When A General Cherry-Picks History: My Response to Godfrey Kenneth Miyanda
If history were tomatoes, we could all easily amble towards Soweto Market find vendors and from a variety of that fruit choose which kind we want. If history were a presidential candidate, we could easily exercise our franchise and choose from two competing chronicles. Indeed, if history were a brand of soft drinks, we could turn to ZCBC and cherry-pick Tiptop over Tarino. Isn’t it a blessing that history is none of these? History is a story or more specifically, it is collection of stories. This is not to mean that we choose between competing stories, but rather that competing stories, together should be aggregated towards a more complete picture: a picture capturing time and emphasizing the role of our common humanity in it.
Brigadier General Godfrey Kenneth Miyanda has objected to my characterization of him as a cohort to a group of politicians that I deemed to have been responsible for the “barbaric use of the Public Order Act in the 1990s”. I had said this in my Daily Nation column published on Friday 20 September 2013. He has also objected to my description of his role as a cohort to both Chiluba and Sata in the role the trio played in the 1996 constitutional amendments. At the center of his objection, I think, is the story or history he wants us to believe and to write. He wants to cherry-pick the tomatoes of history. I do sympathize with his yearning to do so. In fact, it is his right to write or reformulate a story of his life that is based on his own exploration. But Miyanda should be estopped from imposing his version of history upon the opinions of our people and certainly not upon me.
General Miyanda’s story has been gallant. The name of Miyanda shall be forever etched on the consecrated stones of our jurisprudence. Beginning from employment law, to evidence law, and to constitutional law, the courts of our republic teem with Miyanda cases. The courts have formulated greatest doctrines in constitutional law from the very cases Miyanda brought against the State. In fact, every soldier in our national service is more secure in his or her employment as a result of one case in which Miyanda took President Kaunda to court for unfair dismissal.
However, a comprehensive picture of the history of our politicians should be balanced by criticism. I did characterize General Miyanda as a significant player in the 1996 amendments. I have no regrets, and certainly will not be apologizing for so writing. It seems to me that General Miyanda is eager to escape responsibility over the 1996 amendment by hiding behind the complexity of a modern administrative state. I do understand how complicated the modern state has become. I agree with him that it is difficult to, in some instances, attribute actions of the State to any one individual. But General Miyanda was not a small player in Chiluba’s administration. He was not an insignificant District Administrative Officer for Milenge. Miyanda was the vice-president of our republic.
In that article, I mentioned three most important and most senior leaders of the MMD and our country who spearheaded those amendments: Chiluba, Miyanda and Sata. I’m surprised, though, at how quickly Chiluba’s close collaborators want to delete themselves away from the Chiluba Era. In fact, when you look at Sata now, he seldom mentions Chiluba. Sata has named everything after Kaunda and Mwanawasa while conveniently disremembering the father of our democracy – Frederick Jacob Titus Chiluba. If Chiluba has been made to own the success and failures of his regime, then we should equally have the freedom, and with it the fortitude, to ask Chiluba’s close colleagues to accept and own that piece of history as well.
General Miyanda has taken great exception to my use of the term “cohort”. I concede. I will now change the term from cohort to colleague. I am not too sure though how that changes the substance of my arguments.
Miyanda also objects to my characterization of him as a close associate of one Michael Chilufya Sata. In fact, the General mentions that his political life has been unlike that of Sata. For avoidance of doubt, as at 2013, Sata has spent more time in government serving with Miyanda (1991-2001) than with Kabimba (2012-2013) or Guy Scott (1991-1995 & 2011-2013). This is a historical fact. I do agree that a majority of our population is young and was born way after 1990, but this should not be reason to circumcise history based on current political realities. Miyanda was Sata’s boss in government for about 6 years and was Sata’s boss in the ruling party for years after that. Nothing in my assertions here should mean that the two gentlemen have the same political philosophy. Miyanda is in many cases far much more superior in both intellectual acumen and moral fortitude. All I am stating is that these two gentlemen served in a government, which made laws and policies that have significant consequences today. The fact that Miyanda and Sata have gone separate ways especially after the 2001 debacle cannot retroactively defeat a prior political intercourse. If we allowed 2013 to remake 1996, then we have become magicians but, certainly, not historians.
I must mention this to the current leaders who too will be former this or former that.
Know that each time you stand in the sacred space of our parliament you are writing a piece of your history and a piece of the story of our country. Our nation is becoming impatient with leaders who refuse to lead appropriately hoping to hide behind the veil of collective responsibility when the future demands accountability. Today, it is Miyanda we are demanding answers from. Tomorrow, it will be Guy Scott or Wynter Kabimba. Take the responsibility given to you by Zambians earnestly. If you do not believe in the actions of Michael Sata, say it now. The year 2023 might judge you more harshly than the way 2013 is judging Miyanda and his cohorts (oops, colleagues).
Miyanda then touches on the issue of where “Munshya was when I fought in the second republic”. Zambian politicians like to use this “where were you” tag to delegitimize critics. It is as if, they want to freeze 2013 in 1978. I was probably an infant when he was fighting Kaunda’s abuse of army employment law. However, a few years later, I was one of those little boys on the streets of Maikulile who would line up the pathways of Chiwempala to hear him and his colleagues campaign for the reintroduction of multi-party politics in 1991. I was a small boy – adorning the dust of our blessed soils with torn shorts. My little mind, nevertheless, captured the story of democracy for my country. I believed in democracy because, the stories Chiluba and Miyanda told were in sharp contrast to Kaunda’s tired “wamuyaya” narratives.
But the time has come for me to ask questions and to formulate a story on my own. That being the case, I should find it even more surprising, that the General seems to be having a problem with the fact that I feature, in my column, ideas that he has previously promoted. Democracy is a repetition of ideas. Pluralism flourishes in the free exchange of similar if not identical thoughts. Both the General and me agree that Justice Chibesakunda “kuya bebele”. Miyanda should not fault me for this!
Nevertheless, in order for us to create a better democracy we might need to recast the story of our democracy by reimagining the roles that champions played in this story. That re-imagination should begin by considering the forte and the flaws of some players in our democratic narrative. Challenging the story told by Brigadier General Godfrey Kenneth Miyanda is a legitimate practice in our democracy.