Three years ago, Sean Christie interviewed Guy Scott in a Slavic café at the Crossroads Mall in Lusaka in the week before the 2011 Zambian elections. Now Scott is Zambia’s acting president following the death of president Michael Sata, who will be buried next week. Scott will act as president until the presidential elections that will take place early next year.
Death was on Guy Scott’s mind when I met him in 2011 at the Crossroads, a mall on the outskirts of Lusaka. With a week to go before the national elections, the incumbent president, Rupiah Banda, head of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), was widely tipped to remain in State House. Scott and his fellow Patriotic Front (PF) councillors were looking dispirited, slouching on chairs arranged hodgepodge around a little table, on the stoep of Buzz Café.
“People shouldn’t be allowed to die during election time,” said Scott, reluctantly handing a wad of United States dollars to one of his councillors, who went off to convert these into millions of kwacha.
“I have to attend two funerals this afternoon when I could be out fund-raising. Perhaps we should just put the deceased on ice,” he joked, I presumed with characteristic irreverence, as the comment raised no eyebrows.
Scott seemed at the end of his tether, his face flushed in the 30-plus degrees midday heat. He was wearing shorts and plastic sandals, his toes coated in dust.
“Who are you?” he barked as I sat down, fortunately into his cellphone, at some hapless sales representative on the other end of the line.
“How can you be asking me questions before you’ve told me who you are?”
The phone rang again. This time with news that Scott’s son had been arrested for “breaching the peace”. Scott shouted that he was too busy to do anything about it and that his son was a fool to have pulled such a stunt.
“A bunch of our more spirited youth supporters have taken to the streets in MMD T-shirts, except they’ve altered the bloody print from ‘A Breach of the Peace’, a reference to our campaign, to ‘A Bleach of the Peace’. The joke lies in the fact that we, as Zambians, struggle with our Rs and Ls,” he said, smiling for the first time.
Mishmash of cultures
In new millennium South Africa, where racial nerves are still raw 20 years after the collapse of apartheid, chaffing of this sort might be construed as culturally insensitive.
Similarly, Scott’s short shrift with councillors, waiters and hapless sales representatives would probably strike a few South Africans as regressively patrician. My line of questioning betrayed similar reflexes, and it clearly frustrated Scott to be read in this way.
But then a bakkie pulled up at the nearby traffic lights, the unmistakable squash-box wheeze of tiekiedraai, an Afrikaans folk-music genre, pounding from the cab. The driver was a Zambian, and he was wearing a bush hat and rapping along to the music at the top of his lungs, in Chilapalapa, the language of the copper mines.
Scott slapped his legs and laughed, delighted by the mishmash of cultural signifiers.
“That,” he cried, “is the difference between Zambia and South Africa today. After 37 years of independence from colonial rule, we have reached a point where some people are actually nostalgic for these things. At the very least, these things have lost the power to animate local politics,” he said.
Respect for colonialism
Staking his own career on this point, Scott went on to claim that Michael Sata himself reserved a degree of respect for certain aspects of the colonial administration.
“Sata, a total Anglophile, was the son of the district commissioner’s cook, and he was allowed to accompany his father and the commissioner on regional tours, where the commissioner would call everyone out of their government offices and shout at them for things like being untidily dressed, for not fixing broken fixtures, and so forth.
“Today, nothing incenses Sata more than an untidy, dysfunctional toilet in a government building, and all government toilets are untidy and dysfunctional.
“Mark my words, one of Sata’s first acts as president will be to attend to these small details, and this resonates with Zambians, because the basics are just not being done in this country,” he said.
Scott, a major funder of the PF since 2001, is known to share similar leanings.
“I’m a do-gooder. I won’t deny that, but I do like to see things done.”
Scott reinstates party rival after protests in Lusaka
Succession battles in Zambia’s Patriotic Front (PF) spilled into the public arena this week when acting president Guy Scott fired the party’s secretary general, Edgar Lungu, only to reinstate him after rioting in the streets.
Lungu, who is also the defence and justice minister, had been made acting president by the late president Michael Sata when he left Zambia on October 20 to seek medical treatment in London. After Sata’s death, Lungu agreed to hand over power to Scott, who is the vice-president.
There is intense factional jostling in the PF over who will succeed Sata. The former president will be buried on November 11.
Lungu reportedly belongs to one faction that has Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda on its side. Scott is reportedly in an opposing side that favours former defence minister Wynter Kabimba to succeed Sata.
Scott dismissed Lungu on Monday evening, giving no official reason for removing him from the party’s helm. Lungu is a popular figure in the party and one of the frontrunners in the succession battle. Scott appointed an MP, David Mwila, to head the party but Mwila turned the offer down.
After Scott’s announcement, violent skirmishes broke out in Lusaka. Protesters threatened to storm the Belvedere Lodge, a government building that has been earmarked as one of the mourning sites for Sata.
Police used teargas to disperse the crowds. Sata’s body is lying in state at a separate conference venue for public viewing.
Lungu said his firing was illegal and accused Scott of disrespecting Zambian culture by engaging in politicking during an official period of mourning.
Lungu was reinstated on Tuesday after a heated party central committee.
The Times of Zambia reported that Scott had said that those challenging his legitimacy as president must seek legal redress.
According to Zambia’s Constitution, Scott is ineligible to run for the poll because his parents were not born in Zambia.
Long before Sata died, senior PF officials were manoeuvring to take over the presidency. The latter had no clear favourite. – M&G Reporter