Hakainde Hichilema, leader of Zambia’s United Party for National Development (UPND), has been in detention since April and Zambian President Edgar Lungu this month imposed a state of emergency, a move critics see as an effort to tighten his grip on power.
“There is something going terribly wrong in Zambia. The opposition is suppressed,” Malema said in an address to his supporters at a stadium in the coastal city of Durban.
“Lungu, you are a coward. Allow the opposition to oppose you. If you are a true leader, you will defeat them properly not through arrest,” he said.
Malema compared Lungu to South Africa’s apartheid leaders including the architect of the white minority rule, Hendrik Verwoerd, and F.W. de Klerk, the last apartheid president.
“You are not different from de Klerk, …you are not different from Verwoerd. When people oppose you, you arrest them, you declare (a) state of emergency,” said Malema.
Lungu has denied accusations that he is creating a dictatorship in Zambia and has accused rivals of trying to overturn last year’s election results.
Hichilema narrowly lost the 2016 election to Lungu’s Patriotic Front (PF) party, and has alleged that the result was rigged.