In Zambia, what began a month ago as a citizen’s complaint about a popular restaurant owner’s treatment of staff has escalated into a political drama that’s putting government officials at odds.
It all started when Mwika Mwambazi planned a dinner celebration at the Horse Shoe restaurant in Lusaka, she says, and witnessed verbally abusive and racist behavior directed at a black Zambian employee. A request was made to the Human Rights Commission to investigate the November incident.
Last week, the commission released a report that found widespread violations by the owners of the restaurant. Yet Joyce Nonde Simukoko, Zambia’s labor minister, disputed the findings and called for the arrest of Mwambazi – whose name was made public as a result – for allegedly alarming the nation.
Former Zambian human rights officer Samuel Kasankha on Wednesday called Nonde Simukoko out for publicly saying racism was not possible in the case on the grounds that the Horse Shoe owners also are black, and for her anger because the commission’s report was not subject to her review.
“She seems totally unaware of the constitutional powers under which the Human Rights Commission operates,” Kasankha wrote. “It ought to be fully autonomous,” he added, chiding Nonde Simukoko for threatening to report the commission to President Edgar Lungu on the basis of contradictory findings.
Since Nonde Simukoko failed to protect a whistleblower’s anonymity and threatened her arrest, her actions met with disapproval from Transparency International Zambia (TIZ) and other rights advocates.
“As an organization that believes in protection of whistle blowers, we strive to promote adherence to the provisions of the Public Disclosure Act,” said Charles Chulu, a TIZ spokesman, in a statement. “As such we feel that the minister acted in bad faith to disclose personal information of a whistle blower whose identity is supposed to be protected under this act.”
The case has sparked widespread interest in Zambia, where – in the latest twist – workers at the Horse Shoe Restaurant stormed a local television station to demand a voice and deny any workplace abuse.
Nonde Simukoko has threatened to close the restaurant if employees continue to give conflicting stories about what working there is like.
Image: Joyce Nonde Simukoko, Government of Zambia