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Suspicions on President Sata’s working holiday

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IF HE were an ordinary citizen, at 77, Zambian President Michael Sata would probably be sitting on a farm in his home district of Mpika, in Muchinga Province, previously part of the Northern Province, attended to by his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

A politician for most of his adult life, he held various ministerial positions until he resigned in 2001, when then president Frederick Chiluba was set to make way for a successor.

Chiluba’s erstwhile vice-president, Levy Mwanawasa, who had resigned in 1994 allegedly because of growing corruption and intolerance, was anointed to take over the reins of the party and the nation. Sata could not countenance working under Mwanawasa, so he formed the now ruling Patriotic Front three months before the 2001 elections.

As an opposition leader, it was Mwanawasa, the man he loathed, who saved his life. On April 25 2008, Sata was said to have suffered a heart attack and was, at Mwanawasa’s behest, evacuated to SA. Naturally, on his return from SA, he was grateful to Mwanawasa. He suddenly dropped his incessant and vitriolic attacks against him and preached reconciliation.

A few months later, Mwanawasa died of a heart attack. A presidential by-election was held, which Sata lost, and he was to wait another three years before he was elected president.

The nation did not think much about his health status until one day in 2012, when he left a day after a state visit to Botswana for an unknown destination, which turned out to be a hospital in India that specialises in prostate, kidney stone and bladder surgery. As has become customary on such trips, the government maintained it was a private visit and he was wooing potential investors.

Among other “disappearances”, Sata’s oddest was in January when he attended the African Union summit in Addis Ababa. State House issued this statement: “Sata … will this Saturday leave Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for a 14-day working holiday.”

It is acceptable for a president to go on a working holiday and, usually, statements such as this would announce the destination. However, this particular one heightened speculation about Sata’s health. The opposition put pressure on him to tell the nation where he was and what he was doing.

The opposition United Party for National Development’s leader, Hakainde Hichilema, was the most outspoken about Sata’s absence and forced him to cut short the holiday. Said the opposition leader: “For the president to cut short his so-called working holiday with ease when prodded as to what he was doing outside the country is a clear indication that he had no serious programmes to attend to there.”

The most curious of Sata’s international trips is the one he undertook on June 20. Before it, he had appeared to be in poor health. During a Labour Day march-past at which he was supposed to take the salute, address the gathering and give presents to workers, he made a brief appearance and gave a one-minute speech before being whisked away.

Those who saw him in person or on television were convinced he was not in the best of health. Unfortunately, this time the matter would not go away.

A few weeks later, in an unprecedented development, Sata appeared in court in a matter in which he had sued a newspaper and its publisher for libel. As surprising as the court appearance was, what was even more worrying was his scraggy appearance coupled with his performance, both of which were clearly those of a man who was not in the best of health.

The tipping point came in mid-June, when Sata met visiting Chinese Vice-President Li Yuanchao. The footage and pictures emerging from that meeting led the nation to the conclusion that all was not well with their head of state.

One morning, the nation woke up to rumours that Sata had been evacuated to an unknown destination. Senior government officials stuck to the spin that he had gone on a working holiday and would return when he felt like doing so. However, there was confusion about who was left in charge, as well as other protocols, such as the ceremonial guard, remaining in place a couple of days after he left.

Zambian online media, corroborated by Israeli media, disclosed that Sata was being treated for an unknown illness at a hospital in Tel Aviv. He has reportedly returned home but he is yet to appear in public. Is there more to Sata’s “working holidays” than meets the eye?

By Geshom Ndhlovu

About author: Geshom is a Journalist and a regular contributor to Global Voices Online and African Hadithi.

Source: Business Day, South Africa

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Start: 2019-07-01 End: 2019-07-31