President Peter Mutharika yesterday led Malawians to condole Zambians on the death of President Michael Sata in London, United Kingdom, on Tuesday night.
Sata, 77, had been receiving treatment at King Edward VII Hospital for an undisclosed illness and died after “a sudden onset of heightened heart rate”.
He becomes the second sitting president in Zambia to die in office within six years after Levy Mwanawasa who succumbed to stroke on August 19 2008 while receiving treatment in France.
In his condolence message to Zambia’s acting President Guy Scott, Mutharika said he was shocked to learn about the demise of Sata whom he described as “my dear brother”.
“On behalf of the Malawi Government and indeed on my own behalf, I hereby express my sincere condolences and sympathies to Your Excellency, government and people of the Republic of Zambia and the bereaved family during this period of grief,” said Mutharika in his message issued yesterday.
He said Sata would fondly be remembered by the continent as a fearless freedom fighter, reformer and one of the architects of the liberation struggle that led to Zambia’s independence and many other countries.
Said Mutharika: “He will be solely missed by all those who knew him for the ideals that he firmly stood for. The Malawi people are profoundly sorry for the loss of a true son of Zambia who worked tirelessly to promote peace and stability in Sadc [Southern Africa Development Community] and Comesa [Common Market for East and Southern Africa] regional blocs, and the AU [African Union] as a whole. His great sense of humour will be missed by the Sadc family.”
Former president Bakili Muluzi also joined Mutharika in paying tribute to Sata, saying his demise has robbed Zambia and Africa of a true freedom fighter with a sense of humour, but who was politically respected.
Muluzi said much as he knew that Sata was unwell, he never thought “it would turn that way.”
“I convey my condolence to his wife, children and all the people of Zambia for the loss suffered. Personally, he was a very close friend and we have known each other for a long time, the days he was secretary general of MMD [Movement for Multiparty Democracy],” mourned Muluzi.
He added that Sata rose to political stardom because of his straightforward talk and ‘called a spade a spade’; hence, his nickname “King Cobra”.
“He was politically respected with an interesting character, though controversial at times,” said Muluzi, who said he received the news with shock around 4am yesterday.
Malawians tasted Sata’s controversial character in 2007 when former president the late Bingu wa Mutharika arrested him when as an opposition leader he tried to enter the country for talks with Muluzi.
After his arrest, he was bundled into a police car and driven several kilometres before being dumped at Malawi-Zambia border and declared persona non grata in Malawi. Mutharika never disclosed reasons for his deportation.
Sata then sued the Malawi government, but the case died naturally while trying to sort the matter out of court after Bingu’s death.
‘King Cobra’ was also a forgiving man. Despite the spat with Bingu, he was one of the regional leaders whose administrations helped Malawi with fuel, after Bingu’s death, at the height of fuel and forex shortages in the country.
Sata’s death comes just days after Zambia—a former British colony like Malawi— celebrated its 50th anniversary of independence where Malawi was represented by Muluzi.
Popularly known as King Cobra for his “venomous” tongue, Sata was elected Zambia’s president in September 2011 after defeating the then incumbent Rupiah Banda whose party had been in power for 20 years.
He was Zambia’s fifth president after founding leader Kenneth Kaunda, Fredrick Chiluba, Levy Mwanawasa and Banda in that order. n