By Field Ruwe
My mission is to chronicle the life of President Michael Sata in its entirety in a book titled “King Cobra: unauthorized biography of Michael Sata.” The project is up and running. I am in the brainstorming, cluttering, and information-gathering stage. In other words, I am at the moment simply listing facts. I am not looking for dull facts; no ennui in this biography.
In my raw draft I am concentrating on how president Sata grew up and where, the towns he lived in, schools he attended, his very first job, why he was fired; his stay in England, how he got there (by plane or ship), what he did when he returned, how he got involved in politics, how Kaunda discovered him, his relationship with FTJ, and how he managed to become the fifth president of Zambia.
I am also interested in the name “Sata.” It is a very unique Bemba name. I want Zambians to learn more about it. Usually a name links one to a tribe, its culture, tradition, heritage, past, and helps to trace ancestors. Some of the prominent Bemba names including Katongo, Chiti, Nkole, Mulenga, Kapasa, and Chimbala make up the genealogy of the Bemba. Where does the name “Sata” fit in? What does the name mean? I don’t know, so, I have to continue going to the library.
Gorgeous Saturday, August 10: I headed for the library a stone throw from my abode. It was the third week of my research. But what began as a promising day, with a little song in the shower, quickly turned into an ordeal, and threw me off my pedestal. It is not clear up to this day if my pursuer, the bulky John Banda, was an intelligence officer, a police officer, a PF intransigent, cadre, an antagonist, or a mere schizophrenic. But he surely was up to no good. His sudden appearance felt like the 2 a.m. raid on a hounded journalist.
When he uttered the words “we need to talk,” there was no love in his voice. Oblivious of the library sign “Silence Please” in the microfilm room, he howled the words in a “you are under arrest” sing-song manner. For a moment I pictured myself cuffed and on the plane home. Fortunately, my defense mechanism kicked in timely.
“If you do not tell me why you are here, I’ll call the police,” I said with phone in hand and thumb ready to punch the emergency 911.
The mention of the police rattled him a bit.
“I’m not here to cause trouble,” he said in his husky beer voice. “I just want to talk to you in private.”
“I do not know you, and I do not wish to talk to you,” I firmly said.
“Why?” he asked, “because you are a traitor.”
I shot up like a canon. “How dare you come in here and call me a traitor!”
“You’ve betrayed your own president,” he said.
“What nonsense,” I responded.
“Can you guys keep your voices down?” Someone said.
Banda looked at me belligerently and lowered his voice. “Why don’t we step outside so I can tell you why I am here?”
I was going to resist, but the whole incident was becoming a spectacle. If both of us were kicked out of the library, Banda would get his wish. I was not going to walk out of the library into the mouth of a lion. I had to act fast. I quickly engaged my mind in gear four.
I got up, and picked up my bag.
“I do not appreciate being disturbed,” I told him and began to walk away from the microfilm monitor.
“The exit is this way,” Banda said.
“I am not getting out of this building,” I said. “I don’t trust you. There’s a place in here where we can talk. I must warn you that if your intention is to cause me harm, you are going straight to jail. I have already reported people like you to the police.”
I led him to the courtyard nestled in the building. It is an open place surrounded by an arcaded gallery in the manner of a Renaissance cloister. Here people mingle, chat, read, take their meals or simply chill their medulas.
There were very few people, some seated on the benches around the green square. I spotted an empty bench, but I did not want to sit next to him. I made a sudden stop in a place I thought was safe enough to talk.
“Now, what do you want from me?” My voice was firm.
“You have been slandering and defaming the president,” he said. “Under Zambian law it is a crime to defame the president. His Excellency President Sata is doing an excellent job and foolish people like you are getting in his way. You must stop.”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “You mean you have traveled all the way from Zambia to come and caution me?”
“I live here,” he said. “I’ve been reading your…”
I cut him short. “You obviously don’t live in this town.”
“Yes, I do,” he said.
“Where exactly,” I asked. “I’ve never seen you around here.”
He hesitated. “It does not matter,” he said. “It is inappropriate of you to label the president a dictator.”
“Isn’t he?” I asked. “I think he’s worse than all his predecessors.”
John Banda gritted his teeth. I looked into his steel eyes and saw nothing but rage. Had it been back home, he would have knocked my teeth out. But here there was little he could do. Lunging at my throat and wringing the last breath out would be captured on the library camera and guarantee him a seat on death row.
“You’re saying this nonsense because you are away from home,” he affirmed. “You need to be locked up for a long time for what you’ve just said. President Sata is not a dictator.”
“What is he?” I asked.
“He’s not a dictator, period,” Banda shot back. “And don’t you dare use that word again.”
“Fine,” I said. “But tell me, what do you call a leader who does not rule through democratic means? What do you call a leader who denies his people civil liberties; one who destroys the media, cracks down on those he perceives as dissidents and denies them the protection of the rule of law? Would you in your right mind say he’s a democrat?”
He opened his mouth, but I beat him to it.
“What do you call a leader who fashions the country to his own whim; one who thinks he has the power to do whatever he likes? President Sata does not know the meaning of democracy. He has failed to champion democratic rights and freedoms. He is busy suppressing political opposition and surrounding himself with violent people like you.”
“I could kick you for saying that,” Banda said.
His eyes were hot. “You don’t know me, and it is clear that you don’t know president Sata.”
“Do you?” I asked. “Do you know president Sata?”
“Of course,” he replied. “I know him better than you do.”
“Thank god,” I said. “Maybe you are the right person to ask. Can you please tell me what illness is making president Sata to make frequent private visits abroad. I am a taxpayer, I need to know, every Zambian should know, and since you know him better, please tell me.”
He hesitated. “The president is in good health. Anyway, I am not here for that.”
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve heard all year,” I told him.
I was at the verge of calling him a sycophant, but I feared he might lose his head and go ballistic.
“It is clear you don’t know him,” I continued. “Let me ask you another question.”
“I am not here to answer your stupid questions,” he exploded. “Just stop the nonsense or you’ll pay a big price.”
I ignored his threat. “Just answer this one simple question,” I calmly insisted. “Where did the president go to school? Please tell me. The entire nation is dying to know.”
“Rubbish,” he retorted. “I’m not going to tell you.”
“Because you don’t know,” I quickly added. “You don’t him. He is your president, and yet you don’t know him. I bet you don’t know the crime he committed when he was first arrested. You don’t even know how he got to London, and what he did when he returned. Until you can provide answers, you should not be coming to threaten me and disrupt my life. You have the right to love him, or work for him, and I have the right to seek the truth from him. I am simply doing my job. I do not want Zambians to later regret that they were led by a man they didn’t know. It will be a great shame.”
“You are full of crap,” he said. “What makes you think Zambians will believe the lies you write?”
“Tell me one lie I have told about the president, one lie and I will discontinue my series.”
“They’re a lot, enough to land you in jail for many years.”
“Tell me just one,” I insisted. “You can’t. And yet I can tell you one lie by the president. He lied that he would put money in the pockets of the poor.”
“He’s working on it,” Banda said. “You’ve no idea what he has done since he became president. He’s fighting corruption, creating jobs, and improving education and health services. But he’s been frustrated by people like you who feed on UPND and MMD garbage. We know Hakainde supports and pays you to spread lies.”
I smirked. “Get it in your head, I do not subscribe to any political party. I have said it before I do not know Hakainde and have never met him before. When I began to write my series, I was encouraging young politicians like him to put a stop to the same old politics. I was not targeting Sata because I was hoping he would apply his Lusaka governor panache, sweep the towns clean, create a Zambian brand out of our abundant natural resources, strengthen the economy and after two terms retire. It was my hope that a young successor would emerge and take our country to higher heights. But Sata is obviously here to stay. He’s got what he wanted and coiled back in the hole, I am trying to smoke him out.”
“Smoke him out,” Banda scoffed. His stare was sufficient to strike fear in me. “Field Ruwe, you are full of yourself. Who do you think you are? You are nothing, you understand. No one knows you in Zambia, and no one listens to you. The falsehoods you write end up in the toilet.”
“So why are you bothered about me, a nothing?”
“Because they few of us who read your nonsense can’t stand it. We can’t stand you. We want you to stop.”
“Tough luck,” I said. “I’ll stop at nothing. I’ll not sit by and watch Zambians duped. While it is highly appreciated that president Sata is a tenacious politician, it is clear that he lacks creativity and innovation. Zambia is a home to thousands skilled and talented youthful men and women, some are mathematicians, others scientists, and many more are innovative and creative beyond expectation, but they are totally redundant due to poor and selfish leadership.”
It was approaching eleven. I began to walk back into the library.
“I’ve answered your questions, now leave me alone,” I said.
Banda was static. He was staring at me like a lion watching a deer escape from its paws.
“I’m not done with you,” he said.
Don’t miss Hunt 48. Text Part II to a friend. Permission is granted to other media outlets to publish this story with acknowledgment.
Field Ruwe is a US-based Zambian media practitioner, historian, and author. He is a PhD candidate at George Fox University and serves as an adjunct professor (lecturer) in Boston. ©Ruwe20