Zambia: Passing of a Gallant Diplomat, Politician

To many ordinary Zambians, former presidents who have passed on are remembered largely for their physical statures and personalities than the policies they made while in office.

For Chiluba, it was his diminutive stature and flamboyant dressing; Levy Mwanawasa, his stuttering and no nonsense approach to politics; for Michael Sata, it is for his gruffness, and Kenneth Kaunda for his halting matter of talking and regal image.

For Rupiah Bwezani Banda who died aged 85 after battling colon cancer, he will be remembered for his charming disposition that endeared him to many people including his enemies.

This explains why his comical manner of speaking his native Chewa language has become part of the Zambian social lore.

This includes phrases like mwana wanyoko – your mother’s son, and kanitundila kamambala – the little brat has pissed on me – when a monkey in State House grounds urinated on him.

The burly octogenarian politician had lived a full life as a freedom fighter, diplomat, sports organiser and politician.

Banda developed interest in being a leader early while he was a pupil at Munali Secondary School, an experience that later put him in a better stead in the hurly-burly of Zambian politics.

He joined the African National Congress Party (ANC) that was fighting for black rule in the copper-rich country, then known as Northern Rhodesia.

It was while at Munali where the enlightened young man, together with other pupils, decided to join politics by becoming a member of the Zambian African National Congress (ZANC) headed by the late Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula.

Even as a young man, he knew that all was not well in the country which was dominated by the minority white settlers who pushed the majority of the natives to doing blue collar jobs.

It was not a good time for an educated African who had to live in a country defined by the colour bar with the white settlers on top, the parasitic mercantile Asian class coming second and the majority black populace at the bottom.

Later, Banda was to ditch ZANC to join UNIP, the latter headed by a zonk-haired lanky man Kenneth Kaunda who was to become the first African leader of the country.

According to people like Luke Mumba, who were at Munali Secondary School with Banda, he was a jovial person with an infectious laugh that earned him many friends.

Academically, he was gifted and earned himself a scholarship to study at the University of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.

He later got his second scholarship at the institution from the International Union of Students to study Economic History at Sweden’s prestigious Lund University where he earned the equivalent of a Bachelors Degree in 1964.

Rupiah Banda was born on February 13, 1937, in the town of Miko, Gwanda in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to Zambian migrant workers.

Only second to South Africa in terms of job opportunities, Southern Rhodesia was the regional El Dorado for many Africans seeking greener pastures.

His parents, Bwezani and Sarah Banda, like the multitudes of other Africans from Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia, went to Zimbabwe in search of job opportunities.

Young Banda spent his childhood in Zimbabwe where he was initially sponsored by a local Dutch Reformed Church preacher and later by the family of B R Naik, who helped him financially and enabled him to get a good education that was denied many Africans at the time.

The Naiks, like their Northern Rhodesia counterparts the Patels, whose most popular philanthropist Kanjombe-Devhali Rambanai Patel, were prominent political activists and because of their association, Rupiah equally became interested in politics from a young age.

Later, while studying in Sweden, he also served as UNIP’s representative to Northern Europe and helped in spreading awareness about the party’s cause.

He also helped to secure scholarships for several Zambian students who later held important Government positions in the young nation called Zambia.

He returned to Zambia after completing his course in Sweden and enrolled at the National Institute for Public Affairs (NIPA) for a course in Diplomacy and International Relations.

At 27 years old, he became Zambia’s first Ambassador to Egypt, but left in 1967 when the country got embroiled in war.

At 30 years old, he was named Zambia’s ambassador to the United States (US) and moved to Washington DC.

Later in 1970, he was appointed general manager of the National Agricultural Marketing Board (NAMBOARD), the State crop marketing company.

He subsequently became head of the Rural Development Corporation (RDC), the State agricultural holding company, one the largest state conglomerates of its time.

Banda was also a prominent sports administrator managing several sports disciplines like soccer and boxing.

In 1974, President Banda became the permanent representative of Zambia to the UN and later served as foreign minister of Zambia from 1975, a critical period in the history of Southern Africa.

At that time, Zambian diplomacy centred on efforts to liberate Southern Africa and the country’s role was pivotal in the events and initiatives leading up to resolution.

Zambia’s abiding interest in the liberation of the region meant that its foreign minister was among the key figures in the diplomacy and events that eventually led to the emancipation of the region.

As such, Banda is known by, and has interacted extensively with, many of the leaders of the region today.

He also served as president of the UN Council on Namibia which was effectively the government of Namibia while the matter of South Africa’s disputed mandate over the territory was resolved.

President Banda had been Member of Parliament (MP) for the Lusaka constituency of Munali for many years.

He also held the position of senior district governor for Lusaka, where he was the political and administrative head of the Zambian capital.

After the 2006 general election, he was tapped for the post of Vice President in Dr Levy Mwanawasa’s administration, and took over the presidential responsibilities after Mwanawasa suffered a stroke in June, 2008.

Following Dr Mwanawasa’s death in August 2008, Banda became acting President and as the candidate of the governing Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), he won the October 2008 presidential election.

Seeking re-election in September 2011, he was defeated by opposition leader Michael Sata.

On March 13, 2013, Banda became the second head of State in Zambian history to have his presidential immunity removed due to accusations of abuse of authority, corruption and the misappropriation of oil revenue.

He married his first wife, Hope Mwansa Makulu, in 1966 and together, the couple had three sons.

His second wife Thandiwe Banda, a political science teacher, was thirty years his junior.

Banda also has two sons from previous relationships and a set of twins from his marriage to Thandiwe.

He was also executive president for the Zambia China Friendship Association which was formed to strengthen grassroot ties between the people of the two countries.

He had also served as the eighth president-in-residence at Boston University’s African Presidential Centre, with his residency running from March to November, 2012.

As part of his residency, he visited schools and universities that were part of the African Presidential Centre’s American-African Universities Collaborative, including Morehouse College, Elizabeth City State University, the University of Dar es Salaam, and the University of Ghana, Legon.

Zambia would remember him as an accessible, jovial, down-to- earth and a man of the people.


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