When artist Chama Fumba, better known by his stage name Pilato, musically lampooned Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu in May, another artist saw a vital opportunity, replying with a song passionately defending the need to respect the head of state.
General Kanene, whose real name is Clifford Dimba, had a strong motive for releasing ‘Ulemu’ or ‘respect’ in response to Pilato's anti-Lungu hit ‘ALungu Anabwera’: he was serving an 18-year sentence for rape, handed down to him by a Zambian court in 2013. And while Pilato's song earned him an overnight stay in jail and a court case — later dismissed — Dimba's flattering ditty earned him a presidential pardon, with the musician walking free on July 16.
Dimba appeared to have been working his way into Lungu's favour for some time. In March he performed at an International Women’s Day function officiated by the president just a few weeks into his office, an event that caused just as much controversy as his pardon four months later. Not long before the pardon, President Lungu visited the Mukobeko Maximum Prison about 170 km north of the capital, Lusaka, where Dimba was serving time. Dimba has irritated some and won acceptance from others by positioning himself as a reformed man and champion for the campaign against gender-based violence (GBV) in Zambia.
Facebook user and governance consultant, Mbinji Mufalo, did not mince his words at news of the musician’s pardon earlier this week:
It is obtuse to say justice has been served just because Kanene has been pardoned. He did not exhaust due judicial recourse available to him. This tendency by Presidents to pardon individuals before exhausting legal channels is a travesty that simply serves to undermine the judiciary. Stop being the unthinking!
A president's pardon is not a “not guilty” verdict. That is the domain of the judiciary. He or she is not a judge. He or she is merely exercising constitutional powers vested in him or her in Article 44(2)c and/or Article 59 (Prerogative of mercy) of the Constitution.
Another Facebook user, Muchemwa Sichone was also indignant:
General Kanene just f…ing defiled the legal system…now excuse my f…ing French but it's really hard to remain imprisoned in the pretense of political correctness when the f…ing politicians continue to sodomize the political system and just fail to get their politics correct or right or whatever it is they are entrusted with leadership positions to do. I mean have copper thieves or defilers as your friends if you want to but do not use your office to exalt them. It's annoying especially because if there is any truth to birds of a feather flocking together then our collective intelligence just got defiled too! There…I said it…sue me…
The Non-Government Organisations Coordinating Council (NGOCC), a key body in Zambian civil society, was unequivocal in condemning President Lungu’s move to pardon Kanene:
Clearly, President Lungu is increasingly becoming a danger not only to the nation but more specifically to the welfare of the girl child in Zambia. While well meaning Zambians are busy fighting gender based violence (GBV), and more specifically child defilement, President Lungu seems to be comfortable with the increased cases of child abuse as demonstrated in his release of General Kanene. President Lungu must be reminded that he was elected to secure and safeguard the interests of all Zambians, including girl children.
But some, who believed in Kanene's innocence from the start, were supportive of the pardon.
Facebook user and human rights activist, Isaac M Mwanza, thanked President Lungu for releasing Dimba noting:
The Kanene case was one that was so slippery when you look at facts in this case. Kanene was convicted without conclusive evidence that this girl who is alleged to be defiled was below 16 years although mere word of mouth from one parent that she was below 16 is accepted as conclusive evidence in cases of defilement. Considering that criminal cases require proof beyond reasonable doubt, we need to change thus standard being used in defilement cases especially at this time when we expect parents to obtain Birth Certificates for their children.
Mwanza’s argument is based on claims that the girl Kanene was convicted of molesting was above the age of 16, had a child herself and was a ‘pub-trawler’ when she came into contact with the musician.
A write up on Zambia Reports, an influential media outlet was also supportive of Dimba’s release. Author Peter Adamu wrote in an article titled “Let He Without Sin Point A Finger At General Kanene”:
Were there any compelling reasons to give Kanene whose real name is Clifford Dimba to be handed a fast track ticket out of jail after being handed an 18 year jail sentence for defilement? Why is there a provision for the prerogative of mercy in the Zambian constitution? Naturally I began to sober up and realised that the President acted within the law. He enjoys the right to pardon anybody and this power is unquestionable.
There is also the usual recommendation by the Prison Service Commission for the pardoning of any prisoner who in their judgment may have shown remorse and the Head of State did admit receiving a powerful recommendation in the case of Kanene consequently naming him ambassador against Gender Based Violence.
Zambia National Women’s Lobby (ZNWL) chairperson Beauty Katebe Phiri surprised some by reportedly expressing her organisation's approval for President Lungu's pardon of Dimba, while registering dismay at the general situation surrounding violence against women in the country.
While Dimba has assured President Lungu that he has reformed and will not let him down, Zambian society remains generally skeptical about the pardon and will be watching the musician hawk-eyed.