By Sishuwa Sishuwa
Because of our close friendship, Andrew Sardanis many times asked me to speak at his funeral. I always gave the same response: that I would do so provided the need to do so was delayed as long as possible.
On 28 February 2021, 13 days before what would have been his 90th birthday, Danae, his wife since 25 March 1962, informed me tearfully that ‘Andrew is gone’.
If my conviction that the relevance of death lies in its impact on those who live is correct, then we have much to learn from his long and eventful life. It represented, in my view, many things that a nation requires to succeed. These include our understanding of what being a ‘Zambian’ truly means, of the importance of public service, of the possibilities for home-grown African business, of investment in art, research and scholarship, and of family and friendship. These five general points and themes illuminate Sardanis’s life and the society in which he lived and helped to shape.
A talented immigrant who gave his life to Zambia
Although he was not born a Zambian, Sardanis became one and gave his life to the country. In turn, the country embraced and gave itself to him. Zambia is lucky to have had him among its citizens. Born in Cyprus on 13 March 1931, Sardanis immigrated to Zambia in October 1950, aged 19. He was one of tens of thousands of white immigrants who arrived in the then Northern Rhodesia before and after the Second World War. Yet, he was not like many of the others. By this, I mean the many whites who dedicated their lives to self-enrichment or quietly making a fortune out of the country’s riches, unconcerned about the injustices around them.
Sardanis chose a different path. He forged strong ties and collaborative relationships in the places he settled. He spent his first years in Zambia in Chingola working for his brother-in-law in a transport company. He threw himself vigorously into the development of the business and expanded into trading, opening stores in Chingola on the Copperbelt and Kabompo in the North-Western Province. By the end of the 1950s, he owned and operated North Western Trading and Mwaiseni stores. At a time when the colour bar was the order of the day, Sardanis trained and advanced Zambians in his businesses, treating them as partners and fellow shareholders. His businesses were run entirely by Zambian staff. Black people could freely enter and leave his many shops, a departure from the widespread practice of the time that required them to buy goods through tiny shop windows.
As did a few other white immigrants such as Simon Zukas and James Skinner, Sardanis also made himself useful to the causes that catalysed the 1950s and early 1960s – the struggle for independence and racial equality. In the 1962 elections, for example, he stood as a parliamentary candidate for Kabompo constituency on the ticket of the United National Independence Party (UNIP), the main nationalist political organisation under the leadership of Kenneth Kaunda. What is important here is that he made a conscious choice, one which entailed considerable personal sacrifice to turn his back on the entrenched privileges he could have accessed using his membership to the white community to fight for causes that he believed were right and just.
By joining the anti-colonial movement, he also risked the censure of the white settler community he was expected to belong to, but such was his commitment to the pursuit of freedom and justice that he did not mind being regarded as an outcast among their ranks. As he had shown already, Sardanis was an astute businessman. Driven by high copper prices on the international market, Zambia’s economy was booming in the 1950s. If he had wanted, he could have made his money as a successful businessman and returned to Cyprus, or moved to South Africa, Southern Rhodesia (the colonial name for Zimbabwe) or the United Kingdom to settle and play golf. That is what many in the 1950s did. He did not. His example challenges us to understand people within their peculiar individual circumstances and characteristics rather than treating them as representatives of particular identity groups.
A diligent public servant
The second lesson that we can extract from Sardanis’ life is the significance of having diligent public servants committed to the promotion of the greater good rather than the relentless pursuit of private gain. Following the achievement of formal independence from Britain in October 1964, and as the development planning of the first administration led by President Kenneth Kaunda took shape, Sardanis laid his much-needed economic skills at its disposal, helping to shape the economic direction of the newly independent state. In 1965, he was appointed by President Kaunda as Chairman and Managing Director of the Industrial Development Corporation (INDECO), a government body that was responsible for promoting industrial development by making loans available, taking part in industrial projects, preparing feasibility studies and providing advice to potential investors.
Under his leadership, and in only a couple of years, he transformed INDECO from being a small lending institution to a large holding company operating in many fields. His main objective was rapid industrial development for Zambia. INDECO got involved in the production of textiles, fertilizers, explosives, and copper fabrication. It played a leading role in the construction of the Zambia-Tanzania road to the East African Coast, the Tazama Oil pipeline along the same route, the INDENI oil refinery, and Chilanga Cement plant. INDECO also formed Zambia Airways, Intercontinental Hotel, and Kafue Textiles, and made investments in Zambia Sugar Company, Dunlop Zambia and Duncan, Gilbey and Matheson. By 1969, INDECO had become a major industrial conglomerate employing 13,000 people, the second largest business group after the copper mines.
Starting 1968, Sardanis also served as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, a position that he held alongside his leadership of INDECO. He was to later hold the positions of Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of State Participation and Ministry of Finance. Using these roles, he became one of the key architects of the Matero and Mulungushi economic reforms aimed at transferring the ownership of major sectors of Zambia’s economy from private, mainly foreign, hands to Zambians and the state. In particular, Sardanis played the leading role in negotiating the 51 per cent takeover of the mining industry in 1969. Following the consolidation of the mining companies into INDECO, the company was renamed the Zambia Industrial Mining Corporation (ZIMCO), and he became the first Chairman and Chief Executive.
By 1971, ZIMCO’s annual sales stood at USD 1.12 billion and with net assets of USD 840 million. In the same year, however, Sardanis, driven by the belief that it was now time for black Zambians to take over his roles, resigned and left government with a generous testimonial from President Kaunda, who said that he had done more for the economy than any other single man. He maintained his personal friendship with Kaunda, whom he visited regularly. In 1990, as President Kaunda was preparing to return Zambia to a multiparty democratic system, Sardanis was among those who wrote the new proposed constitution, which provided the legal basis for the landmark political changes that followed.
A successful businessman
The third lesson that can be drawn from Sardanis’ life is the importance of the success of home-grown African businesses in the strength of the national economy. After leaving government service, Sardanis developed his considerable talent in the field of business. In late 1971, he formed Sardanis Associates, which later became ITM International. Built on the principle of indigenisation, the company established close partnerships with other local firms such as the Chibote Group of Companies, Minestone, Chibote Farms and Interchem. On the international level, ITM grew to become a group of more than 150 companies operating in at least 40 countries worldwide, 25 of them in Africa. It was involved in international trade and product distribution, construction, mining, finance and later commercial banking. Many of his Zambian colleagues joined him on the international scene where they served as senior managers and directors in countries such as the United States and United Kingdom.
In 1984, Sardanis, driven by the conviction that ‘colonial’ banks were only interested in serving foreign corporate business interests, opened Meridien Bank Zambia, ITM’s first move into commercial banking. He felt that by creating a local bank he could provide local project finance and assist clients in finding export opportunities and the necessary export finance. After establishing a strong local presence, the Meridien Banking group expanded into several West African countries such as Liberia, Cameroon, Burundi and Nigeria. The acquisition of the BIAO group of banks in Francophone Africa (at the request of Alassane Ouattara, then the Governor of the BCEAO, and currently the President of Côte d’Ivoire) made Meridien BIAO the largest bank in black Africa. Over time, the bank expanded its finance interests to insurance, opening Madison Insurance in Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia. By the mid 1990s, ITM/ Meridien had over USD 1.5 billion in assets and a turnover of USD 1.3 billion, and employed approximately 30,000 people, almost half of whom were in Zambia.
Meridien eventually collapsed for, among others, political reasons. Its success upset the Western establishment. A concerted campaign by the central banks of Britain and France against the bank paved the way for its demise. A series of unfortunate economic issues in West Africa compromised the bank’s ability to survive the onslaught. Its collapse should not, however, obscure two important points. One is that ITM/Meridien was a local business. While foreign direct investment is important, national economies thrive and remain sustainable if they are built on the success of locally owned businesses, which then export their capital internationally. Sardanis and other people of his generation acted on this principle and helped Zambia achieve self-reliance in many sectors. The second point is that ITM/Meridien paved the way for a more competitive banking environment and brought about inclusion of all races in the banking system in Africa. As Sardanis himself noted in his book, A Venture in Africa: the Challenges of African Business, ‘We opened new frontiers for African business. We stumbled and fell within sight of our goal, but we opened the way for many.’
A great supporter of the arts, conservation, research and scholarship
The fourth lesson from Sardanis’s life is the importance of investment in the arts, research and scholarship. Sardanis was a greater supporter of the development of art in Zambia. Though he was a businessman committed to economic nationalism, he understood that development is not all about numbers; art and other cultural productions are important too. To this end, he not only supported those who administered the state but other domains of life, including art. With a keen eye for talent and working with young people, he was able to identify and support promising artists who could then make their own contributions. The walls of Chaminuka are covered with more than 1,000 pieces of Zambian art. From an early age, Sardanis was a patron and collector. He sponsored many of Zambia’s earliest and most prominent artists such as Petson Lombe, Henry Tayali, Remmie Sichalwe and Flinto Chandia. Sardanis also bought their art for himself and his many businesses both locally and internationally. In this way, he helped establish a self-sustaining market for Zambian art. It is no wonder that he was, in the late 1990s, awarded the Ngoma Award for his contribution to the visual arts in Zambia.
Sardanis also supported conservation and tourism, exemplified most notably in the environmental character of his home, Chaminuka. Built in the style of a village typical in the North-Western Province, characterised by a series of Insakas and red brick, Chaminuka, which means a small hill, was constructed in the late 1970s. It overlooks Lake Chitoka and is situated in a game park approximately 40 sq. km in size. Throughout most of his life in Zambia, he visited the game parks and nature reserves. During the 1970s, he became increasingly concerned about the environmental destruction caused by the over-population of elephants, which contributed to the demise of many of Zambia’s other wildlife species. In response, he started Chaminuka as a “Noah’s ark” in the belief that if the National Parks were to lose some of their species, it would serve as a gene pool from which the authorities could draw to restock the parks.
Today, Chaminuka has more than 7,000 animals representing approximately 72 species of wildlife. Sardanis also financed 14 other game farmers to stock game. It is estimated that 30 per cent of Zambia’s wildlife population is now in private farms. In the early 2000s, Sardanis decided to open Chaminuka to the public. Now a community of more than 1,000 people, it is run by a new generation of Zambians whom he nurtured. More than 20,000 people a year flock to Chaminuka to commune with nature, view the art collection, taste Kaposhi’s international award-winning cheeses or, indeed, to meet Sardanis and learn from his stories, wisdom and vision.
Besides arts and conservation, Sardanis also supported research and scholarly publications. His own published works about his own life and about Zambia are well known. What is perhaps less well known is his determination to support research when others have failed to do so. His bank, Meridian, for example, supported the publication of Guardians in Their Time: Experiences of Zambians Under Colonial Rule, 1890-1964, an important edited work by the University of Zambia’s Department of History on colonialism in Zambia. What is notable about this publication is that all the chapters in it were written by researchers who were either based in Zambia or were Zambians. The contrast with prior and subsequent similar publications, dominated by foreign scholars, could not be more striking.
Sardanis further understood the importance of writing memoirs, a task that many people of his generation have not taken seriously. In countries like Zimbabwe and South Africa, nationalist and other prominent figures are serially writing their own memoirs or leaving their own private papers for others to work on in the future. This is hardly the case in Zambia. Those who belong to our country’s first generation, that is those who were alive at independence, are gradually leaving us. Some years from now, there will be nobody left who was an adult in 1964. Having been key protagonists in the nationalist struggle and played active roles in public life during Zambia’s first 50 years of independence, many expect these nationalist figures, now advanced in years and with most of their lives behind them to reflect upon, to use their unique experiences to provide an insider’s view of the country’s evolution. This is exactly what Sardanis did before he died.
Motivated by the desire to share his experiences within the broader themes of Zambian political and economic history, he wrote three books, all published by IB Tauris. The first is Africa: Another Side of the Coin, published in 2003 and covering Northern Rhodesia’s final years and Zambia’s early years of independence. The second, written in 2007, is A Venture in Africa, which covers his personal experience in running a business conglomerate in Africa. More recently, in 2014, Sardanis wrote Zambia: The First 50 Years which provides an in-depth account of the country’s evolution since independence. In countries like Zambia which have a huge young population and where decades of underfunding and neglect have undermined the capacity of local scholars to conduct historical research, memoirs enable current generations to understand what has happened before. Autobiographical writing is not a personal vanity or for the benefit of an individual’s own descendants. It has a wider social purpose.
A family man and a friend
The fifth and final lesson from Sardanis’ life centres on the principle that family and friendship are closer to the core of our lives than wealth and status. Although he was a deeply private person, Sardanis greatly cherished his family, consisting of Danae, his partner and friend for nearly 60 years, their two children Stelios Shula, 57, and Harry Kayombo, 55, and his two grandchildren, Alex and Dylan. He also had remarkable capacity for friendship – intensely loyal, warm and kind friendship – expressed in a genuine interest in another’s well-being and in the most generous hospitality in conversation that encouraged as well as stretched. Welcoming and personable, he treated everyone with warmth and opened his mind to a wide number of people, whom he infected with his wit, stories and humour.
Sardanis touched the lives of many people, including many who are not even aware that he did. Most people see development as economic upliftment of themselves and their immediate families. Many who have come from humble beginnings now have a house in one of the suburbs of Lusaka and nice cars. Unmindful of the injustices and inequalities of the society in which they live, they will work hard to help their children have a better life tomorrow. These children are going to universities in Europe, Asia, the United States or South Africa to become accountants, lawyers, medical doctors and engineers. Andrew Sardanis saw things differently. For him, economic upliftment was about improving the whole of society so that many benefit. ‘If you wish a better life for yourself or your children,’ he once told me over dinner at Chaminuka, ‘then you should seek to create and live in a better society that promotes the interests of the collective, not the individual, and which pursues more freedoms.’
He wore his humanity on his sleeve and embodied so much of what is good in people. His life challenges us with one final question: if we were to die today, can we imagine someone else saying the same of us? If not, why not? Let us each use the time allotted to us as humanely and as compassionately as Andrew Sardanis did. In ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’, an emotional and evocative poem written a year before death claimed his own life, the Irish poet, Dylan Thomas, advised his dying father to not accept death passively. Instead, he encouraged him to confront it with courage and challenge it:
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning, they
Do not go gentle into that good night”.
Andrew Sardanis did not go gentle into that good night. He burned and raved at close of day. Though bruised from the fight and dimed by the dying light, he raged, raged his way into that good night, as a victor, one more time.
This oration was delivered by Sishuwa Sishuwa at the funeral service of the late Andrew Sardanis in Lusaka on 5 March 2021. For the recorded broadcast of the service, please click here.