Correspondent for Mnegi
NDOLA: Among Zambia’s pre-eminent political players, since Zambia attained independence in 1964 is Michael Chilufya Sata, whose much-vaunted political substance can be summed up in one word – conundrum.
No one seems to know who Sata is, politically, that is. What accounts for this man’s political staying power or ultimate destination is anyone’s guess. Everywhere he goes, he is greeted with the salutation of “King Cobra!” The 73-year-old ‘venomous snake’ is second to none among his political peers. Sata is every inch presidential material.
Though very much an enigma, what is ceratin about Sata is that he is a devout Catholic perhaps in the mould of another pre-eminent politician, the late Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe, whose spell-binding oratory was a dominant feature of both pre- and post-independence Zambia. To write a biography of Sata is no easy. Ever since he took the plunge into Zambian politics in 1982, thus putting paid to his police work and trade unionism, not one Zambian journalist has ever written the story of Sata’s life. What I have read in the Zambian media has mainly been flops. I first met Sata when he granted me a full interview on the eve of his 1967 departure to the United Kingdom (UK) for his second sponsored advanced study of trade unionism and industrial relations.
Sata was then running a newfangled firm in Kiwe specialising in industrial relations and labour matters.
He had set up the firm and occupied an office on the premises of the defunct Tan-Zam Railway Services upon his return from Russia where he had undergone his first advanced study in industrial relations. As a trade union and industrial relations consultant, Sata earned world renown overnight, gaining fame, affluence and influence in the process.
His services were sought-after by Frederick Chiluba’s Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and Zambia Copper Mines Association of Employers, especially for collective bargaining negotiations.
It was during this time that ZCTU earned continental renown as the pace-setting trade union in Africa. The historic feats of ZCTU, led then by Simon Katilungu, were made possible by the mastery of Sata as its chief negotiator. By studying in Moscow and London, Sata aimed to bridge and command the best of both worlds in industrial relations, bestriding capitalist West and communist East in the Cold War era. On completion of his studies in London, Sata worked in the UK for no less than 15 years before returning to Zambia, a country he found wading in economic underdevelopment. Having reached the apex of his career as a trade unionist and industrial relations consultant, Sata was looking for challenges elsewhere.
He jumped on the political bandwagon and joined what was then Zambia’s sole political party, the United National Independence Party (UNIP) led by Dr Kenneth Kaunda. In no time, he became the Senior Governor of Lusaka and was soon appointed Deputy Minister of Local Government, Housing and Social Services. When political winds of change started to blow all over Zambia, Sata was among the key players who successfully called for “high pressure change” to remove Dr Kaunda from power in 1991 and usher in Chiluba and multiparty democracy. The era of single-party regimentation was thus over once and for all.
In Chiluba’s government, the inspirational Sata held a series of key Cabinet positions, including the powerful Minster Without Portfolio and Secretary General of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD). It is significant that neither Kaunda nor Chiluba ever fired Sata from his cabinet posts. Sata simply quit voluntarily, as and when circumstances demanded.
However, Kaunda and Chiluba are trying to project Sata as one who was a liability to their administrations. Sata ultimately formed his own political party, the irrepressible Patriotic Front (PF), by which its indefatigable leader intends to erect Zambia’s ideal government for the public good.
Now, given the political pact binding the PF and the United Party for National Development (UPND) of Hichilema Hikahinde, the possibility of forming a ‘people’s government’ appears attainable. Pitted against the late Levy Mwanawasa and the incumbent President Rupiah Banda, Sata lost marginally in what many believe were rigged presidential elections.
Considering the ever-increasing mass support he enjoys, more and more Zambians are becoming convinced that Sata is the person most suited to lead their country out of it current economic woes. A tested pragmatist who transformed Lusaka when he was the Governor of Zambia’s capital city, Sata looks set to cause an upset. Nothing short of rigging can halt his path to victory. (Sila Press Agency)