Morris Mkwate recently in LUSAKA, Zambia
President Mugabe received a hero’s reception at the inauguration of Zambia’s sixth President Edgar Lungu at Heroes Stadium in Lusaka yesterday. This contrasted sharply with an obscure demonstration by opposition elements in that country who sought to discredit fraternal relations between Zanu-PF and Zambia’s ruling Patriotic Front.
The handful of demonstrators were mainly United Party for National Development supporters, whose leader Mr Hakainde Hichilema, lost to the PF’s Lungu.
The demonstration took place at Raddison Blu Hotel last Friday and only drew attention from a few news websites.
It largely went unnoticed among Zambians, who engrossed in the euphoria of PF candidate Mr Lungu’s anticipated victory in the presidential by-election.
At the inauguration, more than 40 000 Zambians gave President Mugabe an uproarious welcome.
The President also received a standing ovation from dignitaries in the VIP tent as he greeted Zambia’s founding president Dr Kenneth Kaunda; the fourth republican president Mr Rupiah Banda, and other guests individually.
He had hardly been 15 minutes in his seat when the crowd let out more rapturous cheers upon seeing his image being beamed on giant monitors for the second time.
President Mugabe was again to draw a similar reaction when he — moments later — stepped up to address the gathering in his capacity as Sadc Chair.
Those who spoke to The Herald said the euphoric scenes showed that Zambians revere President Mugabe, contrary to the impression the demonstrators wanted to create.
Basic Education Teachers’ Union of Zambia general secretary Mr Jeffrey Simuntala, said the Head of State and Government was an iconic African statesman.
“We are always happy to be associated with President Mugabe. He is a statesman; a pan-Africanist who believes in the values of our continent.
“He values the liberties and freedoms of African people. I do not hesitate to state unequivocally that he is a great man and hero for us in Africa.
“He should always be remembered for his principled stance on the rights of his African brothers and sisters, to own the resources that belong to us Africans.”
Mrs Alice Honto – a leader at Lusaka’s Christian Power Bible Ministries – weighed in, saying: “He is a father to all of us and we love him. He has really supported Zambia from the time he became President.
“He is our mentor, and we would really want more leaders to emulate him. We just pray that God will still give him long life to continue his good work.”
Radio Phoenix News Editor Billy Kazoka, recalled how President Mugabe had always supported Zambia through thick and thin.
He reminisced: “I remember his visit to Zambia in 1985/6 when our country was experiencing economic difficulties. I was still in primary school back then while the late President Michael Sata was Lusaka District Governor at the time.
“It was at a function in Mutendere Township. He stood up and addressed the gathering in perfect Nyanja, exhorting them not to blame KK’s government, but also work hard to improve the country’s lot. He also told them that the problems were not peculiar to Zambia; other countries were experiencing similar problems and hard work was required.”
Zimbabwe and Zambia enjoy cordial relations rooted in their struggle against imperialism.
Lusaka housed its southern neighbour’s guerilla forces and nationalist leaders as they fought to dislodge Ian Smith’s regime.
President Mugabe – who taught in that country from 1955 to 1958 – has over the years paid homage to Zambia for this assistance.
The close ties are reflected at Government and ruling party level and also in the harmonious relations among citizens of the two countries.
In 2009, Harare and Lusaka commissioned the massive Chirundu One Stop Border Post, an innovation that has eased congestion and transaction headaches at the port.
In 2013, they jointly hosted the 20th edition of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation General Assembly.
Further, indications point to increased integration and economic co-operation.
Along with this cordiality, President Mugabe continues to be regarded as an iconic leader in Zambia and other parts of the developing world.
In 2014, he received a rousing welcome when he visited Zambia to pay his last respects to Cde Sata.
He was also greeted by wild cheers at former South African President Nelson Mandela’s funeral service.
The Basotho had similar displays of affection when he attended Lesotho’s King Letsie III’s birthday celebrations in 2013.