Frederick Chiluba, 48 year-old trade union leader and son of a miner, is lined up to challenge Kenneth Kaunda as president of Zambia. He has become president of the new opposition Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD), after fighting for years what he calls “the dictatorship of the one-party system”.
Presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for October and Chiluba is favoured to win. Critics have advised the 67-year-old Kaunda to retire if he is to avoid humiliation at the hands of the man he once described as a “four feet” person who cannot stand against his own six-foot frame. So far Kaunda is still saying he will stand for re-election.
The MMD vows to revamp the ruined economy and infrastructure and restore the trunk roads, airports, hospitals and university which were so successfully developed in the first decade of independence after 1964.
Social services in Zambia have ground to a halt and more recently the country has been hit by a cholera epidemic. Catalysts for change came last June with food riots and an aborted four-hour coup. Chiluba, who is chairman of the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), won the poll for the MMD leadership with a majority of 63 percent against three other candidates. More than 1 000 delegates from all over Zambia took part in the convention that elected him.
Former Finance Minister Arthur Wina charged at its opening: “We intend to radically change the system of government based on one-party, one-man rule. “We are serving notice to all those occupying insecure jobs as governors, political secretaries, central committee members and (for) others, days are numbered.”
Chiluba won 683 votes. Wina came second with 208. Humphrey Mulemba, former secretary general of the ruling United National Independence Party (Unip), got 168 and lawyer Edward Shamwana, 24.
The elections have been described as the most democratic in 18 years of one-party rule. At the Unip congress, Kaunda, as president of the party as well as the country, usually compiles a list of names and presents it to the delegates for endorsement.
A Western diplomat said: “This is the first time that candidates of a political party have been subjected to public scrutiny without fear of intimidation.” Wina hugged Chiluba after Lusaka lawyer Bevin Wilombe announced the result. Wina said: “Chiluba won fairly and cleanly.” Shamwana, who spent nine years in jail for taking part in a coup attempt, said: “Although I am vanquished, the best candidate won and this should be respected by all of us if we have to wrest power from the Unip.”
Mulemba said the election had been “democracy at its best”, adding that he no longer wanted to belong to a party like Unip “which hinders the freedom of expression and has failed to democratise itself because of its oppressive nature”.
Chiluba, long a political enemy of Kaunda, said: “I have campaigned for many years against the dictatorship of the one-party system. Kaunda even detained me for my opposition views – the MMD will triumph at the polls to shame Unip.”
He warned that an MMD government would not tolerate Unip functionaries getting salaries from the government “because these people do absolutely nothing, so why should they be lavishly paid?”
When the results were announced, newspapers were snapped up. The Zambia Daily Mail gave them the banner lead. Kaunda told the Zambia Information Services not to provide public address systems to the MMD and other opposition parties, but a High Court judge had ruled that a presidential directive that the Times and Mail should not give space to the MMD was “illegal, unconstitutional and discriminatory”.
Michael Sata, MMD campaigner and a member of parliament, says: “Unip must accept that pluralism politics has come here to stay and should treat other parties as equals.”
The MMD has elected a strong 38-member national executive of intellectuals, academics and professionals. Among them are three white Zambians – Simon Zukas, Guy Scott and Reverend Stan Kristofor.
The emergence of the MMD is reminiscent of the formation of Unip in 1959 when Kaunda led the Young Turks and intellectuals in a breakaway from the African National Congress, led by Harry Nkumbula.
Chiluba is the father of nine and as well as trade union leader is credit controller of a Swedish firm called Atlas Copco, based in Ndola, on the copperbelt. He had only a short middle secondary education and acquired a humble general certificate of education, partly in Tanzania where he worked as a clerk in a sisal firm.
He is agile and witty and a gifted orator. He calls himself a “bullfighter” and says that “at 48 I have reached the presidential age.” – Fred Chela, Gemini News
This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail