KELVIN KACHINGWE & ANGELA CHISHIMBA, Lusaka
HE COULD divide with his tongue, but in death, President Sata is proving to be a unitary force. Even some of his fiercest critics have been drawn to him since his death.
In an active political career that spanned over three decades, it is obvious that there was no love lost with some of his opponents.
But his death has proved that indeed, it is true that in politics, there are no permanent enemies.
You just have to go to the day his body was brought into the country following his death at King Edward VII Hospital in London. In fact, even the night before.
The capital city, Lusaka, is known for its lively entertainment nature going into the weekend. But it was a different scenario last week.
Other than musical shows being cancelled, and some of them at great expense, those entertainment spots known to attract crowds, had somehow taken on a melancholic state as they waited for the body of President Sata to arrive at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport.
People could be found sipping their favourite drinks in bars and night clubs, but the atmosphere was depressing. The music was sombre, and it was mostly gospel in many drinking places.
For instance, at Lusakaâ€™s The Frog, the house disc jockey was playing mostly gospel, and in a low tone.
The house band at The Web on Kafue Road, known for its live musical performances, had to take a break from performing in honour of the death of President Sata. Anywhere you went, people were respecting the mourning period.
Those not respecting the mourning period were being met with a different greeting.
At the National Institute for Public Administration (NIPA), a man was beaten for playing wild secular music. That was on Friday evening, a day before President Sataâ€™s body was to arrive at the former Lusaka International Airport which the fifth President renamed Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in honour of first President Kenneth Kaunda.
Another man escaped a beating at Lusakaâ€™s Inter-City Bus Terminus after he passed a comment which others thought was in bad taste on late President Sata.
Lusaka was indeed mourning the former city father credited with the sweeping the capital city clean during his time as Governor in the 1980s.
â€œI will sincerely miss President Sata. I cried when I got the news that he had passed on. I got the news around 01:00 hours and I didnâ€™t sleep. He has broken my heart. I really loved this man,â€ Joseph Mwamba of Chilenje said in an interview.
â€œHe had a well-defined vision for mother Zambia, although he was not able to achieve everything within the time he had as a President. May the good Lord raise another gallant and selfless leader to take over,â€ another Lusaka resident Festus Banda said.
It was the same at the airport on the day the body was arriving.
â€œI thought am so strong but am far from it, the moment I saw the plane carrying the body of our beloved President, I shade tears and worse when I saw the First Lady crying. I cried again.
â€œI thought crying is a sign of weakness but itâ€™s not. I just realised how much I loved the President. You are gone so soon but I will remember you and tell many great stories to our future generation about you,â€ Richard Chirwa, a resident of Makeni who had gone to the airport to receive the body, said.
â€œItâ€™s hard to believe that he is gone, remembering his 2011 victory when people cerebrated like we got our independence.â€
There was fear of a showdown among cadres at the airport, but that never happened. And when some opposition leaders announced that they would be going to the airport to receive the body of President Sata, some feared that they risked being attacked.
But that did not happen, and they were a number of them at the airport including the two main opposition leaders, Nevers Mumba of the MMD and Hakainde Hichilema of the UPND.
â€œIâ€™m a staunch PF supporter but when it comes to a funeral like this one, I donâ€™t see anything wrong for HH [Hakainde Hichilema] to welcome the body of our President. He is Zambian, so let him mourn his President,â€ Chanda Mukuka said.
Earlier, Mr Hichilema had sent out a message of condolences.
â€œThe United Party for National Development has learnt of Republican President Michael Chilufya Sataâ€™s sad passing on with a deep sense of sorrow. Let us mourn the late President Michael Chilufya Sata and remember the contribution he made to our nation. Whilst this is a time of national mourning, it is also a time to remember a man who dedicated his entire life to serve our country,â€ the UPND leader said.
â€œThe strength of character he showed in fighting battles was testimony to the strongman he was.Â He was never afraid to take difficult decisions, nor of the reactions of other people to those decisions.
â€œIt is our duty as Zambians to come together now through this period of grieving so that we can come out of it on the other side stronger and more united than ever before.
â€œWhilst we are currently feeling the dark shadows of this long night we are experiencing, it will end and we will wake up together stronger and more resolved to carry our country forward. Letâ€™s pray for healing and strength in this trying time. Together, we all have to overcome this challenge and continue from where President Sata has left.â€
That is how, President Sata, described by former President Rupiah Banda, a fierce competitor, has united the nation in death.
Many heads of State, including his erstwhile friend Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, will attend the burial at Lusakaâ€™s Embassy Park, the presidential resting place.
KELVIN KACHINGWE & ANGELA CHISHIMBA, Lusaka