By Bill Saidi
THE death of the president of Ghana, John Ata Mills, reminded me of a very dear friend of mine, Christopher Kabwe, who was not a politician.
His last job was that of the head of the Zambian air force.
Generally speaking, politics is not a life-threatening occupation, but it ought to be re-classified.
Edgar Tekere was an accomplished politician. Perhaps it would be unfair to say politics killed him.
If the late president of Ghana had continued with his academic career, the chances are he might still be alive today.
The same goes for Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi.
Kabwe’s misfortune was his involvement in a political act — the 1981 attempted coup against Kenneth Kaunda in Zambia.
All this occurred after my return to Zimbabwe in 1980.
In 1985, after he had been cleared of this serous charge, he wrote me this letter: “I am not sure that you are with The Herald. I am just trying to trace you. “If you are with The Herald, please confirm in reply to this note, which is being hand delivered by Mr . . . an Air Zimbabwe representative here.
“He can bring back your reply
“How are things? As for me, still trying to find my bearings.”
After my response, Kabwe dropped a bombshell: he wanted me to help him find a job in Zimbabwe.
This man, only a few years younger than I was, had been trained by the British to fly military aircraft.
He had distinguished himself.
We had become close friends when he left for York, in the UK to train as a pilot in the air force.
I was a journalist, having arrived in the then Northern Rhodesia, at the invitation of an old friend.
We developed such a friendship that I drove from Lusaka to Livingstone to be present at his wedding to the daughter of the mayor of the town — this was a “high society” affair.
The last time I saw him, in the flesh, was just as the 1980s began. It was at a huge company house I occupied in Ndola in Mungule Road, one of my perks as deputy editor-in-chief of Times newspapers, publishers of The Times of Zambia and The Sunday Times of Zambia.
Kabwe was with his new wife, his first marriage having ended on the rocks — I am not sure why.
People divorce all the time, don’t they?
But it was a tearful response he gave me to my confirmation of being still at The Herald: It would be curtains for him, if I could not help find a job in Zimbabwe.
I reflected on the matter for days: find a job for a former head of the air force of Zambia, recently freed from a charge of trying to overthrow the government.
I sought advice: Kabwe was no ordinary Joe.
His name had been in the papers, after the attempted coup.
Kabwe himself would probably not press me on the job-hunting.
It wasn’t a picnic.
I am not sure if there was any threat to his life.
Then he died suddenly, of natural causes, they said.
His role in the attempted putsch was a little vague.
The papers said he was to fly the plane in which Kaunda would be shanghaied to a spot where he would announce his resignation from the presidency.
The most prominent names in the case were Edward Shamwana’s and Valentine Musakanya’s.
The reason for the coup?
Kaunda would not allow the opposition any space.
He lost a free and fair election in 1991, after 27 years in power.
Kabwe, basically an honest man, would take part only because he felt Kaunda had strayed.
He was not a politician.
He learnt to his ultimate grief that politics can kill you.
Journalism too can kill you, but that is another story.
What is wise for African politicians, journalists, the clergy, the povo, the literati and the ignoramuses to appreciate in this: the world we inhabit today is different from our forefathers’.
We ought to take it step-by-step.
Our primary aim must be to end the grinding poverty and ignorance on the continent.
That struggle could take longer than the one for freedom.
Bill Saidi is a veteran writer based in Harare