South African opposition leader Mmusi Maimane said Zambian immigration officials barred him from entering their country, stopping his visit to detained opposition leader Hakainde Hichelema, popularly known as HH.
Speaking to journalists outside the Zambian High Commission in Pretoria on Friday, Maimane of South Africa’s Democratic Alliance (DA) said officials boarded his plane after it landed in Lusaka late on Thursday, assaulted him and forced him to return home.
“They said I could not come in. They started to assault me and push me down, while they wanted to make sure other passengers could then at that point leave the plane. It was then, subsequent to that they simply said that they are not obliged to give me any reason – they will not satisfy themselves until I’m put back on the plane,” said Maimane.
The DA leader said he was planning to visit Hichilema, the leader of Zambia’s United Party for National Development (UPND), who was arrested in April and charged with trying to overthrow the government.
A Zambian court on Friday allowed Hichilema to challenge the prosecution from moving his treason case to the high court for trial, in a case that has stoked political tension months after contested elections.
“All I simply wanted was to arrive to stand side-by-side with a friend, a fellow comrade, somebody who stands for the rule of law in Zambia. HH who has been detained in Zambia and charged with treason. A charge that could end up in capital punishment for absolutely no reason” said Maimane.
Supporters of President Edgar Lungu gathered outside the High Commission to show support for Zambian authorities and the move to stop Maimane and for the case against Hichilema.
Across the street, supporters of Maimane and Hichilema chanted “Free HH”, and accused Lungu’s government of corruption and going against the rule of law.
Professor Shadrack Gutto, from the University of South Africa, said the way Maimane was handled was the main issue of concern.
“The idea I think, what should worry us at this point, is not so much the hostility between the political parties in Zambia, but how Mmusi Maimane, a leader of opposition party in South Africa was treated.
“It is the treatment which is more worrying because he was harassed by the security forces. His mobile phones were taken and so on… and I think they went too far than not simply saying, ‘we will not allow you entry as an immigration policy that we have’,” he said.
Zambia was seen as one of southern Africa’s most stable countries until relations soured between the government and opposition in August when President Lungu’s Patriotic Front (PF) party beat the UPND in elections marred by violence.
The opposition says the vote was rigged but Hichilema has so far failed in his legal challenge against the result.
They also say the charges against him are politically motivated.