Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Hakainde and Sata's health

By Editor
Thu 06 Feb. 2014, 14:00 CAT

It seems Hakainde Hichilema does not listen to advice. Sometimes we can learn something valuable even from people we most detest.

If Hakainde was open to advice, learning, he would have picked something valuable in the editorial comment titled "UPND's propaganda about Sata's health" we carried in the edition of The Post of August 24, 2013. There is very little new we can say on this matter other than to repeat the arguments we put in that editorial comment. And we hereby reproduce that comment:

"It is very cheap politics for the UPND leadership to try and twist the provisions of Article 36 of the Constitution of Zambia to cast doubt on President Michael Sata's physical and mental capacity to discharge the functions of his office.

This is taking opportunism to the extreme and dangerous proportions. We know that the UPND has been very opportunistic when it comes to Michael's health.

After the 2008 elections, the UPND were convinced that Michael would not get to the 2011 elections. This was after his treatment in South Africa for a heart condition in 2007. In this belief, they approached the Patriotic Front to form an opposition political pact with them.

This was in the hope that Michael would be dead before the 2011 elections and Hakainde Hichilema would assume overall leadership of the pact and become its presidential candidate.

But to their displeasure, Michael is still here and he was healthy and strong enough to defeat them and their MMD partners in the 2011 elections. But they still can't believe it that the man they thought would die before 2011 is still there and probably ready to defeat them again in the 2016 elections.

Their mischief is clear. There is no function of his office that Michael has failed to perform since taking over as President of the Republic of Zambia.

We are not Michael's doctors but it's clear that the man has no problems performing his presidential functions. And moreover, there is no human being who doesn't fall ill. And can Hakainde or his servant Ephraim Belemu say they never fall ill? Who doesn't fall ill? We all get hit by this or that illness and we simply soldier on, recover and continue with our work.

How many of our politicians are either on hypertension or diabetes medication? And how many of our politicians are every day swallowing ARVs? Can they be said not to be fit for public office?

The truth is Michael is enjoying reasonably good health. And he is also living a very careful life when it comes to his health. Don't forget that this is a man who not very long ago was a chain smoker, contaminating his lungs with nicotine every day. But he has shed off that dangerous habit which he was involved in for more than five decades.

Michael leads a very disciplined life. He carries out his duties in an orderly, efficient and effective manner. He knows when to take a rest. And he knows when to go for medical examinations. He doesn't live like most of us who only go to see a doctor when we are not feeling well even when we have the opportunity to have periodic medical examinations.

But as Bishop John Mambo says, those who used to predict his death have left him still walking this planet. Equally, one can say those who think they will outlive Michael, they will leave him here to complete his mission as President of the Republic of Zambia.

They tried to do the same thing in 2011. They went round the country telling people not to vote for Michael because he was dying. But our people are kind and compassionate human beings and they were not swayed by such propaganda. They gave their votes to Michael and he won.
If the UPND wants to be in government soon, such an approach will not do. They should win not because Michael is not well healthwise but because they are better understood, supported, trusted. They should win because of their beliefs, what they believe in.

As far as a normal eye can see, Michael is in good health. And he seems to be keeping a good check on his health. These insinuations of him not being well only go to raise the question of just how healthy must our leaders be in order to serve, and, conversely, how much illness and or infirmity can we accept among those who occupy our country's highest posts?

Maybe we can learn something from the Americans. At the age of 65, Dwight Eisenhower had a serious heart attack, at a time when there was nowhere near the arsenal of methods available today to treat heart disease. All the same, he was elected to a second term the year after and lived another 14 years.

Then there is Jack Kennedy. Although he was the youngest person ever elected president of the United States and was the man who put the "vigah" into appearing vigorous, Kennedy was plagued with a number of serious ailments, only a few which were known to Americans at the time of his election. They included Addison's disease and a back so painful that he always wore a back brace, nearly always used crutches when photographers were not present, and regularly submitted to amphetamines and powerful anesthetics to quell his pain. Not to mention stratospheric cholesterol levels, which might be controlled by medication today, stomach disorders, and a history of sexually transmitted diseases. His administration's handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis likely will be debated for years but the fact remains that both conventional war - with the Soviet Union at least - and nuclear annihilation was averted. Even with a very bad back.

We wonder if we will resolve the matter of the health of presidents and presidential candidates, all while we mostly accept the physical and mental beatings the presidency inflicts upon those who hold the office. We don't have the best solution, but maybe we should mull over something Benjamin Franklin once said: "Nothing is more fatal to health than an over care of it."

Anyway, it is unfortunate that this whole issue has been sparked by members of Michael's own government and party. The UPND is simply a vulture. And vultures are opportunistic by nature and character - they scavenge. And UPND is scavenging on the bad discourse going on in the Patriotic Front and its government.

But this opportunism on the part of UPND will backfire. In politics, it's important to know the feelings, mood and character of one's people. Zambians, like most Africans, don't like this type of talk or propaganda. Look at Zimbabwe where Robert Mugabe's health has been an issue for the opposition MDC and its backers for a very long time. But Mugabe, at 89, is still there and has overwhelmingly defeated them in an election.

UPND needs to choose its campaign issues carefully. Opportunism can sometimes be very costly. And it won't be long before UPND starts to pay the price for all this. Mark our words."

It is important for Hakainde and his party to choose their campaign issues carefully. Hanging on to the issue of Michael's health, tribalism, racism and regionalism will not do.

And it is also important for Hakainde to learn to respect other people's legitimate entitlements. As Chembe Nyangu says, Michael is entitled to holidays paid for by the state, although he hasn't been very keen on taking them. Therefore, there is no need to always insinuate that he has gone for medical treatment in India every time he takes a short break from work, every time he leaves the country.
If Hakainde does not want to improve his number of votes, he should continue making Michael's health his only discernible political preoccupation.

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