FORMER Botswana president Ian Khama says Zambia’s fourth republican president Rupiah Bwezani Banda was too good to be a politician.

And President Hakainde Hichilema says Zambians should celebrate Banda’s life by embracing peace and reconciliation.

Addressing mourners at Showgrounds, Thursday, Khama said he cannot imagine that a decent person like Banda would engage in the political arena which was usually characterised by divisiveness among others.

“I first remember meeting President Banda on another sad occasion which was at the funeral of president [Levy] Mwanawasa. It was on that occasion and on many others, I was struck by his charm, his warmth and kindness, his father like character. For he had such a gentle, uniting and wonderful personality. I always used to say to him, I thought he was too nice to be a politician. I don’t mean that all politicians are not nice, some are nice but there are others who are definitely not. So, when you think about the rough and tumble of politics, it’s unpleasantness, sometimes its divisiveness, it can be dirty by nature, I cannot imagine such a decent person like him engaging in such a political arena,” he said.

“Even after his Presidential term of office, despite the false accusations against him and the challenges that he faced from his successor, which is what I am also going through, he was not bitter nor did it change the man he was. He continued to give his wise counsel right to the end. When he invited me to visit him here in Zambia just a few weeks ago, despite his frail condition, he was the perfect host with his trademark kindness and generosity. I also had the opportunity during that visit to pay a courtesy call on his Excellency Mr Hichilema. I came away from that meeting with the President so impressed with his vision and plans for Zambia and its people.”

He urged Zambians to be patient with President Hichilema because the difficult period that the country was going through was not his making.

“I remember when I was new in office, we were hit by a world recession just like president Banda and how that negatively affected the plans I had for my country. You also, your Excellency President Hichilema, inheriting what you did plus the COVID pandemic and your plans for the post COVID economic recovery, now also on top of that we have this senseless war which is being waged by Vladimir Putin on the people of Ukraine, killing the elderly, the disabled, killing women, killing children, killing pregnant women. The economic impact is already being felt and it will get worse,” said Khama.

“But you, your Excellency HH, I don’t know, am I allowed to call you HH? You are the best man during these challenging times to lead your nation Zambia through this. I hope the people of Zambia will be patient whilst you stir your country and people through this difficult period, that is not of your making. I am sure your own plans that you had for this country have been negatively affected.”

And President Hichilema said Zambians should celebrate Banda’s life by embracing peace and reconciliation.

“The past seven days have been a period of deep sorrow and grief in our country. A time of pain and mourning for all of us. A dark cloud has indeed engulfed our nation since 11th March when president Banda passed on. President Rupiah Bwezani Banda, fondly known as RB will be remembered for his numerous contributions to our nation over many years. For us as leaders and to the young generation, there can not be any better way of respecting and celebrating RB’s life than to embrace his values of peace, his desire for reconciliation which president Banda left us. Ladies and gentlemen, it is rare to see an individual thrive in public service for over 60 years, RB did just that. It means that he has a lot to offer to our country, to our people, otherwise he would have never survived this long in office,” he said.

“President Banda will be remembered for the gracious manner in which he had accepted the will of the Zambian people in 2011 not to be re-elected for the Presidency that followed because the citizens of Zambia chose, through a democratic process of elections, another president. But president Banda acknowledged, exited with grace, a big lesson for all of us. This is the legacy that all of us as leaders should emulate in order to build our countries in our region, on the continent and the global community.”

President Hichilema insisted that the role which Banda played after the 2021 elections was much bigger than what people saw in the media.

“In the aftermath of our recent elections in August 2021, just barely about six months ago, president Banda took a leading role in urging all of us, the presidential contenders at the time, to put national interest above our individual interest and not to let the country degenerate into negativity. Indeed he, together with president Kikwete, together with president Ernest Bai Koroma former president of Sierra Leone, sat the two of us, president Lungu and myself at president Banda’s house and we discussed a lot. What you have been hearing is only on the surface, a lot was discussed. That which was discussed helped the country to be where we are today, to be able to mourn together, not in separate locations,” said President Hichilema.

“The founding generation of our country is fast disappearing, the living reservoir of our rich political history is fast depleting. I think we, the younger generation, can not only do one thing, that is to learn from this generation that endured over years to keep our country together as a united people. We should embrace tolerance as president Banda always did. Let us be friendly not to one but to all. This is priceless but yet valuable.”

Meanwhile, President of Zimbabwe Emerson Mnangagwa said Banda’s memory would remain a source of inspiration and encouragement to all.

“The memory of his leadership will remain a source of inspiration and encouragement to all of us. We will forever cherish the extraordinary life of this remarkable statesman who devoted his life to serving Zambia, our region and continent. The late former president Banda was indeed a pan Africanist and among the rare breed of leaders in our region. We pay enormous tribute to his active role in politics and advancing the social economic development of our people. Very few of you are privileged to know that the late former president Rupiah Banda played a significant role behind the curtains in the transition from my learned brother Edgar Lungu to my brother in law Hichilema. He knew no region, gender, age and class, he was a man of the people and an embodiment of Africa’s spirit of Ubuntu. These are traits that must be emulated to build the Africa that we all want,” said Mnangagwa.

Speaking at the same event, former Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete said President Hichilema and former president Edgar Lungu showed statesmanship by not listening to henchmen.

“…He told me that he would engage the two leaders that day at his home but it didn’t work out. He called to inform me about it, we looked at why it didn’t work out but we agreed that we will not give up. Indeed that is what we did. Late afternoon the following day, we were able to have the two leaders together at president Banda’s home. Amazingly, we had a very friendly meeting. It started well and it ended well hence the handshake and the photos that followed after. Let me say president Lungu and President Hichilema demonstrated the highest levels of statesmanship. I am sure they were with a lot of pressure from the henchmen. But you know, as a leader, at some point we have to assume leadership. These two leaders took that responsibility,” said Kikwete.

Others who spoke were Namibian President Dr Hage Geingob and former Malawian president Bakili Muluzi among other foreign dignitaries.

Meanwhile, Banda’s son Henry gave a moving vote of thanks to President Hichilema and others whom he said had cared deeply for his father.