By Bright Chikele:
CATHEDRAL of the Child Jesus vicar general Fr Oliver Mukunta on Saturday ordered Post journalists to leave the Church premises where they sought refuge after PF cadres chased them from the open-air newsroom on Bwinjimfumu Road.
And church legal counsel Rosemary Tembo threatened to break the camera of a Post journalist who was taking their pictures as they evicted them.
PF cadres last Wednesday forced Post journalists from the ‘open-air’ newsroom and Lusaka Province police commissioner, Nelson Phiri said he could not send officers to protect them.
The employees decided to seek refuge at the Cathedral of the Child Jesus.
Parish priest Fr Arthur Ntembula allowed the reporters to seek refuge at the church where they could write their stories.
But in a dramatic turn of events, Fr Ntembula, in the company of Fr Mukunta and Tembo, told the reporters to leave the premises immediately.
“You cannot continue operating from here because you have breached the conditions of your stay. We allowed you to be here because we thought you were just going to be seated and not opening your laptops, setting up tables and bringing your newsroom here. But as things stand, we have noticed that you are conducting your business here and we can’t allow you to do that,” Tembo told Post deputy managing editors Joseph Mwenda and Speedwell Mupuchi.
“In view of this, we are asking you to leave this place immediately. We don’t want to argue with you, we are asking you to leave now. Feel free to come and pray with us on Sunday but you must leave this place now. You cannot work from here. If you want, you can even go to the Archbishop [Telesphore Mpundu] and tell him, but he is out of the country.”
Fr Mukunta said Post employees had put the church under pressure.
“We thought you were going to be just seated, waiting for the police to give you feedback. But now we can see, you have even published a picture of yourselves working from here and the church is being asked so many questions. This cannot be allowed, you cannot not do business at the church,” said Fr Mukunta before he and Tembo gave Post employees 30 minutes to vacate their premises.
Mwenda then explained to the church officials that he was disappointed with the change of position from the Catholic Church.
“We have heard your orders, Vicar General, but I wish to say that we are very disappointed that firstly, the police who should have been available to protect us from the PF cadres, ordered us to leave our premises where we had been operating from peacefully. And now after the police failed to protect us, we thought the only place we could go to and seek refuge from was the Church. We thought that we belonged to this church and that this church serves the same people we serve. We also felt that we have provided services to this country as a newspaper, which have benefited the Church including, this particular parish. So to be chased from here is very disappointing,” Mwenda said.
“We don’t know if it makes sense to say ‘you should feel free to come here and seek refuge, sit anywhere you want but don’t open your laptops or open a newsroom here’. That sounds like allowing us to seek refuge here, but telling us to stop breathing, then how does that help us survive? We are resisting our newspaper closure because we feel this country needs us to report the electoral process, you need us to provide the people, including this church, information on which to make their voting decisions, but if you say we should leave, we will leave.”
Later after noticing that the church officials were not leaving, Mwenda went to plead that they should not send police to tear-gas the journalists.
“We have noticed that you are still standing nearby to make sure that we leave, I just want to beg you that you should not call the police to come and tear-gas us. We have called for transport and we are leaving soon,” said Mwenda, to which Tembo said the church would have done that in the first place if it chose to.
“That’s what we could have done in the first place, but we have not done so,” Tembo said.
And when reporter Mukosha Funga went to take pictures of the church officials, Tembo threatened to break her camera phone.
“Young lady, what are you doing? Why are you taking my pictures? Do you want me to break your phone…come here, delete the pictures now!” said Tembo, to which Funga responded “We are getting pictures of you so that we don’t forget who you are.”
Later as the church officials continued waiting for The Post journalists to leave, Funga and this reporter approached them to ask for permission to use the church toilet, a question which angered Tembo.
“Little girls, that’s being sarcastic; you have been here for days, have you been using the bush? Why are you asking for permission,” asked Tembo.
About an hour later, Post journalists packed their gadgets and left the Cathedral of the Child Jesus in search of another safe place where to operate from.