Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane has said that his party will not meet with Zambian leader Edgar Lungu until he commits to democracy.
Maimane said this after Lungu on Saturday "summoned" the DA and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to explain their concerns about Zambia to him.
In a statement by the Zambian High Commission issued before the start of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit in Pretoria, Lungu expressed "concern that the two opposition parties appeared to disrespect the sovereignty of Zambia and had interfered with the domestic affairs of countries like Zambia, Swaziland, Lesotho and Zimbabwe".
Lungu said "the two parties were creating a dangerous precedence [sic] that was likely to encourage political interference across borders".
Zambian High Commissioner Emmanuel Mwamba, who issued the statement, said he had already "started the process of preparing for the proposed meetings" which would involve DA leader Mmusi Maimane and EFF leader Julius Malema.
But in his response, Maimane said: "I will only agree to meet with President Lungu if he publicly commits to a programme that works to restore Zambia's democracy. This must include lifting the 90-day state of emergency; reconvening Parliament; restoring the independence of the justice system; ensuring the media is free from suppression and intimidation; and ending the oppressive treatment of the opposition in Zambia."
"Furthermore, an apology must be made to Mr Hakainde Hichilema, the leader of the opposition, who was arrested on trumped up treason charges and detained for almost four months in the most inhumane conditions – only for the charges to dropped as baseless."
Maimane said that under Lungu, Zambia was fast heading towards a dictatorship.
Maimane was expelled from Zambia in May after going there to attend the trial of the then jailed Hichilema, which he has described as a "political witch-hunt" by Lungu.
The charges were dropped this week and Hichilema released from prison, a moved welcomed by the DA as "the first step towards restoring democracy in Zambia".
Hichilema, who narrowly lost out to Lungu in a presidential election a year ago and led the United Party for National Development, described by the DA as a "sister party" and a co-member of the Southern African Partnership for Democratic Change, a regional network of opposition parties chaired by Maimane.
Maimane said that the ongoing SADC Summit presented an opportune moment for the South African government to condemn and act against leaders in the region - and across the continent - who continued to undermine democracy and commit human rights violations.
"Africa's prosperity will only be fully realised when 'big men' humble themselves by submitting to the institutions and laws of democracy, and work towards building for their people and future generations," he said. -- News24