“Catile Cobe”: Presidents and Rumors of Insults from Kaunda to Banda
By Elias Munshya wa Munshya
Recent reports of insults and counter-insults between President Rupiah Banda and Hakainde Hichilema and between President Banda and Mr. Michael Sata make for some distressing reading. However, these events have been exacerbated and grossly exaggerated, partly, by the media. In actual fact, Zambia’s history with presidential foul language is not new. We in fact started having presidential foul language as soon as our nation was born—with the famous “stupid idiot” rants of Super Ken. However, with the emergence of new print media in the Third Republic has meant that anything spoken by any leader now will be subject to diverse reports and interpretation from various media organizations both public and private. Sometimes you would wonder whether it is not the media themselves acting as the factory of these insults. In this article however, I wish to draw upon the history of presidential insults from Kaunda to Banda.
Kaunda was a very kind, Christian, gentleman at independence. He was widely admired by friends and foes alike. Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe in 1964 at independence had a lot of praise for KK, and Princess Nakatindi Wina even remarked that KK was like the biblical Moses sent by God to deliver the colonialised Zambians out of British “Egyptian bondage.” However, with the growing opposition to his rule from within his party UNIP and from an array of Zambians, in the army and in the trade unions, KK started to change the tone of his language. In press conferences he was famous for calling his opponents, “stupid idiots”, and would occasionally call them “frightened little men.” By this he was implying that only he was the courageous big man. What was lacking in KK’s language, however, was a specific reference to any particular person. As such KK’s insults would be taken to have been general in nature.
I cannot recall any report of Frederick Chiluba insulting anybody. Ironically, when he faced the fiercest opposition bordering on insults, Frederick Chiluba would famously say, “infumu taituka bantu, bantu ebatuke imfumu.” This Bemba adage basically means that while the general population may have reasons to insult a leader, a leader should not insult his people. With this mindset, Chiluba never used foul language. The only moment, that stands as the exception with regard to Chiluba was at his rally in 2001 in Kitwe when he was introducing presidential candidate Levy Mwanawasa. At that rally Chiluba famously used a Copperbelt street idiom “ujeni”, and quickly added, “I am not insulting because I have not called any particular person or insulted any particular person”. He added only “catile cobe” would qualify as an insult. Chiluba, generally, was not the type that used strong or bad language.
More like Kaunda, Levy Mwanawasa is reported to have been a man of very sober manners—as Amos Malupenga in his biography of Mwanawasa has pointed out. At a rally in Southern Province when MMD National Secretary Katele Kalumba tried to intimate that Levy was a handsome man whom ladies could truly fall for. Levy was quick to correct Kalumba and remind the rally that he was a happily married man. When it comes to drinking, it is reported that he was not a habitual drinker and the only time he sipped some alcohol was when the Supreme Court ruled the presidential petition in his favor. However, he became a victim of a serious allegation that he had insulted the Bemba speaking peoples on the Copperbelt. To the question of why most of the people he had been prosecuting were mostly Bemba speaking, he is reported to have said how much he hated corruption, and how “stinking” corruption was. This set off serious political tsunami that could only be cured by appointing a Bemba as his Vice-President. And one of the first duties for Dr. Nevers Mumba was to go to the Bemba chiefs and calm the storms of the “stinking” insult. Undoubtedly, Michael Sata used Mwanawasa’s alleged insults to his political advantage.
When Levy Mwanawasa was looking for a replacement of a Bemba speaking Vice-President Augustine Festus Lupando Mwape, he needed to find a person who could bring some maturity and stability to the Vice-Presidency. This person in Mwanawasa’s judgment was going to be Rupiah Banda. Undoubtedly, Banda’s age—he was 67—made Mwanawasa think that perhaps he was going to be a mature leader. And maturity I assume here may include being a person of sober words and a mature tongue. That was not to be, however. Banda maintained his tongue only as long as Levy was living and only as long as he remained Vice-President. But when he became the President, insults and rumors of insults besieged him as well. His closest insulting partners became opposition leaders Michael Sata and Hakainde Hichilema. With youthful vigor and moderate tempter HH responded tit-for-tat to each and every of Banda’s insults. HH sometime called Banda, “sleepy”, and a “man of small brains”. For his part Sata and Banda’s major area of insult is about who between them is more handsome than the other. Just recently, Banda called Sata, “cisilu ca zoona” and Sata reciprocated the insult very swiftly.
With this history in mind, I do not have any illusions that Zambian presidents will get any better in terms of insults. If Banda does not continue his presidency next year, we are very likely to have another insulting president in Hakainde Hichilema or Michael Sata. We just do not know yet what the next insult will be. We have graduated from Kaunda’s “stupid idiots” and we are in area of “dogs and sons of dogs.” One thing however is for sure…an insulting president has immunity from prosecution, at least until parliament lifts the immunity. And the only leader who has had his immunity lifted so far is one who never made it a habit to insult others. Parliament has better matters to take care of and “catile cobe” is not one of them.