Zambia political history: Ben Tetamashimba

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Ben Tetamashimba

By Shalala Oliver Sipiso

Lesson 2: Supporters of the Status Quo. Daniel Munkombwe was and Bowman Lusambo is an amateur compared to Ben Tetamashimba

When he lived, few were neutral about Ben Tetamashimba who was Local Government and Housing Minister since November 2008 and died in office in Lusaka September 5, 2009 at a relatively young age. He was either loved or hated mainly because of his “in your face” political style. He was a vociferous advocate of essentially the status quo. He didn’t avoid political controversies and he could be cantankerous – direct and persistent. He seemed to relish political fights even over obscure issues and he was one of a few in the ruling party who were able and willing to match the opposition’s vitriol –one- on- one.

His strength seemed to be his ability to state publicly and categorically what others could only mutter within themselves or to a limited circle. He knew how to create discomfort for a political opponent and could be persistent and unrelenting. He came to the ruling party from the opposition. He had successively been with the opposition National Party (NP) before moving on to become the National Secretary of the United Party for National Development (UPND) a party in whose formation he was a key mover. The late Anderson Mazoka first publicly announced the new party in Solwezi at a rally for which Ben Tetamashimba was one of the key organizers. He came to politics from the co-operative movement having headed the old North-Western Province Co-operative marketing Union (NWCMU).

In politics, he was successively an opposition Member of Parliament for constituencies around the north-western provincial capital, Solwezi. He seemed in fact to relish the belief that he was the political leader of the area though some of his most entrenched political opponents who in time may have seen to his political oblivion were from the province. After the 2001 elections, he in his usual style, kind of abrasive and aggressive, sought to be the official leader of the opposition in the National Assembly. It didn’t materialize.

Tetamashimba with RB and Mpombo

Subsequently, he joined the ruling Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) and quickly won election to its 60-member National Executive Committee (NEC). He was elected chairman of the Information Committee and therefore became the party’s official spokesman. In that capacity, he managed to creep under many people’s skin with his direct and sometimes seemingly simplistic positions. He was the master of the politics of loyalty. Bowman achepa!

During the UPND days, some in the party called him “Tetamazoka” behind his back for his fierce loyalty to the leader. Some called him “Tetamukanwa” for his incessant talking. Such politics clearly worked for him as demonstrated by his rather meteoric rise in both the MMD and government so soon after leaving the opposition. He clearly wasn’t somebody who didn’t know what he was doing or for that matter what he was saying. He was calculative and in his own way quite an astute political operator. He made political enemies and was by no means everyone’s idea of a politician yet a politician he was. He was the only one for instance to publicly call for an investigation of some figures associated with the Mwanawasa regime who he said were corrupt while giving the impression to the late president that they were with him in the fight against corruption. That call put some on the tenterhooks. Sylvia Masebo was clearly bruised this way. Perhaps there is need always for someone who can make those kinds of calls and it is that sort of gap that his passing opened. His was buried in Solwezi September 9, 2009.

His mother still lives in a small hut along the Mufumbwe-Solwezi Road and many people say he neglected her.

That’s all for today. Class dismissed.

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