By Field Ruwe
The “Africa Year Book and Who’s Who” (1977) edition has President Michael Sata’s date of birth as January 6, 1936. Aislinn Laing, the Telegraph reporter who interviewed Sata at State House in 2011, also has the same year (1936) in her article “Michael Sata: the Victoria station sweeper turned Zambian presidential hopeful” and so have many other archived sources. Sata’s observed date of birth is July 6, 1937. He was born Michael Chilufya Sata at Chitulika village in Mpika in the Muchinga Province of Zambia to Langford Mubanga Sata and Harienta Bukali Kabuswe both of the Bisa tribe.
Back in 2002, Sata sued Patrick Katyoka for alleging that his father, born in 1904, was a Tanzanian who migrated to Northern Rhodesia as a young man before World War I. In 2011, Government Spokesman Lt. General Shikapwasha claimed that Sata migrated to Zambia at the age 9, and based his assertion on what Willie Nsanda had previously said. Since no one has showed up with irrefutable evidence the claim still lingers in mere speculation. Conservers of oral history in Bembaland are Paramount Chief Chitimukulu and the Bemba Royal Establishment. They know Sata’s family tree and are therefore in a position to put the matter to rest.
Here is what is on record. In 1941, at the age of 4, Sata attended Mpika Education Authority School. It must be mentioned that before independence full primary course lasted 8 years. This was followed by two years to Junior Certificate (Form 2), and three years to Form 5’s school certificate (“O” levels). Some schools provided a higher school certificate (“A” levels) in Form 6. To obtain a primary school certificate one had to go through Sub A and Sub B [pre-school and kindergarten], and then Standard 1 to 6. Sata was at the afore-mentioned school from 1941 to 1947, which means that he attended Sub A to Standard 4.
In Bembaland, the White Fathers and the Protestant missionaries of the London Missionary Society were fighting for converts; both used education as bait. The White Fathers offered Catechists schools and encouraged their followers to enroll their sons in priesthood. Between 1947 and 1948, Sata entered Katibunga Seminary for a year. Records show that he was moved to another Catechists school called Kantensha in Isoka close to the Tanzanian border where he spent three years from 1948 to 1951. By this time some missionary schools had established secondary school courses, many up to Form 2. In 1951, Sata passed on to Lubushi Seminary near Kasama where, on top of clergy training, the school offered an unaided (by correspondence) Form 2 external examination.
Sata left Lubushi in 1956 at the age of 19. Some people speculate that he absconded, while others say he was expelled while some say he failed. Again, this is only hearsay. The office of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kasama would be in a position to confirm or deny the rumors. One thing certain is that he did not become a priest. It is also evident that he obtained a Junior Certificate (Form 2). The acquisition of a Junior Certificate is confirmed by his friend Phinias Makhurane who is quoted later in this article.
In 1957, Sata left Mpika for the copperbelt. Now, when he became president in 2011, the Western media, in its usual negative portrayal of Africa as the “dark continent” relished in depicting him as instinctual with their “porter,” “sweeper,” and “cleaner” headings. The Telegraph, The Times (London), Daily Mail (London), The London Evening Standard, even the BBC unleashed their dark self. And yet none of them backed up their story with the exact period, and I doubt anyone bothered to check with Sata’s employers in England.
For instance, Jane Flanagan of the London Daily Mail in her article “Former Victoria cleaner is elected president of Zambia” dated September 23, 2011, wrote that Sata worked as a cleaner and porter for the British Rail in the 1950s: “He studied part-time and took casual jobs at car assembly plants before returning home and joining the police force.” But according to Laing of the Telegraph, Sata moved to Britain in the early 1960s: “He worked in a laundry in Bromley, before moving to the Vauxhall car plant in Luton. He then moved to British Rail where he worked at Victoria then London Bridge first as a porter, then a shunter, then conductor and eventually driver.” Sata himself must have provided the information during the interview.
This research did not find any evidence or indication that Sata left the country between 1957 and 1960. What is clear is that in 1957, he joined the Northern Rhodesia Police Force. He got to the copperbelt at a time when Police Commissioner Colonel John Patrick Fforde was in need of native police officers to beef up his force. During this period natives (as Zambians were called), incited by Kaunda and Nkumbula were clashing with white settlers. With only a handful of white police officers Fforde recruited 1,720 natives among them our very own Michael Sata. Since most of the recruits were Standard 4 and less, Sata, with a Junior Certificate, was among the highly learned.
On February 20, 2010, Sata told reporters that he resigned from the police force in 1958, adding: “I joined politics. When I joined politics I was arrested in Luanshya, I was not in Zambian Police. In 1960, I was with great people like Justine Chimba, Mazimba from Ndola and Dingiswayo Banda.” This was in response to former president Frederick Chiluba’s claims that Sata was dismissed from the force. Chiluba who as president and appointing authority of the Prisons and Police Services Commission had access to Sata’s file challenged him to “tell the country the truth.” He posed the question: “Were you imprisoned for your participation in the fight for independence?” Or can you say why you were jailed and dismissed from the police force?
A member of the political illuminati, Dingiswayo Banda, accused Sata of not telling the truth. In the Times of Zambia of March 20, 2010, he said that Sata was jailed for a criminal offence and not political activities in 1960. Ten days later [March 30, 2010], Home Affairs Minister Lameck Mangani informed the nation that his office has instituted investigations to establish “whether Sata had lied that he had never been convicted of any criminal offence when he declared his candidature for the presidency.” The following day [March 31, 2010], Mangani announced that the government had found the prisoner warder who registered Sata at the time of his imprisonment.
About the same time, Lusaka Times reported that a Mr. Blackwell Barrow Chifita, who served as detective constable in the 1950s, arrested Sata on a charge related to the liberation struggle. Chifita gave his police force number as 1230 and said that he worked at the Roan Antelope police station under officer-in-charge H.W. Witsher and CIO Chaongopa. According to the story, he arrested Sata in a mine Section 5 beer hall for “proposing violence to an assembly” and was jailed for two years. It was believed that Sata while in the employ of the Northern Rhodesia police was an informer, passing vital information to freedom fighters.
Mangani did not refute Chifita’s claims nor did he produce the prison warder to tell his side. Chiluba also remained numb. Amazingly enough, not former presidents Kenneth Kaunda, Levy Mwanawasa, or Rupiah Banda did, in their reign, give Zambians a hint, not even when they themselves were ridiculed by Sata.
It is not clear if Sata served the full sentence. What is documented is that by 1961, he was in Kitwe working for Roberts Construction (Central Africa) Limited. In his book titled “Phinias-Mogorosi Makhurane: An Autobiography,” Makhurane, from the then Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) tells the story of his friendship with his workmate Sata in 1961. Here is Makhurane in his own words:
While at Kitwe, I built a friendship with one very active man who also worked for Roberts Construction. He had completed his Junior Certificate and was regarded as one of the most educated black people in the company. His name was Michael Sata. Besides being a worker, he was also the secretary of the local Trade Union organization. The Trade Union worked closely with the United National Independence Party (UNIP) of Northern Rhodesia, led by Kenneth Kaunda. During weekends, Michael would take me to meetings of his union as well as to political rallies organized by UNIP.
Sata’s involvement in the trade union is well documented by Dr. Henry Meebelo in his book African Proletarians and Colonial Capitalism: The origins, growth, and struggles of the labour movement to 1964. There is one undisputable fact about Sata that stands out of the book: his tenacious and “militancy and rancorous” intransigent behavior dates back to his youthful days.
In 1961, at the age of 24, and while at Roberts Construction, Sata became General Secretary of the National Union of Engineering, Construction and General Workers (NUECGW), which in some way rivaled the African Mineworkers Union.” His designation would bring him in closer contact with UNIP freedom fighters. In 1962, he became Director of Publicity and Research for the United Trades Union Congress (UTUC), a “functionary of the United National Independence Party with Matthew Mwendapole as the General Secretary.” The following year , he was elected UNIP Chimwemwe branch treasurer and set off on his journey through the slippery slopes of Zambian politics.
Sata maintained his UTUC position until February 1964 when he became a member of the ten man “cabinet” and the Field Secretary-General of the Young Trade Unionists (YTU) formed by the youth wing of UNIP. The reader must be reminded that in the early 1960s the Cold War was at its height. Kaunda and his UNIP were disenchanted with the United States (US) support of the apartheid regime. The Soviet Union (USSR) took this opportunity to commit thousands of dollars of aid to UNIP and its affiliate trade unions. Fully-funded crash programs were availed to natives in various parts of the Soviet Union (Russia). During the period 1963/1964, Sata, together with Michael Bungoni, Rennie Chikonkolo and Bryan Chirwa, received their trade union training in Russia. When they returned they behaved like “communists” labeling some members of other trade union groups as “capitalist stooges.”
The belligerent YTU lasted until July 1964. It dissolved itself and pledged to support UTUC. Meebelo writes: “One of the loudest voices crying out for early UTUC elections…was Michael Sata. UTUC General Secretary [Albert Kalyati] dismissed Sata’s demand and called him “a confused man” who must refrain from “stirring up troubles.” According to Meebelo, at independence (1964), Sata was part of the group that had “brought more destructive than constructive policy into the industrial relations sphere of the industry.”
Kaunda saw Sata and his cabal as rabble-rousers and refused to give some of them, including Sata, cabinet and diplomatic posts. In frustration Sata attacked Kaunda and lumped him among those “freedom fighters who when became rulers, delivered lots of unfulfilled promises.” Their relationship was strained and his allegiance to UNIP wilted.
Sata went into private business and opened an industrial relations consultancy firm in the defunct Tanzania-Zambia Railway building. He became an associate of the Institute of Personnel Managers (1964-1966) and one of the founders of the Zambia Institute of Human resource Management (ZIHRM). He also sat on the board of Trans-Africa Safaris Limited, a South African company established in 1918. In 1965, Sata was further marginalized when the Zambian government amended the colonial Trade Unions and Trade Disputes Act and created the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions, whose activities had begun in 1964. At this time, Sata, together with Bungoni, were banned from holding any post in the executive of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering, Building, Construction, and General Workers (AUEBCGW), an affiliate of ZCTU.
Trans-Africa Safari Limited specialized in taxidermy—the killing of animals, preparing, stuffing, and mounting the skins with lifelike effect for display purposes. Sata’s role in the company brought him in contact with white settlers and hunters, including Oliver John Irwin. I mention Irwin because he was an ardent pilot, and Sata, through such contacts is said to have learned how to fly. Sata also practiced target shooting for the purpose of hunting. His relationship with White settlers aroused a lot of suspicion. It was believed that he was passing information on the activities of the ANC and other liberation movements to the Boers. This was difficult for the research to ascertain.
It was not until December 28, 1968 that Sata married Margaret Manda, an educator. Two years later, in 1970, he left for England. The research findings show that it was not in the 1950s or 1960s that Sata worked in England, but the 1970s. In fact Sata himself alludes to this fact. During his address of Zambians resident in Gaborone, Botswana in 2012, he bragged that in 1970, he was the first Zambian expatriate in the United Kingdom. It is then that he worked at Victoria Station and other platforms around the country. Queries to British Rail about Sata working as a shunter, conductor, and locomotive driver proved futile.
His presence in London is further confirmed in Miles Larmer’s book Rethinking African Politics: A History of Opposition in Zambia. At the time of Sata’s departure for England, rumors of a new political party, the United Progressive Party (UPP) were rampant. In August 1971, Sata was in London when Simon Kapwepwe admitted to be its leader and resigned from UNIP. As Smart Kabamba is quoted in Larmer’s book, one of UPP’s objectives was to “prevent communist infiltration” into Zambia, especially that of the Chinese. Remember this was at the height of the building of the TAZARA line and the Chinese were already in the country. Kabamba’s remarks were seen by Kaunda as a UPP effort to get support from South Africa.
In London, Michael Sata, who in Larmer’s book is described as “a Zambian of the Bemba tribe” and “Mr. Kapwepwe’s representative” with “no official position in UPP,” attempted to make further contacts with South Africa on behalf of UPP. His visit to the South African Embassy is described as follows:
He [Sata] evidently came to London a year ago  to prepare the anti-Kaunda campaign now being launched. He stated that the purpose of his visit was to obtain from us the name of a reliable printer who could be trustsed to print their material without there being any danger of it leaking out to pro-Kaunda elements …we could of course not assist him in any manner bearing in mind the nature of his activities in London and this …Mr. Grobelaar made quite clear to him …
There is also information that the purpose of his trip was to attend London School of Economics and Political Science. “Africa Year Book,” shows that Sata was at the said school between 1970 and 1973. Sata’s allies have intimated that it was then that he obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. This research contacted the LSE Alumni and received the following reply from Reyes Castellano, Alumni Relations Officer: “We have not been able to find Michael Sata’s record on our alumni database.”
When he returned home in 1973, UPP was defunct and Zambia was a one-party state. Most of the UPP members had returned to UNIP. Sata had no choice but to follow suit. He settled in Lusaka where, over time, he was Managing Director of Tanners and Taxidermists (Zambia), Executive Chairman of Ndola Inn Limited, Director of Delta Electrical Contractors, and Project director of Avondale Housing Estates Limited. His offices were located at Farmers’ House on Cairo Road.
Sata’s stay at the Avondale Housing project brought him back in the limelight, sort of. Desiring to expand his public sphere, he went back to active politics in 1981, and became the ward councilor for Bauleni. Kaunda, who for 21 years had shunned him, began to notice and appreciate him. In 1985, Sata became Governor of the City of Lusaka. It was at Lusaka Urban District Council (LUDC) that his authoritarian traits became part of his brilliant political tactics. He was said to be shrewd and dictatorial, often refusing to listen to his subordinates. His reputation as the hardest working governor in the country earned him a seat in parliament as MP for Kabwata, and the eventual post of Minister of State in the Ministry of Decentralization. It was in the late 1980s that he met Christine Mwelwa Kaseba (born
In 1991, sensing the winds of change, Sata, perceived by many as a political opportunist with a double-pronged venomous tongue, labeled Kaunda a dictator and earned himself a dismissal from government. A disappointed Kaunda who had known Sata’s father to be a humble man, declared: “imamba taifyala mamba” (like does not beget like), but it was too late, Sata had already earned himself the nickname “King Cobra.” He quit UNIP and joined the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) where he was elected National Secretary.
In the MMD, he became part of the powerful Group of Five (G5) or the “untouchables” comprising Ben Mwila, Remmy Mushota, Ronald Penza, and Andrew Kashita. He went on to hold various ministerial posts including Minister of Local Government, Labor and Social Security, Minister of Health, and Minister without Portfolio.
Sata’s presidential ambitions became even more apparent in 2001 when Chiluba attempted to alter the Constitution and go for a third term. Political opponents within his party accused him of trying to position himself for succession. In 2001, when Chiluba abandoned his third term bid and appointed Levy Mwanawasa as his successor, Sata resigned from the MMD and formed the Patriotic Front (PF) days before the dissolution of parliament and only months before the elections.
The maverick Sata used the PF as his bully pulpit—a conspicuous platform from which to advance his agenda. He turned himself into a populist opposition leader by fuelling public revulsion for the Chinese whom he accused of trying to colonize the country. He was fully aware that his anti-Chinese strategy would strike a bitter chord amongst Zambians most of who were incensed by the presence of the Chinese in the country.
When his 2001 presidential bid failed, he continued to make the Chinese a rallying issue and an optimal winning tactic, referring to them as “infestors,” to the enchantment of vendors and marketeers. A month before the 2006, he traveled to Malawi to “solicit funding from Taiwanese businessmen.” He caused a diplomatic furor with the Chinese when he declared that he would recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state if elected. But Sata lost the 2006 election and the Chinese breathed a sigh of relief.
The 2008 election necessitated by the death of Mwanawasa was a near miss for the now ubiquitous Sata. The post-election riots that broke out in Lusaka and Kitwe were an indication that it was just a matter of time. In the 2011 campaign, he added to his anti-Chinese stratagem, lower taxes, and money in people’s pockets within 90 days and won. On September 23, 2011, the political “genius” with a sterling gift for vitriolic campaigns, vicious demagoguery, personal attacks, confrontational encounters, and contradictory statements, was sworn in as Zambia’s fifth president to the delight of an ecstatic crowd. With that he earned himself a merit badge. Although his adversaries see him as a cannonball, “traveling to its aim blindly and spreading ruin on its way,” it is only fair to call this 76-year old father of eight, a tenacious political virtuoso who up to this day turns heads questioningly.
Field Ruwe is a US-based Zambian media practitioner, historian, and author. He is a doctoral candidate at George Fox University and serves as an adjunct professor (part-time lecturer) in Boston. ©Ruwe2012
Please Note: I have gone to great length to research into the life of President Michael Chilufya Sata because he is a great man. No great man lives in obscurity. Greatness is leaving an impression on earth. Indeed, the history of the world is the biography of good and bad, mad and normal great men. Those whose legacy is left in vain become victims of fiction. By shutting the door to his life, Sata risks becoming a mere relic—an artifact. It is for this reason that I have unilaterally taken it upon myself to drill a pigeon hole in his door so that the reader, friend and foe, can have a clear view of the man who is our leader. What is contained in this abridged biography is information documented from as far back as the 1960s. Below I deposit a list of some of the sources for the doubting Thomas.
- Africa YearBook and Who’s Who (1977). Pg. 1319. Published by Africa Journal Limited. London
- African Affairs: Northern Rhodesia Ministry of Native Affairs (1963), Government Printer.
- Larmer, Miles (2011). Rethinking African Politics: A History of Opposition in Zambia. Ashgate Publishing , Ltd.
- Makhurane, Phinias-Mogorosi (2010). Phinias-Mogorosi Makhurane: An Autobiography. African Books Collective. Pg. 59-60. [Makhurane is first Vice-Chancellor of the National University and Technology and a previous Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe. Currently, he serves as chairman of Zimbabwe National Council for Higher Education].
- Meebelo, Henry (1986). African Proletarians and Colonial Capitalism: The origins, growth, and struggles of the labour movement to 1964. Kenneth Kaunda Foundation, Lusaka.
- “Zambia Opposition Chief Files Complaint Over Amin Comparison,” AFP, 17 September 2006.