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Sata’s legacy lives

JACK ZIMBA, Lusaka
TODAY marks exactly a year since the death of Michael Chilufya Sata, who was Zambia’s fifth President, a virtual reformist and pragmatist.
He died at King Edward VII Hospital in London after an illness, and the nation was once again enveloped in a state of grief and mourning as we had earlier experienced a similar sombre moment in August 2008 when the nation lost fourth President Levy Mwanawasa. Dr Mwanawasa died at Percy Military Hospital in Paris, France, on August 19.
For a nation that had, five years earlier, lost another sitting President, Mr Sata’s death was too much to bear.
“It is with a heavy heart that I announce the passing on of our beloved President,” Secretary to the Cabinet Roland Msiska announced on national television.
And, just like five years earlier, the same sombre song played endlessly on Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) television. It was the end of a long political chapter.
President Sata ascended to power as a populist leader and his victory was celebrated more as a revolution than a democratic choice.
When he was declared winner on the night of September 23, 2011, the streets of Lusaka and other towns were flooded with jubilating crowds. There were men and women who had clearly jumped out of bed and straight into the streets to celebrate the triumph of Mr Sata, who had earlier competed in three presidential elections in 2001, 2006 and 2008 but lost under the Patriotic Front.
Some older people compared the scenes of the jubilant crowds in 2011 to those of the independence celebrations back in October 1964.
And why not, for a new generation that was born during the 20-year rule of the MMD, this was the first time they were experiencing real political change and, despite the generational gap, they saw in Mr Sata someone who shared their dreams and aspirations.
In the run-up to the 2011 general elections, Mr Sata had a great appeal to the youth, flaunting his charisma and strong personality, and he won their hearts and eventually votes.
His path to become Zambia’s president was long and winding with many obstacles that should ordinarily have put an end to his quest, but Mr Sata was never one to give up. He soldiered on and on.
A long-standing politician, whose career straddled three political systems, two regimes and four presidents, Mr Sata was seen as one of the most experienced politicians, a trait that could be seen in the way he conducted his politics.
Described as a pragmatist by many, President Sata never shirked at making bold and, sometimes, unpopular decisions.
Just days into his presidency, Mr Sata announced that he would partition the vast Northern Province to create Zambia’s 10th province to be called Muchinga. He also renamed all three international airports after the country’s foremost political figures of the independence era.
Thus, Lusaka International Airport became Kenneth Kaunda International Airport, while Livingstone International Airport became Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula Airport. Ndola International Airport was renamed Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe.
And clearly, Mr Sata was deeply bothered by the lack of a proper inter-province road network that made travel across the country both expensive and cumbersome.
He constantly questioned why people in Lundazi and Chama in Eastern Province had to travel to Lusaka for them to connect to Northern Province, which was adjacent to Eastern Province.
He, therefore, made it his passion to open up the country by constructing new roads. In 2012, he commissioned the Link Zambia 8000 road construction project, which would see 8,000 kilometres of new roads.
Mr Sata was nicknamed the King Cobra, a name that seemed so befitting, because as a politician, he was shrewd, cunning and fearless.
To those in power, Mr Sata’s gravelly voice was the last thing they wanted to hear.
Today, there are many politicians who graduated from the “Sata Political Academy” and who owe their political career to Mr Sata.
As President, his “frank talk” and jokes, especially when with other heads of State, sometimes attracted criticism from some sections of society.
Mr Sata will also be remembered for his humour. Many people still quote word for word some of his humorous statements and Bemba idioms that he was fond of saying.
“Umulembwe wa cipuba wapwile muli tumfwe (a foolish person’s relish finishes from tasting)” was one of them.
But barely three years in office, Mr Sata started showing signs of illness. And when it was announced by Government that he had travelled to London to seek medical attention, many Zambians had to come to terms with the thought that their president would possibly not be coming back home.
In the early hours of Tuesday, October 28, 2014, the news of the President’s passing had filtered through.
On the day of his burial, November 11, crowds lined the streets to bid farewell to the politician they had come to revere. The King Cobra was dead.
Mr Sata may be gone, but one thing has outlived him – his own pragmatism and a political curriculum vitae to marvel at.


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