VIOLET MENGO, Lusaka
MICHAEL Chilufya Sata will be immortalised not only for his political tenacity and power to rivet masses but his undying passion for development and genuine love for the marginalised.
His place in the echelons of history of Zambia’s politics is assured and, those who care to look into the political rearview mirror, are likely to see a reflection of Mr Sata’s clenched fist; his spent-self crossing a stream, his trouser folded; or sitting on a rock in the remotest parts of the country.
He fought for human dignity and justice as a young and vibrant politician, effecting change where majority would deem impossible. When he ascended to power in 2011, having been in the opposition for 10 years, there were unbridled celebrations and when he died on October 28, 2014, there was an outpouring of grief.
President Sata, though with an acerbic tone, was an extraordinary man; a peacemaker beyond understanding. One typical example was in 2008 when he felt robbed of the presidential election. With Patriotic Front cadres mobilising and majority thinking he would go on the offensive, Mr Sata took the opposite route, telling “all genuine PF members not to throw a single stone and instead go back home and wait for another day” on their political journey.
His successor, Edgar Lungu, whom he anointed, said of him in his farewell message: “Our leader, our defender, the advocate for the poor and marginalised finished his work. He did so with distinction and earned himself a place amongst the greatest leaders of our time.”
“President Sata was a very unique and generous person. He was a great teacher and guardian of the universal human values of love, compassion, solidarity, equity and justice. He strongly believed all human beings have a duty to each other. As a result, President Sata’s politics were about being of service to fellow human beings.”
Such messages came far and wide with his friend, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, describing him aptly: “African giant, courageous man and one of our most outstanding leaders. He was a great man indeed who sought to change the local arena for the better. Let’s bow our heads and allow tears to drop.”
That’s the man whose life Zambia is celebrating today.
“I remember my father as a very strict man, beatings were freely delivered for the slightest infringement and we all knew that we had to toe the line as best as possible when we were very young,” Mr Sata’s oldest son, Mulenga, said on 5FM radio on the Burning Issue programme titled celebrating Michael Sata’s life.
Mulenga, who served as mayor of Lusaka when his father was president, said Mr Sata had a unique way of disciplining his children.
“He never accepted any nonsense from any of us,” said Mulenga, who later served as provincial minister in President Lungu’s government.
According to him, his father had no qualms about dressing someone down in public no matter the audience. Mulenga said his father carried on the tell-it-all attitude into politics making his ministers aware of the kind of man he was.
“I was a son of a young Michael Sata, with him, what you saw is what you got. However, as a father myself I was able to appreciate more his model of parenthood as well as his leadership model,” says Mulenga.
But this changed as he got older. “My youngest siblings like Gerald and others had it much easier. Their relationship with him was more like the one I have with my four-year-old, which involves a lot of give and take.”
When it came to education, it was a requirement that all his children go to school and complete their schooling.
Mulenga said aside from having a great impact on his family, Mr Sata was a great man who touched lives through his material and moral assistance.
“There are many lessons to be learnt from Mr Sata our father – lessons of perseverance and determination in the face of opposition. We shall remember him for that, his empathy and kindness,” Mulenga says.
Born on July 26, 1937 in Mpika, when Zambia was still called Northern Rhodesia, Mr Sata worked as a police officer, railway man and trade unionist before joining politics.
In 1963, during the colonial days, Mr Sata joined active politics. After Zambia gained independence in 1964, Mr Sata worked his way through the ranks of the United National Independence Party (UNIP) until he was appointed Lusaka City governor in 1985.
He joined full-time politics in 1980 when he was elected as councillor in Lusaka before being elected Kabwata Member of Parliament three years later under UNIP in 1983. Two years later, he was appointed District Governor.
In 1988, then President Kenneth Kaunda appointed him Minister of State for Decentralisation in the Ministry of Local Government but he resigned two years later, both from his ministerial appointment and also as a member of UNIP to join the newly formed MMD, after the country returned to multi-party politics in 1990.
After joining the MMD, he was voted Member of Parliament for Kabwata, the third time he was serving the area having been first elected in 1983.
Mr Sata, who had studied Political Economy and Strategies at Lomosonov State University in Russia and Political Economic Planning at the London School of Economics as well as attending the London School of Journalism, Writing for Children (Manchester Press Syndicate), worked in many jobs before entering politics.
Mr Sata made his mark as governor by building bridges, patching up roads and cleaning up the streets of the city.
He left UNIP and joined the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) and when the party won, he held various ministerial posts.
He was local government minister, labour minister and, for a short spell, health minister. In 1995 he was appointed as minister without portfolio, the third highest position in the country. At every ministry he worked, he left the legacy of ‘shaking things up’ and making things work.
When things did not go well with late former President Chiluba, Mr Sata went into opposition in 2001 forming the Patriotic Front (PF), which grew to become a formidable political party in Zambia.
As an opposition leader (popularly known as King Cobra), he emerged as the leading presidential contender and rival to late President Levy Mwanawasa in the 2006 presidential election but was defeated.
Following Mwanawasa’s death, Mr Sata ran for presidency again and lost to former President Rupiah Banda in 2008.
After 10 years in opposition, Mr Sata defeated Mr Banda to win the September 23, 2011 presidential elections.
Unfortunately, three years later, on October 28, 2014, he died in London leaving his best friend, who was then Vice President, Guy Scott, as acting president until a presidential by-election was held on January 20, 2015.
Dr Scott, who described Sata as his mentor, shared with 5fm radio listeners how he misses the late President.
He says Mr Sata was his man and he learnt a lot of lessons from him which Zambian citizens can pick up and build on as they remember him three years after his death.
“I met Sata first on the Copperbelt and later in 1991 during the first national convention of the MMD. It was like a whirlwind having Michael in that building as everybody cheered when he walked in,” Dr Scott said.
Dr Scott, who is former PF secretary general and party vice president, said for Mr Sata to reach presidency, he passed through hurdles, including working as station manager at Victoria railway in London.
Contrary to what many people thought about his academic qualifications, Dr Scott said, Mr Sata had stacks of A- level certificates that he never let anybody know about because he studied in the evening in London.
“Michael educated himself and went as far as he could in Mpika but once it was limited for him, being a police officer was the obvious next step for a young man of 18 years,” he said.
He says it was a great privilege to have Michael as a tutor and that Zambia should not forget the role that he played, especially his skills, ability and unique leadership qualities.
President Sata’s press aide, George Chellah, in his writing on Michael Sata: Untold Stories, says during political mobilisation and campaigns both in opposition and ruling party days, President Sata never used to drink mineral water arguing he could not drink mineral water when many Zambians had no access to water.
Mr Chellah said for a long time, President Sata wore a torn pair of shoes and continued wearing it and travelling the world in it, meeting global leaders in his capacity as Head of State.
“It was a long drawn battle for his family and myself as an aide, to convince him to accept a second pair. I remember he would always argue that “…Ba George, why do I need many pairs of shoes when I only have two feet?”
President Sata allowed common men and women (beggars, villagers, vendors, the aged, the sick and people afflicted with all sorts of problems and situations) to have audience with him right inside the presidential office.
“I never doubted one single moment that President Sata was indeed a man of the people. He taught me genuine love in practical terms through his actions,” Mr Chellah said.
During the 5fm programme, several callers phoned in to share their memories of Mr Sata.
Professor Elijah Ngwale said it was only during the reign of late President Sata that people with disabilities were fully recognised as he interacted well with them.
“It was only during his reign that a disability law was enacted in 2012 that looks at the plight of people with disabilities,.” Prof. Ngwale said.
And a community activist, Proud Sichaba, said late President Sata is remembered for his effort to construct a stadium in Western Province and his desire to unite the country.