By Patrick McGroarty and Nicholas Bariyo
Zambia’s cabinet on Wednesday named Vice President Guy Scott, left, the first white head of state in Africa since the end of apartheid, following the death of President Michael Sata. Mr. Scott will serve on an interim basis while he organizes elections. Associated Press
Zambia’s cabinet on Wednesday named the first white head of state in Africa since the end of apartheid, following the death of President Michael Sata late Tuesday.
Mr. Sata died at a London hospital where he had been receiving medical treatment, Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda said on Wednesday.
After an hourslong meeting in the capital, Lusaka, cabinet ministers said they had agreed that Vice President Guy Scott would succeed Mr. Sata, who was 77 years old, on an interim basis.
But politicians and business leaders still face the task of determining who ultimately will take control of the copper-rich country, which has struggled to keep its promising economy on track.
Secretary to the Cabinet Roland Msiska waited more than 10 hours after Mr. Sata’s death to confirm it in a televised address. Mr. Sata had been sick for months, but officials refused to say precisely what killed him.
Zambia’s constitution says Mr. Scott, a Cambridge University-trained economist whose parents were born in Britain, should assume the presidency for 90 days while he organizes elections. He is barred from running for a full five-year term because the constitution stipulates a candidate’s parents be born in Zambia.
Instead, Defense Minister Edgar Lungu, who Mr. Sata appointed acting president last week before departing for medical treatment in London, is seen as a front-runner to represent Mr. Sata’s Patriotic Front party in the coming elections.
He could face a challenge from Mr. Sata’s son, Lusaka Gov. Mulenga Sata, or Wynter Kabimba, a former secretary-general of the Patriotic Front. Mr. Sata fired Mr. Kabimba in August and replaced him with Mr. Lungu.
The Patriotic Front will also face a tough challenge from opposition candidates including Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development and possibly Rupiah Banda, whom Mr. Sata unseated in 2011.
Cornelius Mwetwa, a lawmaker for Mr. Hichilema’s party, said politicians wanted the transition and elections to be peaceful and fair.
“It’s a somber mood in the country, but typical of Zambians, everyone is calm,” Mr. Mwetwa said.
Mr. Sata, who is survived by his wife Christine Kaseba Sata and eight children, leaves behind a mixed legacy. He didn’t fit the mold of the modern African strongman. Born July 6, 1937, in northern Zambia, Mr. Sata was a police officer before becoming a trade unionist during colonial rule.
He worked as a railway-platform sweeper in London in the early 1960s before entering Zambian politics after the country gained independence from Britain in 1964.
He came to power after more than a decade as an opposition-party leader. In a reasonably fair election in 2011, his triumph ended the two-decade rule by the Movement for Multiparty Democracy party on a continent where peaceful transfers of power are rare.
But he ruled with an authoritative and, some say, dictatorial-style. He was nicknamed “King Cobra” for his venomous remarks about opponents and colleagues alike.
Mr. Sata dismissed questions about his failing health. He suffered a heart attack in 2008, said an official under then-president President Levy Mwanawas, who helped get him to South Africa for medical treatment.
During his three years in office, he disappeared frequently from public view, often on trips abroad. Opponents said he was seeking medical treatment from foreign doctors. Mr. Sata and his loyalists called such trips, including a July visit to Israel, “working holidays.”
Outside London’s King Edward VII Hospital on Wednesday, where Mr. Sata had reportedly been receiving treatment before he died, a receptionist declined to comment on whether the president had been a patient there. The private hospital is known for treating illustrious patients, including the Duchess of Cambridge, who gave birth to her first child here.
Whoever succeeds Mr. Sata will be tasked with reviving an economy that has struggled to retain the confidence of foreign investors even as economic growth has approached 7% annually in recent years.
Zambia’s kwacha currency is down about 10% against the U.S. dollar this year, and Mr. Sata’s government approached the International Monetary Fund in June for advice, and potentially financial support, to close yawning trade and budget deficits.
During his presidential campaign, Mr. Sata threatened to “bite” mining investors, especially the Chinese, with higher taxes and nationalization for what he regarded as exploitation of Zambian workers. In office, he abandoned talk of nationalization. But he did introduce a law requiring mining companies to present export certificates to curb tax evasion, drawing the ire of investors.
“He was instrumental in trying to review the tax regime in the mining sector in order for Zambia to begin to benefit from its mineral wealth,” said Isabel Mukelabai, executive director of the Center for Trade Policy and Development, a Lusaka-based organization lobbying the government to hold mining companies to account.
She said she fears Mr. Sata’s successor may move away from policies that aim to pull more revenue from Zambia’s copper-mining industry. “We don’t know if there will be continuity, if these policies will be pursued under a new president,” she said.
—Alexis Flynn in London contributed to this article.
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