It came as surprise to the nation but it wasn’t so to the 158 Members of Parliament (MP) who sit in the Zambian legislature.
Towards the end of 2015, MPs debated and voted for the Constitution of Zambia Amendment Bill which ushered in a number of new electoral rules that took effect on 5th January, 2016.
One of those regulations is the requirement for all people aspiring to contest as President, Members of Parliament or Local Councillors to have a Grade 12 certificate.
This certificate is obtained after a pupil sits for examinamtions after studying the senior secondary school curriculum.
For example, Article 70 (4) states that a person is eligible to be elected as an MP if they have obtained a minimum qualification of a Grade 12 certificate or its equivalent.
This new regulation has sent many politicians into panic as they are generally seen not to be well educated.
Recent media reports even indicated that some parliamentarians have approached the presidency to try intervene on their behalf but in the end President Edgar Lungu assented to the bill to make it into law.
Kasama Central MP Geoffrey Mwamba (above), a former Minister of Defence and now an opposition strongman, is widely believed not to possess the Grade 12 certificate and young people on social media have been mocking him as a result.
Despite technically still being a ruling Patriotic Front (PF) lawmaker, Mr Mwamba, who is popularly known as GBM and is one of the richest businessmen in the country, picked up a position in the opposition UPND as party Vice President, a move that has made him an enemy within his party.
PF Chairman for Information Frank Bwalya was one of the first people to mock Mr Mwamba saying the lawmaker actually dropped out before reaching Grade 7.
The Catholic Priest, who practiced journalism before joining fulltime politics a few years ago, took to social media to allege that the Kasama Central lawmaker was actually a Grade 6 drop out.
“…..GBM is infact a Grade six term three drop out at Chifwani Primary School in Kasama,” wrote Fr Bwalya on his Facebook page (see above left).
Fr Bwalya is not the only one who has taken to social media to talk about the alleged little education Mr Mwamba allegedly has.
Several youths on Facebook have been posting a photoshopped photo of Mr Mwamba in a graduation gown with an inscription that he is eligible to run for Parliament later this year when general elections are held on 11th August.
But on 6th January, Mr Mwamba held a press briefing in Lusaka where he mocked the ruling party and confirmed he had a Grade 12 certificate and was ready to re-contest his seat during the general elections.
“I cant wait for the filing of nominations so that I can prove that am qualified beyond the needed Grade 12 certificate. This issue was raised in 2011 but those who thought [former President Michael] Sata had no degree were shocked to learn he had the qualifications,” said Mr Mwamba as his supporters cheered in agreement.
But according to records at the National Assembly of Zambia (Parliament), the Kasama Central lawmaker entered his details for secondary school.
The website (left) confirms that he is a Form V, the older version of Grade 12 which was used in the old school curriculum.
And some ’brave’ politicians also took to social media to confirm that they had the certificates and were ready to contest the forthcoming polls.
The Deputy Mayor of Zambia’s Capital city Lusaka was one of the first people to unveil his education qualifications.
Potpher Tembo, who is a Councillor for Chawama Ward Three, announced to his supporters that he was well above the requirement.
“I have a full Grade 12 certificate 1994 intake Nyimba Secondary School 12Y. Am also a holder of qualifications in Journalism, Banking, Counselling, Diplomacy, Leadership and an honourary doctorate in Political Science,” stated Mr Tembo (see above right).
Zambia Redemption Front President Keli Walubita Jr also disclosed his credentials:
“Am not only a holder of a full Grade 12 certificate attained from Hillcrest National Technical Secondary School but a Chartered Member of the London Institute of Procurement and Supply plus being a trained Security Officer,” wrote Mr Walubita Jr, a son of a former Foreign Affairs Minister who shares the same names (see screenshot on the left).
For common Zambians, this education requirement for aspiring candidates has become a good talking point.
Many are posting jokes about it and making it look like it’s a comedy show.
In the previous law, those aspiring as Councillors and Members of parliament only needed to be literate: able to read and write, for them to contest elections.
Former MMD National Secretary Richard Kachingwe has condemned the law saying uneducated leaders have achieved a lot in other countries better than those perceived to be well educated.
“This is a constitution that has basically barred all our able community leaders such as humble marketeers, bus drivers and basically the majority voters….. We all know that leadership is not necessarily measured by one’s educational qualifications or a number of degrees,” stated Major Kachingwe in a press release.
“A number of our great leaders in the world and even in this country at local and even parliamentary levels have done far greater things and achieved more success than our so-called educated people.”
But this is not the first time the issue of education qualifications has become a topic of debate just before a general election in Zambia.
Prior to the 2011 general elections, a similar situation unfolded where the MMD government, through the National Constitution Conference (NCC), pushed a recommendation for a presidential candidate to have a first degree for them to qualify for the highest office in the land.
The NCC was a body made up of MPs, civil society and other interest groups which was reviewing the Zambian constitution to try and adopt a new one.
To some observers, this proposal was aimed at barring then opposition leader Michael Sata who was rumoured not to have a degree.
In the thick of things, Mr Sata disclosed that he had over the years acquired two degrees under distance education.
This prompted the degree clause to fall off during the NCC deliberations.
Mr Sata later beat the MMD during the elections on 20th September, 2011 and led Zambia for three years until his death in October 2014.