By Field Ruwe
A thousand hearts bleed for KK as he is helplessly dragged into the dungeon of destruction by President Michael Sata. At best, a shrewd tactician and strategist, Sata is skillful at discerning what it takes to maintain a grip on power. We are busy attacking KK when it is clear that it is president Sata who is engaging the old man in ferocious demagoguery. By doing so, he is making it difficult for the old man to become relevant again in his twilight of discontent.
Let me first spend a moment on KK. It is heartbreaking to see the old man making a laborious effort just to walk. In the spring of his life he was ageless. I remember him in his traditional mauve toga, his hair stretched a good four inches; his eyes a piercing black, his gaze as lancing as ray. He was the Zambian divine hero; our constellation extolled in song. His official portrait in every registered building in the country relayed an imposing man. Kenneth Kaunda the son of David was a multifaceted leader presented to the world as a non-violent nationalist, Pan-Africanist, freedom fighter with a Gandhian heritage, socialist, Christian, humanist, authoritarian, and in later years a ruthless dictator by some.
With body strong; mind alert; and voice unmistakable, he battled with the likes of PW Botha, and Ian Smith. His acquaintances included Martin Luther King, and Julius Nyerere. Going by the wars he fought for Nelson Mandela, Robert Mugabe, Sam Nujoma, José Eduardo dos Santos, and Samora Machel, he would have become as canonical as Mandela, if not greater. Today, he would be called the Father of Southern Africa; a man well deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize. He would be our Mandela. If I were to speak allegorically I would say he would be the spring of wisdom and the fountain of knowledge from which we in the southern region would draw.
But the winter of his life has befallen. He now has the posture of a tired man. Yes, the limp is very distinct. These days it takes a few seconds more for KK to get his balance with the help of a walking cane. It breaks our hearts to watch our Samson wither. His four inch hair, the symbol of his might, has been blown off his head by the winds of change. Whereas he once held to the people of Zambia for support, he now clings to a mere walking stick with a weak grip. His legs are feeble; his speech is slow and trailing; his eyes known for copious tears are dry; the ebony texture has faded; and his mind is no longer on guard. Without strength and courage, he is a mere prop for the powerful; a man without valor and wisdom for some; and a “senile retiree” for the flabbergasted and the disrespectful. Yes, it has come to this.
As fragile KK grapples with 89, let us all, friend and foe, thank God for him. Yes, it is true that the age 89 is associated with the word “senile,” but let us bear in mind that it is a word laden with various negative connotations and pejoration. To apply it on KK is to somehow imply that he is mentally impaired. It does not sound right. Only the insolent would dare. One thing that cannot be denied though is that the age 89 is compounded with memory loss and other health issues. As KK ages he is susceptible to various problems like blood pressure, fever, heart disease, and stroke. When exposed to stress and standing for times more than necessary, he is likely to suffer a heart attack.
Love him or hate him, he deserves serenity, and relative comfort. We know he is a highly imperfect man with a self-destructive short fuse. During his reign he was imprudent, headstrong, at times cruel, and had trouble accepting criticism. He was known to soar into a rage at the merest provocation. He called us “stupid idiots” at his moment of fury and frustration. There are some who are overcome with rage when his name is mentioned—they accuse him of committing atrocities.
Yes, we know he, time and again, tumbled into the fire and took us with him, but we must not forget that we too, at some time or another, have been seized with vertigo and tumbled. Some of us have risen from the rubble and repaired our image. Similarly, KK is in a position to salvage the little that is left of his greatness. In fact, he has been making an effort since he retired from active politics in 2000.
Sadly, Sata is now standing in his way. He is denying KK the moral campus necessary to repair his legacy even at this late hour. By doing so, he is either unknowingly or tactfully stripping the old man of every vestige of status. President Sata knows fully well that at 89, KK is fatigued mentally and physically. He can see the old man’s posture has changed and his spine has vended forward. There is pain in his eyes, and yet, in his effort to score political points, Sata chooses to expose him to intense stress, criticism, ridicule, condemnation, and insults.
The callous politician he is, Sata has made KK to gravitate to him, and has now turned him into his damage controller buoyed up in times of trouble, failure or crisis. KK dare say no. He knows that his fate is in Sata’s hands. He knows how dangerous and morally bankrupt Sata is. He knows him as the “virtuoso of deception” and the most unpredictable president in our history. He said so himself back in 2008 when he endorsed Rupiah Banda: “He (Sata) is good as governor and minister, but I don’t think he can work as president. I don’t hate him, but if voters elect him, it is their own fault.” And Aislinn Laing of The Telegraph quotes KK as saying: “I know him very well, he cannot do well as president because he is not presidential material at all.”
Yes, KK knows Sata well indeed. He is his protégé. In the 1980s, KK spotted him in the UNIP horde and appointed him Governor of Lusaka. Soon Sata curved out a niche for himself as a no-nonsense Mr. City Cleaner. In late January, 1991, Sata, then the wily Member of Parliament for Kabwata, crossed paths with KK, resigned from UNIP, accusing Kaunda of being a dictator and threatened to destroy him should he “touch” him. Sata went on to become MMD’s National Secretary, and a close confidant of Frederick Chiluba.
When Kaunda attempted to participate in the 1996 elections, FTJ with the full knowledge of Sata attempted to deport him to Malawi. On March 31, 1999, the High Court declared KK stateless. What followed were perhaps KK’s most frightening and trying moments. The following day he survived an assassination attempt when armed men fired at him. Before that, between Christmas Day and December 31, 1997, he spent time in prison on tramped up charges of inciting an attempted coup. It was clear to us that even in defeat KK, with his white handkerchief regalia, was a threat to the MMD party especially in Eastern Province where he was still popular.
The baiting of KK began in 2004 when his son Waza resigned from UNIP, a waning party led by his young brother Tilyenji and joined Sata’s Patriotic Front (PF) to the disgust of his father. It was Sata’s biggest catch. At first KK did not fall for it. He rallied behind the umbrella opposition United Democratic alliance (UDA) comprising UPND, FDD, and UNIP, and endorsed Hakainde Hichilema, declaring that Sata “was not to be trusted.” But KK was trapped in 2011 when his first son Panji resigned from UPND to join Sata, followed by yet another son Kaweche.
On Monday, July 4, 2011, Sata got his wish. KK showed up at the PF general conference in Kabwe to chants of “Lelo lelo lelo Kaunda aisa! (Today Kaunda has come) and “endorsed” Sata. With this, Sata was assured of victory. The deal was sealed on September 27, 2011, with the Lusaka International Airport named after KK, capped with the title of roving ambassador. The work of Sata the Ventriloquist was complete. He had old KK on the PF string. “Sata is a great boy of Zambia!” KK declared in subservient puppetry.
Today, a thousand hearts bleed for 89 year-old KK, defenseless as he is against the tyranny of monopoly. When KK hurls insults at the opposition and calls Sata’s critics “wicked little things” then you know he is in a helpless, hopeless, and desperate situation. With no protection, not from those who love him, he imagines what would happen in disenchantment. Yes, the opportunistic Sata is holding KK hostage. President Michael Sata, please give the ageing KK, a man without political ambition, a chance to repair his legacy and reclaim his Father of the Nation title, so he can be remembered so.
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. ©Ruwe2012