Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane
Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty

The leader of South Africa's main opposition party on Friday (26 May) sharply criticized Zambian officials who denied him entry to their country as he tried to show support for a jailed opposition leader, Hakainde Hichilema.

Mmusi Maimane, the leader of Democratic Alliance (DA), told Newsweek that Zambian authorities "violently" seized his phone and tablet computer and "pushed him down" to prevent him leaving his plane. He returned to South Africa on Thursday.

The treason case against Zambian opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema is politically motivated, Maimane said. Authorities have accused Hichilema of blocking Zambian President Edgar Lungu's motorcade with his own convoy last month.

Zambia's High Commissioner, Emmanuel Mwamba, told News24 that Maimane's comments about Hichilema were problematic as he intended to mobilise Zambian opposition parties.

"DA leader Mmusi Maimane was turned away from Zambia as his presence was going to undermine the sanctity, integrity and independence of the judiciary," said Mwamba.

Mwamba said his country is entitled to decide who can enter and that Maimane had been advised to postpone his visit to support Hichilema.

"His visit was to go and visit his colleague in solidarity and we found nothing wrong with that," Mwamba said. "But we advised him that there were concerns over his statements and utterances, especially regarding the sanctity of our courts," said Mwamba, according to African News Agency.

Maimane said he flew on a public flight to the Zambian capital Lusaka on Thursday evening to "stand in solidarity" with Hichilema.

"When I arrived there, an army of people who were immigration officials, Zambian police and people wearing unidentified clothing walked onto the plane. They instructed me to remain seated and [said] I was denied entry into Zambia," said Maimane.

Speaking outside the Zambian embassy in South Africa's capital, Pretoria, Maimane called his treatment by Zambian authorities unlawful and he urged the South African government to formally ask Zambia why he had not been allowed entry.