Three years ago, after a long and treacherous journey across violent seas, the small boat finally docked at harbor, received by jubilating crowds of men, women and boys and girls, alike.
I still remember the night of September 23, 2011 when the Patriotic Front and its leader Michael Sata were declared winner. I remember the half-dressed men who poured into the streets at that midnight hour to celebrate the victory. There were young women in night dresses running down the streets, arms raised and screaming to the point of hysteria.
One elderly man I met likened the scene to Independence Day 1964. I could not argue with him.
At that moment, nobody would have thought that a political party that had swept to power with such a popular vote and good will from the general populace could, three years later, be fighting to remain afloat with a popularity rating so low that its continued existence cannot be guaranteed.
Indeed, the boat that docked safely three years ago now faces the risk of being ripped apart, not by pirates or sea monsters or tempest, but by its own crew. Yes, the boat lost its captain, but now it risks losing its anchor, and drifting into oblivion.
The events that have characterised the ruling PF and the nation at large have no doubt left a huge dent on the party’s image, with a very small window to clean up – 47 days to be precise.
So why has it all come down to this with the PF boat? It is the same reason why the Titanic and many other vessels lie at the bottom of the sea: their captains refused to listen, observe and change course.
Mulenga Sata – the late president’s son - says his father must be turning in his grave at these events, I say he must be cringing because he had a chance to change the course of the ship as captain, but he chose not to.
Sata abated chaos in his own party. He knew about the succession wrangles taking place behind his back, but he chose to ignore them. He knew he was too sick to run the country, but he chose to stay on. He knew the country would face a crisis if he died with Guy Scott as vice-president, but he chose to do nothing about it. The Man of Action was full of inaction during much of his presidency in as far as political organization was concerned, and his leadership style left much to be desired.
Right from the beginning - even before his health condition incapacitated him - Sata’s leadership style was very unenviable and, at best, uninspiring, with little accountability to the Zambian people. No wonder he hardly ever gave an interview in his three-year reign.
Even Kenneth Kaunda, who ruled this country dictatorially and used unpalatable language to address journalists, still made time to answer their “stupid” questions.
But President Sata answered to no-one but his inner self and this was his biggest undoing.
To make matters worse, most of his promises never really materialized and, apparently, his allergy to corruption did not include nepotism and cronyism.
He promised us 90 days, he left us with 90 days to replace him.
But with what is currently going on in the PF, many people’s perception of the party has undoubtedly changed and it will take more than just song and more rhetoric to win back the people’s goodwill.
Just a couple of years in government, many people – mostly young first-time voters – who had supported the party with vigor during the 2011 elections had grown despondent due to unfulfilled promises the PF and Michael Sata made during their campaigns.
To make matters worse, the leader the young people cherished and admired became a recluse, appearing only countable times in public, his strong image diminishing by the months.
Whoever ultimately takes control of this, otherwise ill-fated boat, will now face the difficult task of first uniting the party and then winning the trust of the Zambian people again.
A party that is deeply divided can hardly win an election or govern a country. The PF members need to paddle together or sink together.
There are many who had predicted that the PF would come out of the General Conference held in Kabwe more divided than before. But very few would have foreseen the folly that now characterizes the PF – to the extent that it now has two people claiming to be president.
And the current events where machete-wielding, gun-toting political thugs freely roam the streets are a throwback to the pre-independence period.
But, come to think of it, the PF has always been a violent and unruly party.
And therein lies the biggest problem with the PF, they never shed off the opposition party syndrome.
There is very little difference between the PF in opposition and the PF in government. Little wonder they can behave in a lawless manner.
I can talk about violence and lawlessness in the PF because I have encountered it first-hand and been a victim of it. In October 2013 while driving on Chilumbulu Road, I came across a convoy of vehicles carrying PF youths whose behavior I can only liken to that of the Janjaweed. This was at the height of the anti-Kabimba campaigns. The rowdy youths were driving on the wrong side of the road, forcing every motorist in their way to get off the road. I decided to maintain my lane as I thought no-one should violate my right with such impunity. I look back today and realise just how foolhardy my action was and I count myself lucky to have gotten away with just gross insults. I could have died on my right.
The PF should not hold the nation to ransom by their endless infighting, but should, for once show leadership and maturity and act with utmost responsibility. After all, they are the party in government accountable to the people of Zambia who, despite not possessing the weapons that they possess, wield real power – the voter’s card.
THE CLOCK IS TICKING. THE PEOPLE ARE WATCHING AND THE CAMPAIGN TRAIN IS ROLLING.
There is still hope to set this boat back on course.
Yes, the boat lost its captain, but will the anchor hold?
It was very needless for this country to travel the same road twice in five years. To have two dead sitting presidents is not only shameful but also shows lack seriousness on our part as citizens.
There will be need, therefore, for the next government (including the PF if they retain power) to set up a commission of enquiry into the death of President Sata.
Unlike Levy Mwanawasa whose death was sudden, Sata should needless have died in office or abroad.
Everyone who surrounded him, including his wife, and persistently insisted that he was enjoying good health and executing his duties as head of state, must be made to account somehow, sometime. Such blatant lies that risk national security and injure the economy of a country hardly ever go unpunished in real democratic and progressive countries.
There is no way that Kaseba, a highly qualified medical doctor, could not have known that the man lying next to her was on his last leg. When everyone could see death in the president’s face during his last public appearance at Parliament Building, Kaseba looked in the same face and smiled.