As is our African time-honoured tradition and custom, I too join the many Zambians and the entire Rupiah Bwezani Banda extended family in mourning the passing of Rupiah Bwezani Banda, 4th Zambian President, on Friday the 11th of March, 2022.

I knew Rupiah Banda. One of his sons, Andrew Banda, still remains a friend of mine, to this day, although we have not met or spoken to each other for a very long time now. With the courtesy of my editors at News Diggers, I wish the entire Rupiah Banda family the strength, courage, wisdom and fortitude to bear their loss with dignity.

A whole generation of Zambia’s founding politicians is fast fading away. Our greatest mistake as Zambians is that we do not record and learn from, our history. Consequently, we do not benefit from the achievements of our past, nor do we rise above them. In the process, we fail to advance, to develop our country and to lift its people out of the extreme mass material and cultural poverty that today threatens to drown the country.

The passing away of Rupiah Bwezani Banda is an appropriate time to reflect upon how our youths can learn from our past, and fashion and vision a new future for themselves.

Kenneth David Buchizya Kaunda (28 April 1924 to 17 June 2021), also known as KK, and his female and male contemporaries, all of them, fought and won Zambia’s independence from the British, our colonisers. There is a very deep and rich mine of history for all of us to learn from their struggles, and how they created Zambia. Fifty-eight (58) years after October 24, 1964, our Independence Day, and we are very far from waking up and beginning to map and record our pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial and contemporary history; rich with the full details of all its actors.

Why is our past not important, to us? Why is this erasure of our memory so consciously pursued by all of us, to the extent that many of our young people today barely know nor care about where Zambia comes from? Why are we so consumed with the everyday struggles of finding food, securing a place to sleep, water to drink and clean our bodies, medicines, clothes to wear and some money for alcohol, cigarettes and other harmful drugs to the extent that it becomes none of our business where we come from, where we are, and where we are going, as a people, as a country?

As has been often said, our past is our present, and it is our future. We ignore our past at our own peril. Each one of the contemporaries of Kenneth David Buchizya Kaunda, whether they ended up in government or not, have a story to tell, about where we come from, therefore who we are, which must inform our visions about what we want to become.

There is a lot to learn from the life and times of Zambia’s 4th President Rupiah Bwezani Banda. He was born on 19th February, 1937, in economic exile, in Southern Rhodesia, present day Zimbabwe, to a working-class family of then Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, who had gone to look for work there. Many of us, young people today, spend hours every day lamenting the misfortune of our circumstances at birth and wish we were born rich, with a golden spoon in our mouths at birth. Rupiah Banda defied the circumstances of his birth to become Zambia’s 4th President.

When we are young, to spit on education is to limit our life choices. Every young person from a working class or a poor family who disregards education and treats it with contempt, automatically forfeits her or his claim to many options in life, including the possibility to escape the poverty and circumstances of his or her birth. As is almost always the case in our part of the world, the Church and good Samaritans are almost always available to lend a hand to any family struggling to educate a child. Rupiah Banda received help with his education from a local church, and later a good Samaritan who was not even an African!

How many times do we young people squander the good efforts of those around us who offer a helping hand, to enable us get an education? Times are always hard for poor and working-class families. Life, however, in its abundance, always makes available in so many unexpected ways, help. This help may many times come from the least expected sources; but help it is. A child is a fool to slap away the extended hand of help. Rupiah Banda repaid back his parents, the Church and all those who helped him by ultimately rising to occupy the highest office in the land; the presidency of Zambia!

We are mistakenly taught that history is made by great men. This is a lie; history is always larger than the lives of individuals; it is actually larger than the sum total of all the efforts from all human beings in a particular moment. To understand what happened in the past, we must excavate the smallest details in the least “important” human being of the time! Without the Rupiah Bandas of the moment, Kenneth Kaunda would not have become the international giant he became in the world.

From representing UNIP in Europe, to becoming Zambia’s Ambassador to Egypt, the US and Zambia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Rupiah Banda made his contributions to Zambia. We have lost this treasure cove of our history with his passing away, on the 11th of March, 2022. Those who remember and know, understand that these were some of the days when poor, small, newly independent Zambia punched well above its weight in international relations and in the struggle for freedom of South Africa, Southern Rhodesia, Namibia, Mozambique and Angola. These were the days of armed conflict in our Eastern, Central and Southern African sub region.

Andrew Banda, Rupiah Banda’s son, introduced me to his father in 1990, during the struggle for Zambia’s return to plural politics and democracy. The day it got announced that I was leading the formation of the MMD in the Eastern Province, I was instantly dismissed from my job, and I came later to learn that in fact Rupiah Banda had protested at the cruel manner I had been dismissed by my cowardly Executive Director, where I worked. I will let sleeping dogs lie, and not wake them up, by mentioning who these cowards were.

We all know Rupiah Banda was loyal to UNIP, so much that he in fact only formally joined the MMD only after being appointed President Mwanawasa’s Vice President, on 9 October, 2006. Such was his enduring loyalty to Kaunda and UNIP. And yet Rupiah welcomed the transition of Zambia into a multiparty democracy.

Rupiah’s ability to survive extreme adversity and to triumph over it was tested when his immunity as former president was removed by President Michael Sata. Incredibly, he survived this threat to his freedom and actually later, in August last year, I honestly believe he saved Zambia from a civil war, when he successfully persuaded former President Lungu to peacefully hand over power. Such were the twists and turns in Rupiah Bwezani Banda’s life.

Ever the consummate diplomat, cunning businessman, astute politician, and friend to many people, Rupiah Bwezani Banda’s life is excellent material for a movie, great biography and history book. There are countless lessons for young people to learn from his life, all of it. May his memory enrich our lives!

(Comments and criticism welcome at [email protected])