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Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Sardanis lays Zambia bare in latest book

By Andrew Mulenga

It is Christmas time again, and where else should this joyful season be celebrated more than in the country that was declared a Christian nation by its second republican president Frederick Titus Jacob Chiluba, hallowed by many for the proclamation. 

Sardanis' latest book is available 
in leading bookstores countrywide
However, it is 17 years to the day that Zambia’s first republican president Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, 73-years old at the time, spent this supposedly joyful season behind bars, in a cell at Mukobeko Maximum Prison in Kabwe by the command of his successor on suspicion of masterminding a 1997 coup attempt. This is just one of the many plot points that Andrew Sardanis brings to light in his jubilee reflections for his latest and aptly titled book, Zambia the First 50 years.

“Christians the world over celebrate Christmas as a season of goodwill. And Chiluba kept bragging that he had declared Zambia a Christian nation. Yet, perversely on Christmas morning, he sent his paramilitaries to arrest Kaunda and charge him with masterminding the coup. They surrounded Kaunda’s house at 4 a.m., searched it from corner to corner and in the afternoon, they bundled him into a truck and took him to the Lusaka remand prison”, writes Sardanis in the 18th chapter, entitled Vengeance and Cruelty and Frustrated Ambition dedicated almost entirely to Chiluba whom he describes as “a mean and vengeful man”.

“They charged him (Kaunda) officially and threw him in a cell already holding 19 others. Three days later, they flew him by helicopter to Mukobeko […] There he was given a cell and a bed. But Kaunda promptly went on hunger strike, a weapon he had used time and again in the past […] Kaunda is a veteran fighter and a tough one and I have known him to fast voluntarily for prolonged periods. I thought Chiluba had bitten of more than he could chew but, unexpectedly, he got out of the tight corner with the help of President Nyerere of Tanzania.”

President Mwanawasa by Kiss Abrahams, the 
cartoonist provides a snippets of humour in the book
Sardanis reminds us that it is in fact Nyerere and wife Maria that flew in from Dar es Salaam and managed to convince KK to stop his hunger strike when the couple threatened to join.

“Ken you are going to eat, or Maria and I are staying here (Mukobeko) to starve with you”, warned Nyerere.

This is just a snippet of the many gripping episodes Sardanis reawakens in his book. While this chapter appears to somewhat vilify Chiluba, by alluding that under his administration “the country saw a number of assassinations, a phenomenon never experienced in Zambia before. They all remained unsolved […],” pointing out the peculiar deaths of political leaders with great promise and potential presidential ambitions such as Baldwin Nkumbula, Ronald Penza and Wezi Kaunda. 

Nevertheless it is not only Chiluba that gets the pointed end of the author’s pen. He takes a swipe at every past president, dead or alive, KK included, and he particularly isolates the later part the first president’s one-party rule as one of the most problematic periods in the history of the country, highlighting its many glitches in detail. In fact four chapters of the book are dedicated to this under the heading The UNIP Dictatorship.

Iminwe ya Gold (Hands of Gold) Frederick Chiluba 
1991-2001, acrylic on canvas by Geoffrey Phiri 
depicts a gold chain-clad FTJ gambling
But, among the “read it twice” chapters of the book are A Protectorate (Within a Province) is pampered…and The Hateful Western Province where he expertly lays bare the complex issue that is the Barotseland saga.

Nonetheless one of the most fascinating chapters in the book is perhaps the 29th, entitled President Sata and His Future Legacy. This extremely prophetic text literally foretells the current chaos in the ruling Patriotic Front party as clear as if Sardanis was looking into a crystal ball. He starts by alluding that the ruling PF’s structure was problematic because it borrowed too much from KKs UNIP.

“All Sata’s headaches in the second half of 2013 stemmed from the central committee of his party. Central committees had been relegated to backroom status by all three presidents (Chiluba, Mwanwasa and Banda) of the MMD era because of the oppressive rule perpetrated by the central committee of the one party state”, he writes.

Andrew Sardanis - the book is a detailed
examination of most major events in our
 history since independence - Picture by Leonard Musabula
In this chapter, the author warns Sata against the wanton persecution of opposition political leaders as well as the intimidation of his own PF members.

“[…] the opposition parties and many members of his own party that have been kicked around during the infighting may band together in a new political movement, as happened with the MMD in 1990. If forced into a corner the country is capable repeating this feat. And the infighting within the PF that has been taking place since the middle of 2013 makes this a very serious possibility”, he observes.

He notes that although the Zambian populace is very patient, once it decides enough is enough it throws its leaders out as it did with KK and Chiluba. Shortly after these observations, he takes another jab at the ruling PF as well as the media, private and public which he believes supports it, without mentioning names. 

“The politicking that has taken over the patriotic front has become the major preoccupation of the party and all the media that support it. Nobody seems to pay any attention to anything else. There is little coverage of national issues. The main preoccupation of the media is to report who said what about whom”, he alludes “Inane statements by obscure politicians about equally obscure rivals make headlines, so the prowess of one clique in the PF can be praised and its opponents vilified. I know some editors personally; many had notable careers and they are capable of better. I am amazed at the tactics they employ and I hope they snap out of it; if for nothing else, for the sake of the young journalists who are coming up now. What example are we setting for them to follow?”

Sardanis book has a captivating narrative that reads like a paperback thriller and some readers will find easy to read all 370 pages at one sitting. However, featuring a 31-page appendix, three-page glossary, and six-page index it is in reality a complex, and well researched text book demanding to be read by any student of political science, economics, law, history and social studies. 

The number crunching he streamlines when discussing the privatization of the mines, Chiluba’s Zamptrop accounts or unemployment and education statistics echo his passion for figures and his constant analysis of them throughout the book therefore frames it like scaffolding, reminding us that he has been a astute businessman and administrator all his life. He directly reminds us in the very beginning of the book that after independence KK appointed him chairman and CEO of the Industrial Development Corporation (INDECO) with the mandate “to promote Zambian participation in business” and with KK he would plan the Mulungushi reforms in 1968 “in order to give a fillip to Zambian business”, shortly after, he was given the additional jobs of PS (Director General) to the Ministry of Commerce and Trade. 

Art lovers and students too are not to be omitted from this list of people that must read it as the book contains selected images of 14 paintings by leading Zambian artists from his Chaminuka Art Collection as well as three satirical illustrations by top cartoonist Kiss Abrahams. An entire section in full colour is dedicated to art in a segment entitled Zambia and its People as seen by its Artists.

Anyhow, in the author’s own words, the book is “a detailed examination of most major events in our history since independence”. And to borrow the last paragraph of his prologue: Fifty years is a short period in any nation’s history. The future is endless and I commend it to the future generations. I am confident that they will do better than their forefathers. I am sure that they will make this country great and a jewel in the crown of Africa.”

Note: Andrew Sardanis was born in colonial Cyprus, worked as a journalist and moved to Northern Rhodesia in 1950. He participated in the Zambian independence movement and played a major role in the first administration of the country. After a business career that took him to almost all the sub-Saharan countries he now takes care of Chaminuka nature reserve near Lusaka, Zambia. He is the author of Africa: Another side of the coin and A Venture in Africa. (source: Zambia the First 50 years).

Zambia the First 50 years by Andrew Sardanis (I.B. Taurus & Co. Ltd., 2014), 370 pages, hardcover, Jacket illustration by Lawrence Yombwe ISBN 978 – 1 – 78076 – 821 – 2  

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