By Gershom Ndhlovu
One reason why the country is re-writing the constitution is that former President Frederick Chiluba targeted First President Kenneth in the 1996 constitution ensuring that he was barred from contesting the elections that year.
There was a clause therein that said something about someone of foreign parentage not being eligible to contest the elections. Kaunda was then gathering wind in his political sails that threatened Chiluba’s stay at the coveted Plot One.
Zambians were then disillusioned with the MMD in the few short years it had been in power. Companies were closing left, right and centre, among them Zambia Airways, UBZ, ZCBC, NIEC, Mwaiseni Stores and a host of others. Joblessness and unpaid terminal benefits were becoming the order of the day.
I remember covering a mammoth UNIP rally at Kafue Roundabout in late 1994, if I am not mistaken, at which Dr Kaunda declared that he was back in politics.
Chiluba’s MMD panicked then. Incidentally, that was the time the Mwanakatwe Constitution Review Commission was going round collecting views for a new constitution. When time came for writing the constitution, the anti-Kaunda clause was inserted in the document.
MMD MPs were the first ones to sing “Kaunda Walala, Walala.” UNIP subsequently boycotted the 1996 elections in protest.
It was wrong then and it is definitely wrong now that the MMD wants to target PF president Michael Sata by barring him on account of age, at 71 at the next election. It is wrong because the nation should have learnt lessons the first time it was done and it should been something that the people in power now should avoid for the sake of the country’s democratic credentials.
It is very surprising that the possibility of barring Sata is a hot topic among the likes of MMD spokesperson Benny Tetamashimba and Kafulafuta Member of Parliament and Minister of Defence George Mpombo who are intent to have Sata barred at the next election for being “too old.”
I know that Zambian politicians, when they want to justify something, like to refer to what obtains in the United Kingdom. Incidentally, on the issue of age, the MMD will get it wrong because in the UK a law was passed not too long ago making discrimination on account of age unlawful.
If a person feels like it, they could carry on working beyond the 65 years retirement age. In fact, there was a story early last year when the law came into effect of one man who was still working at 100 years old.
In the United States, the three front-running presidential candidates, namely Republican John McCain and Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama are on the verge of making history in their own respects.
McCain at 71, if elected will be the oldest person elected to the United States presidency, Clinton will be the first woman while Obama will be the first black person to take up the highest political office since 1789 when George Washington took his oath of office as the first president of the United States.
It is difficult to appreciate the fuss about Sata with senior MMD cadres basking in malicious glee at the prospect of barring the opposition leader whose party keeps taking a shine off the ruling party in elections and by-elections.
There are people who are younger but clearly not in a physical and mental state to run the affairs of the nation. Equally, there are older citizens, not excluding Sata, who can run in a marathon and take the most difficult Mathematics or Physics examinations, let alone preside over the affairs of our country without any problems.
Sneaking in an ageist clause in the constitution will just bring about re-writing the constitution by another leader in future even before the ink of the new document is dry. This will be a needless waste of money which could otherwise uplift the living conditions of our people in both the urban areas as well as rural areas.
It would be important if Zambian leaders worried about people in most areas of Lusaka, Ndola, Kitwe and Livingstone, big cities at that, still using pit-latrines in this day and age rather than how old Sata will be at the next election.
Sata must be rejected at the ballot by eligible voters rather than by overpaid members of the dubious National Constitution Commission intent on pleasing their paymaster.
It could be anything, K48 billion or K6 billion, allocated for the treatment of President Mwanawasa who has to regularly travel to the United Kingdom for medical treatment or for review, whichever is the case.
But what about the Kanyama resident who cannot even access the clinic because of floods, has to combat waterborne diseases and malaria that multiply in conditions of floods? Is he any less important than the president who has to gobble such an amount on his personal health?
Today, for ordinary citizens to see or be seen by a doctor, to have an X-ray taken or even get medicine from the pharmacy, they have to part with “ka something” for such services because the facilities and, subsequently, the services are in a deplorable state.
As for our leaders and their families, if they do not travel to London or flown to Johannesburg’s Morningside Clinic for treatment, they can at least afford to go to Care for Business, Teba, Hilltop Hospital and other private health facilities where they get top-notch treatment.
They do not care about the rest of the citizens who are left to die in homes from preventable diseases for which they cannot access the basic of services, let alone the medicine for the treatment of their ailments.
Arguing about the amount allocated for the treatment of the president in foreign hospitals and clinics will not build health centres for the people of Siameja, of Chitema-Lesa, of Kamusisi and indeed those who will not readily go to Luampa, to St. Francis or Chilonga mission hospitals.
Recently there has been a picture of the first Cabinet at Zambia’s independence doing the rounds on the internet with a description of how the few of them did a tremendous if not selfless job of service and infrastructural provision.
The only thing post-1991 leaders can show for their being in office at various times is personal consumption and accumulation.