Reminiscences of Chiluba

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Commentary on the former president of Zambia, Frederick Chiluba, by Tentani Mwanza (Mwanzah)

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Reminiscences of Chiluba

  1. 1. REMINISCENCES OF CHILUBA Tentani Mwanza
  2. 2. Page 1 of 7 Monday, 27 June 2011 Trade unionists have rarely been known to make good political leaders. Theirs, what they are used to, their turf, is to make demands on behalf of their constituency, the workers, not to answer demands by the people. Take Poland’s Lech Walesa; in his heydays as head of his country’s trade union movement, simply called ‘Solidarity’ , he won world-wide acclaim for gallantly mobilizing workers to challenge the labour-unfriendly system in his country. A regular guest in Polish prisons, not only was Walesa able to secure critical concessions from the totalitarian Polish system, he was instrumental in the establishment of ‘Solidarity’ as the first independent trade union movement in the Soviet bloc. Those were the days when the man born in 1943, the same year as Chiluba, towered above every trade unionist in the world and was considered by many as the Mandela of those circles. He has been widely credited with the dubious attribute of being the man who lit the match that saw the near-to-total collapse, in the period 1989/90, of the Soviet system which had survived Hitler during the Second World War and many hurdles. Communism, Soviet style, was the brain child of the Bolsheviks in Russia in 1917, the year which saw Tsardom abolished and the Great October Socialist Revolution. With the system which exercised tight control of every aspect of polish life gone, Walesa was able to run for President in 1990 and stomped to victory in a landslide. Inaugurated President of Poland on 22 December, 1990, he left office on 22 December, 1995 after a humiliating defeat at the polls. Such was the authority Walesa wielded that on his visit to America shortly after ascending to Poland’s highest office, the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize laureate was accorded the rare honour and privilege of addressing a joint session of both houses of the US Congress. His record as president was dismal if not a total disaster. Yes, he saw Poland through privatization and transition to a free-market economy, but leadership was needed in other areas of endeavour as well; man shall not live by bread alone so we are told. Critics have cited Walesa’s shortcomings as President such as a confrontational style and instigating “war at the top” whereby former Solidarity allies crashed with one another, causing annual changes of Government. In his drive to be unassailable he became increasingly isolated. This “Master dribbling” (a Zambian term) led him to losing more and more political allies. He came to be surrounded by characters viewed by the public as incompetent, inept and disreputable. The ex-electrician with rudimentary and no higher education though charismatic was thought by some to be unsophisticated and so plain-spoken and undignified for the post of president. Others thought him too erratic in his views or complained that he was too authoritarian-that he sought to strengthen his own power at the expense of the people. The transition from a centrally-planned economy to a market-oriented economy posed its own problems to Walesa’s presidency.
  3. 3. Page 2 of 7 His handling of the transition cost him dearly in terms of popular support. Don’t the Americans have an easily noticeable phrase by their leaders “It’s the economy, stupid?” At times his popular support dwindled to some 10%. After one term he was sent packing from the Presidential Palace in Warsaw upon suffering a significant defeat in the December 1995 elections. Walesa’s fate was foregone having been sealed with his poor handling of the media. In the televised debates he came off as incoherent and rude. His record as President was so poor that when he made another attempt five years later he could only manage to garner a paltry 1% of the vote; imagine! Having been at the helm of Zambian trade unionism for 17 solid years as head of the umbrella organisation, the Zambia Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) , a role he relinquished only after ascending to the Republican presidency, it would be judging Chiluba too harshly to focus on his role as Republican President forgetting that political leadership is not the cup of tea of trade union leaders. It would have been out of character, out of the ordinary, if his performance had proved much different. Unlike Walesa, who was ejected from the Presidential Palace after only one term, he managed amidst much controversy, to secure a second term in 1996. His most formidable challenger, Kenneth Kaunda, the founding father of the Republic was stopped from standing; the new constitution had inserted clauses which barred anyone, one or both of whose parents were not born in Zambia. After waging a highly effective spirited campaign, Kaunda woke up one morning only to find that he could not stand. Chiluba’s Minister, Nawakwi led the chants in parliament of “Kaunda alala!” Both Kaunda’s parents hailed from Northern Malawi whence they were born in the second half of the 19th century. On that account he was disqualified from having another shot at the Presidency; those hoping to see round 2 of the Chiluba/Kaunda duel were deprived of the opportunity. The following year an attempt to topple him militarily proved futile as the coup was foiled by loyal troops. Towards the end of his second term he made less-than honourable manouvres to change the constitution to enable him secure a third term. Starting with his earliest campaigners in his bid to have an unconstitutional third term, the likes of the late Dr. Angel Mwenda, Minister Kaunda Lembalemba to MMD Youth leaders and traditional rulers the argument was “his presidency has seen so much unprecedented progress that he needs to be given another mandate to finish his programmes….” The people were deaf to these arguments and decided to defend the constitution. They carried out what today would be equated to the ‘Arab Spring’ and ultimately he was forced to abandon the whole idea. The bid saw his popularity sink to the lowest ebb Lech Walesa-style leading to a rebellion within his ruling party circles, led by his immensely popular deputy General Godfrey Miyanda and Republican Vice-President General Christon Tembo. It left him with permanent bruises; a situation he never fully recovered from as he became hugely unpopular. Internationally, it is
  4. 4. Page 3 of 7 often cited, among other reasons, as a major minus of his tenure at State House, Lusaka. One of Africa’s best sons, Salim Ahmed Salim, former Secretary-General of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU)/ African Unity (AU), in remembering Chiluba on BBC made it known that the bid did a lot of harm to Chiluba’s international reputation and democratic credentials. It is in his role as trade union leader that Chiluba made his mark. As supreme leader of the entire Zambian labour movement, his performance was superb. I dare say that “Frederick Jacob Titus Chiluba (FJT) was Zambia’s greatest trade union leader ever. That is not to take away anything from the celebrated Lawrence Chola Katilungu. FJT-NB. He preferred FJT to the commonly adopted FTJ; there was a special statement to that effect released by State House in his days as President- rose from the National Union of Engineering, Building and General Workers (NUBEGW). He emerged to prominence when he ascended to the ZCTU helm in 1974, clearly one of the products of the One Party State born on 13 December 1972 but made fully effective after the 1973elections. As a blue-eyed trade union leader he had been included as part of the Zambian delegation to the 1973 UN Assembly to prepare him for higher office. Come the following year as more or less the official Government candidate he managed to beat hands down David Mwila of the Mine Workers Union of Zambia (MUZ) who was widely tipped to carry the day. From 1974, he together with his trade union twin, Newstead Zimba, who relinquished the chairmanship and opted for the post of Secretary-General at the 1974 congress became the faces of Zambian trade unionism. The One Party State had decreed in 1973 that only the Republican President shall enjoy usage of the title ‘President’ in the land. All other organisations/associations thence should call their heads ‘Chairmen’ or something else as calling them ‘President’ was watering down the importance of the office of Republican President. Only the University of Zambia Students Union (UNZASU) dissented. Led by its President Younus Gulam Lulat, Vice President Levy Patrick Mwanawasa, Secretary-General Evans Kalura, Vice Secretary General Khumalo, Treasurer Moono Monje, Vice-Treasurer Gertrude Imenda, Publicity Chief Peter D. Machungwa, Sports Secretary Newton Musanya, Social and Cultural Affairs Secretary Pascal Chanda Kasolo, and committee member Phidelis Luchembe, UNZASU made a resolve to defy the order. Other student unions, including the National Union of Zambian Students (NUZS), the Student Unions Federation, followed the lead and continued to be led by ‘Presidents’ not ‘chairmen’. So overnight the ZCTU president (Newstead Zimba) became the ZCTU chairman. Hitherto the focus in ZCTU was the Secretary- General but Chiluba’s personality changed all that. The largely ceremonial office of ‘chairman’ which was changed to ‘Chairman-General of ZCTU’ by Chiluba overshadowed all other offices. It became highly coveted as there was no doubt as to who was now the overall head of the Zambian trade unions. Each time there was news pertaining to the ‘Chairman-General of the ZCTU, Mr. Frederick Chiluba….’ People would be glued to radios, TVs to listen to whatever message he had to say. The following day they would rush to buy newspapers to read the story in print. He was in a class of his own as a union leader. To be independently effective those days was not a dinner party. Dealing with the one party state for 17 years needed imagination and stamina. It was a path fraught with many dangers.
  5. 5. Page 4 of 7 Though by far tolerant when compared to other One Party regimes on the continent, it was nevertheless a highly repressive system which meted out harsh punishment in dealing with all forms of dissent. So Chiluba had to be tactical in going about his affairs. The method he used to survive the times was what is called locally “kuluma nofuzilila,” Folklore has it that in those days in our villages a rat biting the feet of an unsuspecting sleeping person would blow some air directed towards the bite from its mouth after every bite so as not to rouse the individual from sleep. Nowadays, it is used to describe a situation whereby a person, following incisive utterances uses soothing words so as to placate the situation. A trade unionist to the marrow, he never wavered in his mission to seize every opportunity to advance the cause of workers. One of his favourite anecdotes in the days when the Zambian economy had suffered severe reversals due to the drastic increase in oil prices which had hit the roof coupled with falling copper prices was to liken Zambian workers to children in a home. He never tired in telling the story that the interests of children in a home was to have food on the table. They would not listen to explanations by parents, however sound, of hardships of the economy at home or difficulties with conditions of service at work as causes for going to bed hungry; as far as the children are concerned the parents must provide food. Explanations will not do but only food on the table. So Chiluba would say much as explanations of the economic downturn were very logical it was incumbent upon the government to provide ideal conditions of service for the workers. Money had to be found to pay decent wages. As with children in a home “We will not listen to talk of there being no money in the treasury.” Chiluba insisted on collective bargaining; it was his trade union guiding philosophy. At one time he raised a storm when he demanded for the determination of the Poverty Datum Line (PDL) for Zambian workers so that it would become easier to do away with poor conditions of service. He wanted the poverty datum line to be part of collective bargaining. The Chinese helmsman Chairman Mao Tse Tung said “The important thing is to be good at learning” . Chiluba used to do a lot of research before issuing statements. This approach paid dividends. Those not in good standing with the ruling and only party, United National Independence Party (UNIP), were given unenviable labels of saboteurs, dissidents, reactionaries, imperialist agents etc. From time to time these labels were extended to the trade unions. Chiluba’s response was to affirm their loyalty to the party and its government. Using his renowned trade union oratorical skills he would state that as trade unions what they were doing was merely to remind politicians of the promises they made. “Surely, it is neither a crime nor disloyalty to remind politicians of the promises they made which they have not yet fulfilled. If anything no loyalty can be greater than that. We are loyal to the party and its government.” There was a time when there was talk of turning the labour movement into a mass organisation on the lines of the UNIP Women’s league, UNIP Youth Brigade/League, Zambia Cooperative Federation etc. Sensing loss of an independent platform for Zambian workers, Chiluba, Zimba and others resisted those moves. Chiluba looked forward to Labour Day, May 1, every year. Kaunda, because of his respect for workers, unless otherwise, made it a point to personally attend the march past by workers
  6. 6. Page 5 of 7 organisations at the Freedom Statue along Lusaka’s Independence Avenue. This was one occasion which Chiluba would never miss as it provided him the rare opportunity of sharing the platform with the Head of State. He made sure that he performed the task at hand very diligently and always spoke candidly. In his delivery, key points from the manifesto of workers were put across. Typically, he used to praise Kaunda for resisting pressure from his colleagues to turn the labour movement into a mass organisation. “I have often said that if Karl Marx was to come back to life today he would be the saddest man looking at the manner in which countries conducting affairs in his name (communist countries) did not allow trade unions to operate freely.” After 7 years at the ZCTU helm and continuing to grow in stature it was felt that Chiluba posed a grave danger to the system and had to be contained by other means. Matters came to a head when the nation woke up on 27 July, 1981 to a live broadcast from non other than President Kaunda himself. After lambasting and casting aspersions on the ZCTU leadership, he announced towards the end of his special address “I have decided to detain the following: Frederick Chiluba, Newstead Zimba and Chitalu Sampa; I have ordered the same action on Timothy Walamba of the Mine workers Union of Zambia (MuZ) and Chama Chakomboka, a businessman of Ndola (N.B. going by the speech he said “of Ndola” NOT “of Luanshya” as many who knew Chakomboka in his final days would wish to believe”). Accused of Treason he was to remain behind bars until 57 days later on 2 October 1981, gaining his freedom only after a successful Habeas Corpus hearing. I made sure that each time Chiluba was appearing in court I was in the public gallery to give him solidarity. The previous year, President Kaunda addressing Lusaka Party Leaders at Mulungushi International Conference Centre referred to a recent meeting he held with Chiluba at State House when he offered him appointment to the all powerful UNIP Central Committee. Chiluba, so Kaunda revealed, declined the offer on the grounds that it was important not to concentrate all the forces in one body but that forces loyal to Kaunda could be useful in all areas of human endeavor including the trade unions. He felt he was of greater service to the nation as a trade union leader. Kaunda continued. “He goes to the Copperbelt; what does he tell the people? Kaunda fears me; he wants to appoint me to the Central Committee; ah! How can I the whole Kaunda, 6 ft. fear Frederick Chiluba who is only 4ft?” Enter the sad episode in the uneasy relationship between Kaunda and Chiluba. When UNIP Secretary-General Mainza Chona expelled ZCTU leaders from UNIP, which meant that they would automatically forfeit their ZCTU positions, there were widespread wild-cat strikes in support of their leaders. The strikes were dubbed “6ft. versus 4ft.strikes” going by the placards and chants of the striking workers. The Zambian labour movement was among the strongest and best-organized in the world in those days and such strikes had a telling effect on the economy. Reasons for their expulsions were flimsy. They had opposed the change of the manner of arriving at leadership of local councils headed by elected Mayors in favour of District Governors who were political eyes and ears of the president who would continue to appoint them. The authorities called the change ‘decentralization’; Chiluba, Zimba and others felt it was leading to greater centralization since unlike Mayors, Governors would not be elected. On
  7. 7. Page 6 of 7 those grounds they opposed that form of ‘decentralization.’ They lost the battle. UNIP went ahead with decentralization but their membership was restored and they continued in office as labour leaders. Chona lost his position in the party and was sent to Red China as ambassador. When the climate for change from one party to multiparty became conducive Chiluba became the symbol for the fight for pluralism. At the inaugural meeting of the MMD on 20 July, 1990 at the Garden House, Chiluba opened his address thus “Some people (meaning Kaunda) have called me Mr. 4ft. Now these people do not understand me at all. I am a very big giant within myself….” After a few more opening sentences he went on to read his prepared text. With the announcement of the National Interim Committee (NIC) of the pro-democracy movement with no name (N.B. the name MMD came later when it became operationally difficult to continue without a name) it was decided to start the campaign for plural politics with a rally. At the prompting of Chiluba it was decided to hold the inaugural rally in Kabwe. His justification: “We have been told that UNIP was born in Kabwe. We must start destroying UNIP in Kabwe.” At the very beginning of his address in Kabwe at the mammoth rally, being a born-again Christian he made reference to the spies sent by Moses to the Promised Land on a reconnaissance mission. He recalled that the men returned with two tales. First, that the land was rich, fruitful and altogether desirable and “surely floweth with milk and honey” and second that it was occupied by mighty people, men of a great stature, who would fight for it. The spies reported that the inhabitants of the Promised Land were so much of giants, so huge were they that the spies were like grasshoppers in their sight. He continued to tell the rally that God assured Moses that with His power even the smallest of his people, inspired by faith in one invisible God, they would overcome the most pronounced giants among those mighty people in the Promised Land. “I have not known this passage today,” proclaimed Chiluba.“I have known it for many years and ever since I knew it, I do not fear giants,” he asserted amidst ululations from the crowd. He went onto stress that “this is a mission of vision….. We do not want huge, kind men. What we want are strong institutions.” After his speech people started trooping out of the rally site even before they could hear NIC chairman Arthur Wina’s address. It was not easy to keep people around because to many, the end of Chiluba’s address meant their business at the rally was over. “We came here to listen to Chiluba” most of them would say. After 18 years and 4 days, Kaunda repealed Article 4 of the Constitution on 17th December, 1990 legalising registration of political parties other than his UINP. The MMD registered itself as a party. At the February, 1991 first MMD convention Chiluba convincingly beat three other candidates, Arthur Wina, Humphrey Mulemba and Edward Shamwana in the race for the MMD presidency.
  8. 8. Page 7 of 7 The October 31st, 1991 presidential elections saw Chiluba facing it out with Kaunda in a duel some observers dubbed “the battle between David and Goliath”. The bantam-size Chiluba was considered David and Kaunda, icon of the Africa’s liberation struggles, as Goliath. The rest as they say is history. Chiluba carried the day and was inaugurated President of the Republic of Zambia on 2 November, 1991.He made it known that he preferred to be simply called “Mr. President” instead of “His Excellency the President….” He did not wish his face to appear on Zambian coins and notes. Ideologically, he had shifted to neo-liberal positions from the ultra-left which had seen him name at least 3 of his children after prominent communist leaders i.e. Castro, Mikoyan and Tito. If I was asked to write an epitaph for FJT, I would formulate it: “Here lies Frederick Jacob Titus Chiluba, who though not exactly a great president, remained the greatest Zambian trade union leader ever.” Tentani Mwanza is an Educationist and President of the National Democratic Party (NDP) SOURCE: http://derricksinjelazambia2011.blogspot.com/2011/06/reminiscences-of-chiluba-by-tentani.html

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