Zambia Appoints White Interim Leader

Zambia’s Guy Scott became Africa’s first white head of state in 20 years on Wednesday after the president, “King Cobra” Michael Sata, died in a London hospital aged 77.

 Scott, a Cambridge-educated economist born to Scottish parents, had been Sata’s vice president. He will be interim leader until an election in three months, making him the first white African leader since South Africa’s FW de Klerk lost to Nelson Mandela in the 1994 election that ended apartheid.

 Scott, 70, is ineligible to run for the presidency in the election because of citizenship restrictions, leaving defence minister Edgar Lungu and finance minister Alexander Chikwanda the most likely contenders for the ruling Patriotic Front party’s ticket, analysts say. 

“Elections for the office of president will take place within 90 days. In the interim I am acting president,” Scott said in a brief televised address.

 “The period of national mourning will start today. We will miss our beloved president and comrade.”    

  Many Zambians welcomed Scott’s interim appointment.

 Scott is a lively character who has caused diplomatic controversy in the past, describing South Africans as “backward” in an interview with Britain’s Guardian newspaper last year.

 “I like a lot of South Africans but they really think they’re the bees’ knees and actually they’ve been the cause of so much trouble in this part of the world,” he said.

 “He is a black man in a white man’s skin,” said Nathan Phiri, a bus driver. “The very fact we accepted him as vice-president shows that we consider him as one of us.”

The cause of death was not immediately disclosed, but Sata had been ill for some time. 

Sata, who was nicknamed “King Cobra” because of his sharp tongue, died on Tuesday, the government said earlier. He had been president of Zambia, Africa’s second-largest copper producer, since 2011.

 The cause of death was not immediately disclosed, but Sata had been ill for some time.

 He was at London’s King Edward VII hospital when he died, the website Zambian Watchdog reported.

  “As you are aware, the president was receiving medical attention in London,” cabinet secretary Roland Msiska announced on state television. “The head of state passed away on October 28. President Sata’s demise is deeply regretted.”

Gravelly-voiced as a result of years of chain-smoking, Michael Sata rose to political prominence in the 1980s. He quickly earned a reputation as the hardest-working governor while in charge of Lusaka and as a populist man of action. But he was also known for his authoritarian tendencies, an abrasive manner and a sharp tongue – and his critics say his nickname of “King Cobra” was well-deserved. 

A devout Catholic, Sata had worked as a police officer, railway man and trade unionist during colonial rule. After independence, he also spent time in London, working as a railway porter, and, back in Zambia, with a taxidermist company.

At the fourth attempt, Sata won presidential elections in 2011. At first he looked as if he would keep promises to tackle corruption and create jobs and prosperity. But his term in office was marred by a crackdown on political opposition and a decline in the economy.

He had rarely been seen in public since returning from the UN General Assembly last month, where he failed to make a scheduled speech.

After he left the country, Defence Minister Edgar Lungu was named as acting president.

 

SABC/BBC