Controversial musician Chama Fumba, better known by his stage name Pilato, was arrested by the Zambian police on Monday, June 8. He was charged with conduct likely to breach peace. His arrest comes after a cat-and-mouse game that lasted for over a week following the release of his song allegedly lampooning President Edgar Chagwa Lungu for abandoning the ideals of the late President Michael Sata, whom he replaced in an election in January this year.
The song, “ALungu Anabwela” (Lungu has arrived) is a parody of a 1970s song “APhiri Anabwela” by the late Nashil Pitchen Kazembe, which narrates the fate of a man who leaves his village to look for work in urban areas and forgets about his origins. When the time comes for him to go back where he came from, he just returns with an empty suitcase.
Fumba’s song, which has been shared widely on social media and messaging service WhatsApp, talks about President Lungu arriving from Chawama, a constituency within Lusaka where he was a lawmaker, to ascend to the presidency, with a suitcase full of Jameson whisky in apparent reference to the man’s drinking habits. The song says that in the process, he abandons founding members of the ruling Patriotic Front like Guy Scott, who briefly acted as president soon after President Sata died.
Below is a YouTube video of the song:
It's not the first time Fumba, 31, has taken aim at the country's politicians in song. In 2013, he released a number entitled “Bufi” (Lies) which criticised President Sata’s rule
Fumba, who is based in Copperbelt Province, was detained in the capital city Lusaka overnight before appearing in court, where he pleaded not guilty and was bailed ahead of another court appearance on June 24.
It was widely expected that Fumba would be charged with the more serious defamation of the president instead of conduct likely to breach the peace. In such cases, the police have to wait for members of the public to officially complain before they can launch investigations. Before Fumba's arrest, Lusaka Provincial police chief Charity Katanga said:
Currently, we have recorded three statements and I have just been informed that another member of the public is making a similar complaint at Chilenje Police Station.
When it emerged that some ruling party cadres were threatening to harm Fumba and that the police were looking for him, the musician posted a message on his Facebook page which read in part:
[…] To those pushing threats on my life, life is like a blank sheet of paper, it becomes what you write on it. No one buys application letters, you buy blank papers and you turn them into letters. My life is no special and in no way do I plan to run or hide from any of your guns and knives. Better and worthy people have died before and some where even killed by less strong creatures compared to you. If you do not like the opinions in my music and you believe that harming me is the solution, you are welcome. My inspirations are birthed by transpirations so if you don't like what I talk about, change what happens […]
Pilato & I had an interesting discussion yesterday. I will say this: His heart is in the right place. Pilato's final words to me were ‘if anything happens to me, tell the world I loved my country.’
Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) Zambia chapter president Hellen Mwale spoke out in support of Fumba in a statement distributed to local media:
MISA Zambia has continued to advocate for the repeal or amendment of certain sections of the penal code that impede the enjoyment of freedom of expression.
These include provisions in Section 69 on Defamation of the President, Section 53 on Prohibited Publications, section 60 on Seditious Practices among other laws such as the Public Order Act.
These legal provisions have been used on several occasions by government functionaries to suppress dissenting views and thereby oppress individuals perceived to be opposed to the party in power.
However, not everyone supports Fumba’s song. Commenting on Tumfweko, Observer wrote about the musician's politics, alleging that Fumba supports UPND (United Party for National Development), a liberal opposition party, over the ruling PF (Patriotic Front):
pilato is a well known upnd [sympathizer] therefore is got no rights to malign the pf president who is also the head of state.why should he choose to play to the gallary?when they deal with him some chaps will say freedom of speech, what freedom of speech?insulting the head of state is freedom of speech[?]
Writing on Facebook, Susan Isaac Jere equally had no kind words for the crooner:
I've listened to Pilato's song and broken it down in this way:
First of all its a dull song that doesn't add any value to the cou[n]try, no taste OF art or creativity in it.
Twitter users also had their say on Fumba’s arrest:
Zambian blogger Martha Rose wrote:
The police are only making Pilato stronger in his cause. That's not the type of guy you can silence with threats. He is mentally emancipated
— Martha Rose ♥♥♥ (@DatAfricanGirl) June 8, 2015
Laura Miti, a Zambian activist, told the president:
— Laura Miti (@LauraMiti) June 8, 2015
At least Zambia is not as bad as North Korea, joked Luciano:
😂😂😂😂 someone just compared our free speech to that of North Korea…we aren’t that bad
— Luciano (@luchi7) June 8, 2015
In the context of the lack of role models for young people in Zambia, David asked:
Clearly there's a very small pool of influential people in Zambia from which a youth can draw inspiration from. #Pilato inspires someone?
— David (@MasterDavidP) June 9, 2015
@imfsportsweekly would like to see protest organised around local issues in Zambia:
In #Zambia, people will loudly, protest all kinds of global issues, but our own e.g Pilato, girls being stripped, lack of electricity etc)
— #FreePilato (@imfsportsweekly) June 8, 2015
Pilato's case is reminiscent of the case of a former Catholic priest-turned-politician, Father Frank Bwalya, who compared the late Sata to a sweet potato that cannot be straightened. He was later acquitted.