FOR the sacrifices he made to free Zambia from what he regarded as the shackles of single-party regimentation in 1991, Frederick Titus Jacob Chiluba (FTJ) indeed deserves the top honours recently conferred on him posthumously by President Edgar Chagwa Lungu.
Speaking at a public rally in Mwense District of Luapula Province, President Lungu disclosed that he had decided to rename the proposed Luapula University, the FTJ University in honour of Chiluba whom he described as the ‘Father of democracy in Zambia’.
“Ba FTJ is the father of democracy. He brought democracy to Zambia as president of the MMD,” President Lungu said, adding that, Dr Chiluba was a tested leader who spent years serving the labour movement before leading Zambia for a decade (from 1991-2001).
Frankly speaking, I am probably among many people who have always believed that President Levy Mwanawsa – irrespective of all the differences they had – should have been the first person to honour Chiluba for being – first and foremost,- his king-maker.
That is a fact unless someone out there can convince me otherwise.
It must be recalled that upon his accession to power following Zambia’s return to multiparty democracy in 1991 when the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) toppled the former ruling United National Independence Party (UNIP),President Chiluba appointed Mwanawasa as his Vice President.
From what I can remember everyone welcomed the appointment of Mwanawasa, the first University of Zambia (UNZA) law graduate to gravitate to the second most important job in the land of his birth.
In my opinion, Chiluba, partly, did that in appreciation of the role the former Ndola-based attorney played in securing him his lost freedom after President Kenneth Kaunda detained him and other Zambia Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) chiefs like former secretary-general Newstead Zimba whom Dr Kaunda had publicly branded as ‘trouble-makers’ on the then volatile Copperbelt.
But to the shock of everyone, Mwanawasa soon resigned from Chluba’s administration, citing rampant corruption among his Cabinet colleagues and other top government officials.
Thereafter, the former solicitor-general in the UNIP government, returned to his private legal practice – Mwanawasa and Company – which he, as Republican Vice President, had left in the hands of now High Court Judge Isaac Chali and the late attorney Happy Chama, who were at the time operating from its Tazama House offices in Ndola.
It would seem to me that despite what transpired between them, Chiluba did not harbour any ill feelings toward his old comrade but would-be adversary in the end.
Strange,very strange indeed, those of us who knew the two men to be so close they were like Siamese-twins, thought at the time.
In another twist to the unfolding scenario, after serving the prescribed two five-year terms, Chiluba wanted to alter the Constitution so he could run for a third-term in office during the 2001 general election.
He also introduced the controversial ‘Parentage Clause’ allegedly designed to bar Kaunda from joining the race to State House that he had vacated in 1991 after almost 27 years in power.
But what did Chiluba do after his third-term bid collapsed?
It is no exaggeration to say that most people both at home and abroad would not believe it: Chiluba, who had retained his position as MMD president, went out of his way and hand-picked Mwanawasa as his successor and the party’s sole presidential candidate.
It was a decision that was to have far-reaching ramifications. Why did he do that at the expense of the man widely regarded among MMD rank and file, in particular, as his heir apparent – then Minister Without Portfolio and MMD Secretary General, Michael Chilufya Sata, Chiluba had settled for Mwanawasa, a man who had even resigned from his administration?
Sata did what any man in his position would do in the circumstances: he resigned from both the government and the MMD and formed his own political party, the Patriotic Front (PF).
That notwithstanding for Chiluba,unbelievable as it was, his decision to hand-pick Mwanawasa was seen as yet another ‘vote of confidence’ for his fellow Ndola resident and human rights advocate who had above all, rescued him from the dark dungeon that Kaunda had thrust him in for championing the Zambian worker’s cause.
And at a time when no one ‘in his right senses’ would dare stand up to ‘Super Ken’, Frederick – ‘the lion-hearted’ – Chiluba, spoke out for the voiceless majority.
He did repeatedly contested Dr Kaunda’s assurances that the country’s battered economy would rebound because he could see some ‘light at the end of tunnel’.
Chiluba doubted that saying in fact that ‘light could come from an approaching train and it was better to get out of the tunnel or risk being crushed to minced meat’.
It was a stance that greatly endeared Chiluba to the ‘suffering’masses not only in Zambia but across the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region as well.
In Botswana and Zimbabwe, for instance, Chiluba was held in such high esteem that he was frequently invited to address union delegates at various important annual conferences in Gaborone and Harare.
When I interviewed the former secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) Wellington Chibbebe at a local hotel in Gaborone where he was the guest honour of the Botswana Trade Union (BTU), he spoke highly of Chiluba and what an articulate orator he was.
The Zimbabwean unionist, like the late secretary general of the Botswana National Front (BNF) Paul Rantao (who was among the prominent politicians I knew well in the country) said Chiluba, was regarded as a role model among trade union leaders not only in the sub-region but across the continent as a whole.
In Zimbabwe, in particular, Chiluba had inspired many union leaders, including Morgan Tsvangirai, who formed the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) that became the first and only major political force in that country to challenge President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) in the disputed 2007 general election.
In other words, Chiluba was a leading light, a beacon of hope everywhere.
So it came as a shock when his beneficiary and protégée Mwanawasa, upon becoming third Republican President had Chiluba pilloried and stripped of his immunity against prosecution.
The entire world woke up to the startling revelation that Chiluba had been slapped with criminal charges for among other things, stealing US$500,000 from government for which he was later required to appear before a London court in the United Kingdom (UK) where the loot was allegedly siphoned from a special account.
Chiluba was later acquitted in the Lusaka High Court, prompting fourth Republican President Rupiah Banda, who had replaced Dr Mwanawasa after the latter died in a Paris Hospital in 2008, to step in, declaring that the State would not appeal Dr Chiluba’s acquittal.
Thus ended what most of his backers regarded as ‘Chiluba’s persecution’ for allegedly plundering state coffers’.
President Lungu, in a demonstration of great unanimity, has decided to honour Dr Chiluba for a variety of his accomplishments for Zambia. He steered Zambia back to plural politics and liberalised the country’s economy.
At a stroke of the pen Chiluba opened the floodgates for foreign investors seeking investment opportunities in Zambia.
New mines and other industrial and commercial enterprises are springing up everywhere in the country, with North-western Province, the New Copperbelt, being a case in point.
Chiluba allowed wholesale privatisation of former State enterprises, and the sale of company and council houses to sitting tenants, for which he has been severely criticised in certain quarters.
But on second thoughts one would say he had acted rationally in the prevailing circumstances.
For example, big investors like Anglo American Corporation (AAC) and De Beers of the Oppenheimer family of South Africa had decamped and import-substitution plants set up in the wake of Ian Smith’s declaration of independence (UDI) in Rhodesia in 1965 had long ceased to operate as viable entities.
But following liberalisation of the economy, as alluded to the above, and launching of an ambitious infrastructure construction and rehabilitation programme by Sata’s party, Zambia can be said to be firmly on the road to economic recovery.
All in all President Lungu has led the way by renaming the still-to-be-constructed Luapula University after Dr Chiluba and others like Lusaka, Ndola and Kitwe city councils fathers can do the same by honouring the man who rescued Zambia from the brink of total collapse in 1991 and ushered in a new era of plural politics and peaceful co-existence.
Lusaka could perhaps rename the so-called Los Angeles Boulevard, the Frederick Chiluba Boulevard while on the Copperbelt where he spent most of his life the Ndola-Kitwe Dual Carriageway could be renamed the Frederick Chiluba Dual Carriageway.
Presently, we have Levy Mwanawasa Stadium, in Ndola, Levy Junction in Lusaka, Mwanawasa Private Hospital also in Lusaka, and the Mwanawasa Bridge across the Luapula River on the Congo DR-Zambia Pedicle Road, which my former personal lawyer certainly deserves.
But let us have some sense of balance and do justice to all deserving nation-builders like Sata did by renaming the former Lusaka International Airport the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport, Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe Airport, Ndola, and Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula International in Livingstone.
President Lungu, I once again say, well done for being so magnanimous by recognising Dr Chiluba’s contributions and his enduring legacy.
Chiluba died suddenly at his Kabulonga home in Lusaka in June 2011 aged 68 – MHSRIP.