Zambia’s president ‘King Cobra’ Sata dies aged 77
Lusaca (PTI) :Zambian President Michael Sata, who has died aged 77, rose from cleaning railway platforms in London to his country’s highest office, where he vowed to sweep away corruption but leaned heavily on political foes.
Sata died in the British capital where he had been receiving treatment for a long-rumoured but undisclosed illness.
For supporters who voted him into office in 2011 he was a no-nonsense man of action. For critics, the former policeman, trade unionist and taxidermist was an authoritarian populist.
What is undisputed is that he seemed to revel in scorched earth politics.
Detractors, political foes, the media and even allies frequently came under attack from a man who earned the sobriquet ‘King Cobra’.
He once publicly upbraided his whole cabinet, threatening to collapse his own government if they did not do a better job.
The final period of Sata’s rule saw a crackdown on political opponents and critical journalists who reported on his long-suspected illness and frequent ‘working trips’ abroad, apparently for medical treatment.
In January 2014, an opposition politician was charged with defamation for calling him a potato. In June the authorities charged three opposition activists for claiming that he was dying.
Sata’s surprise election victory, at the fourth time of asking, and a calm power transfer raised hopes things were looking up for his copper-rich but dirt-poor southern African nation.
He vowed to be a champion of the poor, unveiling a plan to transform the country within 90 days by tackling corruption, lowering taxes, creating jobs and scoring a better deal with what he once called Chinese ‘infestors’.
But it quickly became clear that the targets of his corruption fight were more often than not his political adversaries, including his predecessor Rupiah Banda, who was slapped with various graft charges and blocked from leaving the country.
On the election trail Sata promised to free the media from government interference, but once in office he sacked critical journalists and heads of the state television and newspapers.
Born on July 6, 1937 in the Mpika district in the north of the then-British colony of Northern Rhodesia, Michael Chilufya Sata had little formal education.