Even when we were expecting it, when a relative or someone we dearly love who has been sick for a long time finally departs, we are shocked and still filled with infinite grief as we grapple with the finality of the passing of President Sata; our great countryâ€™s fifth President.
His immediate family members begin to reminisce about when they last saw and heard his voice, shared a meal, a joke, a laugh, or played with the grandchildren. As a nation we begin to think of when we last saw him in public or heard him in the media.
I remember his sharp memorable cobraisque comments a few months ago before parliament. As a nation that passionately loves our Presidents, we will all share those happy moments as we continue to khuza or mourn our beloved leader.
The passing of President Sata at this moment turns everything that he did suddenly into the past. Never will he pass through Zambiaâ€™s great beautiful Savannah soil again in flesh. But his memories will continue to nurture us as we look to tomorrowâ€™s sunrise as a nation for another thousand years and beyond.
Every individual, family or marriage, every institution finds out its strength in a crisis. So it is true with nations. The passing of President Sata tests us all as a nation. How do we mourn following our traditional Zambian values and customs while balancing this obligation with concerns about succession? Those of us who are abroad and cannot attend the funeral are the hardest hit as we wish we were there to be with our fellow citizens in this moment of grief.
After just celebrating 50 years of independence and having gone through the death ofÂ President Mwanawasa and Chiluba, as a nation we should now be developing certain strong and clear customs, rituals, decision making procedures that guide us on how to mourn and choose the new leader.
We should by now be able to tell each other: â€œThis is how we mourn as Zambiansâ€ or if one of our fellow citizens is doing something which is munthondwe or unthinkable, we should be able to tell the individual: â€œThatâ€™s not how we mourn as Zambiansâ€.
Was it just an interesting coincidence that President Sata was not to be at the 50th Independence Anniversary celebrations in Lusaka? Was it a coincidence that President Kaundaâ€™s remarks at the celebrations reiterated his message urging of love, unity, and harmony among Zambians as the founder of the nation of Zambia? He had been doing and saying these messages since 1964.
As we grieve and mourn the passing of President Sata, especially after just celebrating 50 years of relatively peaceful independence, it may be appropriate for our whole nation to take a moment to count our blessings as we contemplate where we go from here and who we will choose next as our beloved leader.
There are those Zambians, the young, and especially the very educated non-Zambians who believe that democracy in Zambia was born in 1991 when the nation had the first multiparty elections since 1968. I beg to differ.
The building of democracy started in Zambia soon after independence in 1964 because thatâ€™s when the founding fathers started to build institutions and values, through the One-Party State, and the ideology of Humanism that eventually led to the multiparty democracy we enjoy today.
Democracy and democratic values are never brought or imported on a clean silver platter to a nation from somewhere. Each nation has to work hard, struggle,Â believe in God, and have to go through difficult times. Some nations go through deadly conflicts and genocidal wars before they finally establish democracy.Â The scars of those deadly conflicts haunt the souls of those countries forever.
We Zambians asÂ a nation should feel very blessed and lucky that as we mourn the passing of President SataÂ everyone including leaders are preaching love and unity.
These values did not magically happen because one leader waved a magic wand and shouted: â€œDemocracyâ€. They had to be developed especially by our founding leaders, fathers and mothers fifty years ago.
Some of the fundamental values that we share among Zambians as a nation can only be characterized as a few of the many Kaundaisms. These are the values our founding fathers and mothers preached and implemented in all policies to the nation every day and night as we built this great nation. First are love for each other, unity, and treating each other with dignity.
Second, Zambia is a non-racial and non-tribal society. Third, that Zambians even during the heat of the struggle for independence chose a non-violent approach which is satyagraha in Gandhi non-violence philosophy.
Fourth, that every Zambian should guard our peace, love and tranquility as a nation just as aÂ wife and husband will jealously protect their marriage and the love they have for each other.
If as a citizen you see a fellow Zambian and especially a foreigner who wants to introduce seeds of division, exploitation, racism, tribalism, a hatred and violence, you should take appropriate peaceful precautionary measures to let other citizens and authorities know.
We Zambians areÂ a strong, compassionate, resilient, and a good people. I am sure Zambians have perhaps millions of stories like this one.Â I was on a 20 passenger minibus travelling from Serenje to Kapiri Mposhi.
The minibus stopped to pick up a woman passenger. She sat down. After driving for 20 minutes she suddenly yelled that she had forgotten her cell phone at the station at which she had boarded the minibus. The young driver immediately slowed down contemplating what to do.
The driver asked us if we could go back so the woman passenger could retrieve her cell phone. We agreed. We made a U-turn and drove back. When we arrived at the station, a woman run out of a house nearbyÂ holding a cell phone saying she had been keeping it safely.
We were back on the road when one of the men passengers said to the lady who was so grateful to have retrieved her cell phone: â€œMadam, you should buy the driver a drink once we arrive in Kapiri Mposhiâ€. All the passengers broke into hearty laughter.
So as we bury President Sata, the political parties that are jostling for power and choosing leadersÂ that might be elected to continue to lead the country,Â should take the task very seriously.
The potential leaders should be men and women who have demonstrated that they believe and willÂ practice the Zambian democratic principles and values embedded in the foundation of Kaundaisms that we have peacefullyÂ lived by over the last 50 years.
The author is a Professor of Sociology