Zambian President Edgar Lungu File picture: Rogan Ward/Reuters

Johannesburg - The Democratic Alliance (DA) on Thursday said it strongly condemns the approval of an extended 90-day state of emergency in Zambia, implemented by President Edgar Lungu and his Patriotic Alliance party.

Zambia's Parliament this week voted to extend the state of emergency by a further three months, handing virtually unrestricted powers to the President, the police and the military. 

"This act is a fresh attempt by the Lungu administration to undermine democracy in Zambia, and to cement a dictatorship by stifling any dissenting voices that do not agree with the current autocratic regime," said DA leader Mmusi Maimane.

In May, Maimane was prevented from leaving his plane at the Kenneth Kaunda Airport in Lusaka, where he had intended to attend the treason trial of jailed opposition leader in that country, Hakainde Hichilema.

The leader of the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND), who contested the accuracy of election results in court, faces treason charges emanating from his alleged failure to give way to President Lungu's convoy.

"I call on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to convene an urgent meeting of its Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation Organ, to consider the current situation unfolding in Zambia, and to speak out. SADC has a responsibility to protect the people of Zambia and democracy in the region, and it has the power to act against Zambia," Maimane said on Thursday in a written statement.

"Moreover, I call on President (Jacob) Zuma to break his silence on the situation unfolding in Zambia and speak out against the actions of the Lungu administration. The 'quiet diplomacy' of the past cannot be allowed to repeat itself and, as history has shown, has the potential to allow for democracy to be undermined."

Maimane said as the chairperson of the Southern Africa Platform for Democratic Change (SAPDC), he "will not remain silent while democracy in Zambia crumbles".

The DA leader said President Lungu's actions were no different to those of apartheid prime minister, PW Botha, who imposed a state of emergency to consolidate power and crush opposition voices.

"This is a story South Africa is familiar with, having overcome the multiple states of emergency of the 1980s. These powers are nearly always used to intimidate the opposition, crush dissent and punish citizens who speak up," said Maimane.

He said the parliamentary vote to extend the state of emergency was "boycotted by opposition parties – including the DA’s sister party in Zambia, the UPND - in an act of protest towards the Lungu administration".

Maimane said the international community must not be silent on what is happening in Zambia. 

"As the DA, we stand with the people of Zambia, and the silenced opposition parties, against this blow to democracy."'

The DA leader said South Africa must work with its neighbours to protect democracy because in Africa a threat to democracy for some is a threat to democracy for all.

"The DA will continue to advocate for the advancement of vibrant, competitive, multiparty democracy, the rule of law and the entrenchment of human rights and free speech across Africa."