then closed to allow ZRA assess and audit properties and assets of the newspaper company, and its subsidiaries at Bwinjimfumu Road and in the light Industrial area of Lusaka.
On November 2 2016, the newspaper was later placed under liquidation and the Lusaka High Court appointed a provisional liquidator, Messrs Lewis, Nathan & Company and Mr. Lewis Chisanga Mosho to recover monies owed and take into account financial interests of other creditors and debtors.
The debt to workers, commercial banks, statutory bodies and suppliers had now risen to over $21-million.
Shortly after The Post was closed, the spouse of Mr. Fred M’membe, Mrs. Mutinta Mazoka M’membe launched The Mast under a company called, Oracle Media.
The Mast quickly found itself in conflict with the law with strong allegations of infringing with the copyrights of The Post Newspapers in Liquidation and was investigated for harbouring assets belonging to The Post.
Zambia Guarantees Freedom of Expression and Media Freedom
It is important to state that Zambia enjoys wide democratic media space and has numerous independent and private newspaper publications such as the Daily Nation, The Voice, and New Vision.
The country also has over 10 private television stations and over 80 commercial and community radio stations.
It also has numerous independent blogs and online publications on social media.
Further Zambia has guaranteed media freedoms, and freedom of expression in the Constitution.
The Rule of Law is so well-developed and the ZRA allowed The Post to exhaust all legal avenues available to it before the law as well illustrated through this matter which began in 2009.
Further the colossal amount due to ZRA and other entities now exceeding $21-million far outstrips the assets of The Post and this position reflects a clear case of poor management, failure to apply best business practice and maladministration on the part of the newspaper, than a case of media oppression or suppression.
From the above stated facts, it is clear that the troubles that The Post and The Mast find themselves in cannot be a result of government interference or harassment and cannot therefore attract a justifiable media campaign against President Edgar Lungu or his government.
It is therefore absurd to read your statements threatening a boycott of Zambian goods, threatening to stage a protest at the Zambian High Commission in Pretoria and pledging to raise a campaign against trade between Zambia and South Africa because of a company that has willfully failed to honour its tax obligations or one that has broken the country’s laws.
Historical, Political, Social, Cultural, Economic Relations between South Africa
Zambia is one of South Africa’s biggest regional trading partners with an average volume of business amounting to $3.8-billion.
There are over 100 South African active companies based in Zambia, participating in all sectors of our economy.
South African Airways (SAA) undertakes over 35 flights a week between Zambia and South Africa.
This is before we count other carriers such as Proflight, Air Rwanda, Namibian Airways and private charter.
This also excludes the daily bus services between the two countries.
And in recent history, it’s important to remember that Zambia hosted the people of South Africa during the liberation of South Africa.
The African National Congress (ANC) had its headquarters in Lusaka and President Oliver Reginald Tambo was based in Lusaka.
Zambia has since declared Oliver Tambo’s former house as a national monument.
Further, Zambia suffered collateral damage in lives and properties during the regular raids conducted by the apartheid South African Defence Force (SADF) then.
By the few facts stated above it is clear that the two states and their people enjoy warm and cordial relations born out of blood, sweat and love and that bond cannot be broken by support for a company closed due to its tax default or by careless and inflammatory media statements such as those attributed to you recently.
As a workers’ union, we expect to you to stand in solidarity with any government or agencies keen to collect taxes and revenue that fall due in order to help foster national development, a government keen to uplift the welfare of workers and determined to combat poverty that afflict the majority of our people.
It is in this spirit that we invite you for a meeting to help resolve some of your perceived concerns regarding The Post Newspapers (now in liquidation) or your concerns regarding media freedoms in Zambia.
Ambassador Emmanuel Mwamba is Zambia’s High Commissioner to South Africa