By GERSHOM NDHLOVU
I COULD not help but chuckle when a friend on Facebook asked if the funeral of the late second president of Zambia, Frederick Chiluba was a roll call of those who loved him and those who hated him.
The way a certain section of society, particularly clergy aligned to the ruling MMD and the party’s supporters have been coming out against opposition PF leader Michael Sata from the time Chiluba died, one would think Sata switched off the former president’s life support machine.
All sorts of characters, aided by certain sections of the media, want to vilify Sata for the manner he mourned or did not mourn Chiluba, someone who gave him an opportunity to serve at very high levels of government including the position of Minister Without Portfolio, de facto third in the hierarchy of government. Sata also served as MMD national secretary when Chiluba was party president.
Political observers, however, ought to know that there was no love lost, at least politically, between Chiluba and Sata from the time the incumbent president, Levy Mwanawasa died in 2008 when Chiluba declared his support for the then Vice President Rupiah Banda who contested the resultant by-election. Of course, all the time Chiluba was appearing in court for cases of the plunder of national resources when Mwanawasa was alive, no one wanted to be seen near him including George Kunda, now Vice President, who was in the forefront of prosecuting Chiluba’s cases at home and abroad.
Sata and the PF membership was always on hand giving Chiluba all the support he needed, welcoming him home at the Lusaka International Airport coming from South Africa for treatment or when appearing in court. However, this camaraderie nose-dived when Chiluba threw his weight behind Rupiah Banda’s presidential candidature, leaving Sata in a political lurch. Chiluba’s support to anyone was, rightly or wrongly, perceived to guarantee the delivery of the Copperbelt, Luapula and Northern vote.
Whatever deal was struck behind the scenes for Chiluba to suddenly stop supporting the PF which he had publicly supported between 2003 and 2003 is a matter of conjecture, but this was no longer a matter of doubt when Chiluba was suddenly acquitted and other court cases, notably the registration for local enforcement of the London judgment which found him liable for plunder, just stalled.
Sata’s friendship with Chiluba clearly hit rock bottom when the latter started campaigning for Banda, but equally, Chiluba’s support for the so-called rebel PF MPs did not help matters in their friendship. Even up to a few days before Chiluba’s death, Sata was threatening to re-start the court cases once elected president.
Sata’s non-appearance at the funeral house and subsequently at the burial at Embassy Park can be linked directly to the threats issued by Lusaka Province MMD chairman William Banda and other party cadres that those who “insulted” Chiluba when he was alive would be manhandled if they turned up at the funeral house. These threats could not be taken lightly because less than two years ago when a former MMD MP, Lameck Chibombamilimo died, people who were not in good books with Rupiah Banda were manhandled. Former Finance Minister Ng’andu Magande was badly manhandled.
Whatever the circumstances, Sata’s would have just been seen as shedding crocodile tears. However, the wily politician he is, Sata turned up at Mulungushi International Conference Centre where Chiluba’s body lay in state and viewed his body. Obviously, the schemers of the violence they were threatening against him were probably still sipping tea in the comfort of their homes. Of course there could be other reason why Sata did not visit Chiluba’s Serval Road house, Belvedere Lodge and, indeed, Embassy Park burial site. For me that Sata turned up at Mulungushi, was enough to mourn his erstwhile political colleague.
It is just political morbidity that some people want to link Sata’s future political fortunes to straight forward matters of Chiluba’s funeral. The rent-a-crowd mob baying for Sata’s blood need to grow up and understand, first and foremost, that funeral matters are private and two, no one wants to expose himself or herself to violence or the threats of it. It would have been gullible for Sata to walk into William Banda’s trap hoping to come out a hero with a broken nose and a tattered jacket like Magande.