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Thursday, 14 February, 2002, 01:37 GMT
Zambia's cabbage case could backfire
President Levy Mwanawasa
Mwanawasa said his nickname was invented to discredit him
The editor of Zambia's independent The Post newspaper has denied defaming the country's president.

I think it is going to backfire against Mr Mwanawasa in the end

Fred M'membe, The Post

The editor, Fred M'membe, is expected to appear in court to explain why his paper called the president a cabbage.

However, he has told the BBC he is surprised at Mr Mwanawasa's U-turn.

"When this issue started, Levy [Mr Mwanawasa] was laughing about it. He was telling people jokes," said Mr M'membe.

"[Mr Mwanawasa] once said 'I am a steak not a cabbage'," said the editor.

Then it was regarded as a nice joke, said Mr M'membe.

"Now to criminalise it... I think it is going to backfire against Mr Mwanawasa in the end," he said.

Political motive

Mr M'membe, who was detained and released after several hours on Monday, said he thinks the case could have been politically motivated.

"We are not the first people to publish the story," he said.

Zambia's President Levy Mwanawasa
Defaming Zambia's president is a criminal offence

"In 1992, after the [road] accident, a government minister called him a cabbage."

The police have also issued a summons for Dipak Patel, the opposition lawmaker quoted in The Post article.

"My honest view really is that I am not the primary target for this. I believe that the primary target is Dipak."


The term "cabbage" had been used as the president's nickname among opposition leaders and civic groups during the run up to December's elections.

The president, who was a successful lawyer before contesting for presidency, is prone to verbal slip-ups and suffered from poor health following a road accident in 1991.

There was no discussion about my ability to perform the job as vice president

Levy Mwanawasa, Zambian president

Mr M'membe says that Zambians have got the right to question their leader's ability to perform his duties.

He says that the president should have dealt with the matter politically, instead of taking the matter to court.

However, it is not clear whether Mr Mwanawasa had ordered the investigation into the alleged defamation case.


Speaking on the BBC last week, Mr Mwanawasa said that the nickname was invented by the opposition to "discredit" him after his accident.

But he was appointed to serve as the vice president of Zambia for four years.

"At that time there was no discussion about my ability to perform the job as vice president."

"But now because I am in this position, all of a sudden, the man is confused because of the traffic accident - he is a cabbage," he said.

Zambia's president said he regards the term 'cabbage' as "vaseline - oil that I apply on my body".

Under Zambian law, defaming the head of state is a criminal offence that carries a jail sentence of up to three years.

Fred M'membe, Zambian editor
"I believe that the primary target is Dipak"
See also:

06 Feb 02 | Africa
Zambian opposition loses key vote
07 Jan 02 | Africa
Familiar look to Zambian cabinet
03 Jan 02 | Africa
Zambian leader's poisoned chalice
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