KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka
IF there is a phrase that aptly describes Michael Sataâ€™s public service, it is â€˜man of actionâ€™. And rightly so. Like him or loath him, but anywhere he worked, he left a mark.
When he formed the Patriotic Front (PF) in 2001, few expected him to be President. In fact, phrases like â€˜he can never be Presidentâ€™ and â€˜he is not presidential materialâ€™ were common among his critics. That the â€˜King Cobraâ€™ as he was fondly called, eventually won the presidency at the fourth time of asking, is owed much to his political organisational skills, particularly among the grassroots. But make no mistake; he was also able to attract intellectuals to his fold.
He became President following the September 2011 general elections in which the PF defeated Rupiah Bandaâ€™s Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD), which had been in government for 20 years.
With that, he became the fifth President of Zambia since the country gained independence from Britain in 1964. Before that, he had spent 10 years in opposition, building the PF from scratch into one of the most formidable parties in the country.
Mr Sata first contested the republican presidency in 2001, after campaigning for only 59 days, having resigned from the MMD where he was national secretary. He, however, still managed to win one parliamentary seat and 12 council seats.
Otherwise, he joined full-time politics in 1980 when he was elected as councillor for one of the wards in Lusaka before being elected Kabwata MP three years later on the United National Independence Party (UNIP).
Two years later, he was appointed District Governor, Lusaka Urban District Council where he made his mark as a man of action with a hands-on approach, cleaning-up the streets, patching roadways and building bridges.
In 1988, then President Kenneth Kaunda appointed him Minister of State for Decentralisation in the Ministry of Local Government but 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 MP for Kabwata constituency, the third time he was serving the area having been first elected in 1983.
Following the elections of 1991, President Frederick Chiluba in 1992 appointed him Minister of Local Government and Housing for two years before moving him to the Ministry of Labour and Social Services for eight months. Thereafter, he was appointed Minister of Health, where his reforms brought sanity to the health system. From there, he was appointed Minister without Portfolio where he developed the National Gender Policy.
In the 1996 general elections, he moved from Kabwata to stand as MP in his birthplace Mpika.
His resignation from the MMD, as MP for Mpika and Minister without Portfolio and subsequent formation of the PF followed President Chilubaâ€™s nomination of Levy Mwanawasa as the partyâ€™s presidential candidate in the 2001 elections.
Although the PF did not fair well in the general elections, he continued to campaign, championing the causes of the poor in the face of Levy Mwanawasaâ€™s economic reforms.
In the 2006 general elections, initial results gave Mr Sata the lead, but further results put Levy Mwanawasa in first place and pushed Sata into third place. Interim results released after votes from 120 of the 150 constituencies were counted put Mwanawasa on just over 42 percent of the vote; opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) candidate Hakainde Hichilema at 28 percent, while Mr Sata had slipped to 27 percent. When his supporters heard that he had slipped from first to third place, riots erupted in Lusaka as they believed that the election victory was stolen from him. Eventually, the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) announced that Levy Mwanawasa had officially won the election with final results putting Mr Sata in second place with about 29 percent of the vote.
It took Mr Sata himself to calm the rioting cadres and that is how peace was restored.
Following Levy Mwanawasaâ€™s death in office in August 2008, a presidential by-election was called. Mr Sata was unanimously chosen as the PFâ€™s candidate in the election by the partyâ€™s Central Committee on August 30, 2008. Accepting the nomination, he expressed the need â€œto scrub this country and wash it.â€
In the vote count, Mr Sata held the lead over MMDâ€™s Rupiah Banda in early vote counting, reflecting his strong support in urban areas. However, his lead grew smaller as votes from rural areas were counted. In the end, Mr Banda overtook Sata, and final results showed him with 40 percent of the vote against 38 percent for Mr Sata. The results were however believed to be highly fraudulent by his supporters. In the 2011 general elections, he beat Mr Banda in the presidential election with a plurality of the vote.
But his political career has not always been smooth-flowing.
On December 27, 2001, Mr Mwanawasa ordered police to arrest him on a charge of theft by motor vehicle, a non-bailable offence. On April 17, 2002, he was charged with theft of a motor vehicle, and remained in prison for 25 days before he was acquitted.
On 23 July 2005, Mr Mwanawasa announced that he had directed police to arrest Mr Sata. In the early hours of July 24, police picked him at his house and detained him for three days. He was charged with sedition, but later changed to espionage, which offence is unbailable. He remained in custody for 15 days but on July 29, he applied for bail in the High Court, which was granted on August 8.
Further, on February 24, he was arrested on a charge of forgery, which was later substituted with defamation of the President while on December 5, 2006, he was arrested and charged with making a false declaration of assets and liabilities to the Chief Justice during the filing in of presidential nomination papers. But the charge was quashed in court. If convicted, he would not have been eligible to hold public office. Also on March 15, 2007, he was deported from Malawi, where he had gone to meet the business community with the Malawian government offering no explanation.
Mr Sata was before joining politics, the principal shareholder of Avondale Housing Project Ltd, which developed close to 780 medium and high cost housing units in Lusaka, before the government nationalised the company. He was born on July 6, 1937 in Mpika where he also did most of his schooling. He obtained a General Certificate of Education in 1963, and worked as a police officer, railway man and trade unionist during colonial rule. He also worked in London on the railways including that of a porter at Victoria railway station.
He studied Political Economy and Strategies at Lomosonov State University in Russia and Political Economic Planning at the London School of Economics. He also attended the London School of Journalism, Writing for Children (Manchester Press Syndicate) and a Bachelor of Arts from Belford University in the United States.
A curtain has now been drawn on what was undoubtedly a colourful political career.
KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka