AFRICANGLOBE – Zambia’s Guy Scott became Africa’s first White President in 20 years on Wednesday after the president, Michael Sata, died of an unknown illness in a London hospital at age 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 F.W. 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 misguided uneducated bus driver. “The very fact we accepted him as vice-president shows that we consider him as one of us.”
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 from an unnamed illness, 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.”
“A Zambian Nationalist”
Sata, whose populist platform included defending workers’ rights, was often fiercely critical of the foreign mining companies operating in Zambia’s copper belt. Analysts said his death could prompt a rise in investment in the country.
“President Sata has been a divisive figure for Zambia on the economic front, espousing increasingly authoritarian and ad hoc policy measures against the crucial mining sector in recent years, which has hampered investment,” South African White-owned consultancy ETM said.
“The president’s passing could make way for a more reformist administration and help to remove broader policy uncertainties.”
Sata, whose varied CV included stints as a policeman, car assembly worker, trade unionist and platform sweeper at London’s Victoria station, had left Zambia on Oct. 19 for medical treatment, accompanied by his wife and family members.
Defence Minister Lungu, secretary general of Sata’s Patriotic Front party, had to lead celebrations last week of the 50th anniversary of Zambia’s independence from Britain.
Concern over Sata’s health had been mounting since June, when he disappeared from the public eye without explanation and was then reported to be receiving medical treatment in Israel.
He missed a scheduled speech at the U.N. General Assembly in September amid reports that he had fallen ill in his New York hotel. A few days before that, he had attended the opening of parliament in Lusaka, joking: “I am not dead.”
It was a typically no-nonsense denial from a politician not known for diplomatic niceties.
“I haven’t bloody lost so don’t waste my time,” he told a BBC reporter in 2008 after results showed he had indeed lost an election to his main rival, Rupiah Banda, by a narrow margin.
His nationalist, anti-Chinese exploitation stance finally helped him oust Banda in a 2011 election.
A year ago, he threatened to remove the mining licence of Konkola Copper mines, Zambia’s biggest private employer, because of plans to lay off 1,500 workers. During the row, the company’s foreign chief executive had his work permit revoked.
The Zambian kwacha fell 2 percent against the dollar after Sata’s death was announced. Traders said it was unlikely to suffer any prolonged weakness because of the underlying health of an economy expected to grow 7 percent this year.
“Obviously, there will be a sentimental temptation to go long on dollars, but I’m also quite confident the central bank will do everything it can to protect the currency,” one Lusaka-based trader said.
“In terms of the economy, everything should still be on track.”
By: Ed Cropley And Joe Brock