The brown ornate casket was lowered at exactly 1432hrs amid a gloomy atmosphere at the Embassy Park in Zambia’s capital of Lusaka.
The day was Monday June 27 2011 and the revered man being interred amid a soft church chorus was none other than the iconic Frederick Jacob Titus Chiluba, the former President of the Republic of Zambia.
Notwithstanding allegations of corruption which dogged him later in his political life, Chiluba, broke new ground in the politics of Zambia and the region. Among the foreign dignitaries attending the burial of the former trade unionist on that sunny Lusaka afternoon was his Zimbabwean friend, Prime Minister Morgan Richard Tsvangirai with whom he shared an unstinting passion for the rights of workers.
Vice-President Joyce Mujuru also attended the burial. Both Chiluba and Prime Minister Tsvangirai rose from trade union backgrounds to form democratic movements after the former liberation parties had betrayed the founding values of those who had lost their lives so that national aspirations could live again.
A staunch Arsenal fan, Chiluba also loved football. He was the leader of the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), while the Prime Minister’s passion for championing the rights of workers saw him being the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.
Chiluba helped form the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMPD) while the Prime Minister was the founding President of Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe. Both have had a strong passion for democracy and entrenched the culture of multi-partyism at a time when the one-party-state lobby had gained currency in Africa.
Chiluba was a God-fearing politician and the Prime Minister is equally a God-fearing leader who defers to the Lord and has shunned the culture of violence in his political life.
While others staged a blood-soaked “victory” on June 27 2008, the Prime Minister pulled out of that sham and vowed he would not walk to State House stepping on people’s graves. Prime Minister Tsvangirai was not the only foreign leader to attend the burial of one of Southern Africa’s greatest luminaries.
Vice-President Joyce Mujuru, President Joseph Kabila, Zambia’s founding President Kenneth David Kaunda, former Tanzania President Benjamin Mkapa and dignitaries from South Africa, Uganda, Namibia and other Southern African nations attended the burial.
These leaders listened as speaker after speaker praised Chiluba’s outstanding work which had brought in a new political culture, not only to Zambia but to Sadc as a whole.
But for the delegation from Zimbabwe, it was clear we had a lot to learn from our Zambian colleagues. The funeral was not politicised. The MMPD did not privatise Chiluba but allowed the generality of Zambians across the political divide to mourn their hero.
The founding leader, President Kaunda, attended the funeral, with the mourners according him the respect he deserves as the liberation war hero and founding President of the country. It is indeed possible to humbly accept electoral defeat, as President Kaunda did in November 1991, and live in your country with honour and dignity as a founding president.
One does not have to die first to be a former President; it is a status that you can achieve in your lifetime! Zambia has accepted change as the only constant in politics. Indeed, President Robert Mugabe’s counterpart and peer, former Ptesident Kaunda, has seen the baton change hands three times! The baton changed hands first from President Kaunda himself to Chiluba in 1991, from Chiluba to Levy Patrick Mwanawasa and to the current President, Rupiah Banda. Kaunda allowed himself to enjoy the status of founding President. This is the brave 21st century and nations and leaders must accept that things have changed.
All political parties attended the funeral. They were all officially recognised were invited to lay wreaths on the tomb of Frederick Chiluba. No one wore an MMPD or a United National Independence Party T-shirt.
They all wore their common nationality of Zambia and one felt envious at the sense of patriotism that engulfed the ordinary Zambian citizen in the street, with no political party claiming to be more patriotic than the other. I mused that unlike the burial of Edgar Tekere in Mutare a few weeks ago, no one attempted to make political capital out of a dead man.
It was so much different from the scene we saw in Mutare, where Zanu PF politicians spent thousands of dollars bussing people in a vain attempt to embarrass the Prime Minister when on the day of his death, Tekere had failed to raise $27 to buy medication.
In his speech, President Banda did not use the funeral to attack his political enemies, real or imagined! He thanked former President Kaunda for creating the ground for peace and democracy in the country. He thanked the veteran leader for accepting defeat and allowing transfer of power in 1991 in a peaceful and tranquil environment characterised by neither violence nor coercion. (A thunderous applause from the mourners).
He said Zambia had moved on from the culture of political violence and embraced a culture of peace as evidenced by peaceful transitions in the country The crowd gave him another thunderous applause.
As the Prime Minister’s delegation, which included Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, Hon Jameson Timba and Labour and Social Welfare minister Hon Paurina Mpariwa made for the airport, we could not help but marvel at the wonderful sight in Lusaka.
• Luke Tamborinyoka is the spokesperson to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and doubles up as the head of communications in the Prime Minister’s Office.