By Emmanuel Mwamba
He was always calm in the most difficult of circumstances and encounters
He didn’t display panic, or restlessness even in moments of deep crisis.
But he was a highly compassionate and empathetic person probably inspired as a devout Catholic.
I met him in 2002, when I joined a small team around the just-retired second president of Zambia, Dr Frederick Chiluba.
Justin Kangwa had been presidential physician for Dr Chiluba since 1994 and was based at State House.
Following the election and installation of President Levy Mwanawasa as new Head of State in 2002, Dr Kangwa reverted to his ordinary duties at the University Teaching Hospital (UTH), but remained a personal and family doctor of Dr Chiluba.
Having been a member of the close party of the President for so long, it was always fascinating for me to hear stories, tales and incidences around power, around the presidency, around decisions, and around state craft.
You literally could see intimate details of history through the eyes of a witness of one that is like a fly on the wall.
Dr Kangwa, many might also remember him from the family of tennis players from Kitwe, Patrick, Stephen and Fred Kangwa who played for the Zambia Tennis national team.
The brothers have based in Florida, USA since the 90s.
The rugby fraternity would remember him as that selfless team doctor for the Lusaka Rugby team.
But many will remember him as one that dropped everything else to help if you had a sick person at UTH far beyond the call of duty.
Dr Kangwa, a Gentle Giant.
In March 2006, Dr Chiluba fell critically ill. Although he had been unwell since 2004, he was being managed from home.
Our repeated requests for him to seek specialist medical treatment to the United Kingdom or South Africa were stubbornly refused by the Taskforce on Corruption, an entity set up to investigate alleged grand acts of corruption during his ten-year reign.
However, by 2006, we had the biggest crisis. Dr Chiluba had fallen ill. Tests and prognosis were not looking good. Dr Chiluba had a critical heart condition that could no longer be managed from home or local hospitals.
As his spokesperson, I had presented him to the country as a resolved, determined, strong and upbeat figure determined to fight off his corruption allegations.
But I would walk back to a fallen and unwell figure struggling with immense political and legal pressure.
Dr Chiluba was gravely ill. We had cut-down his appointment to alomost his occasional court appearances.
By now we couldn’t hold it any further.
Although Dr Kangwa was always discreet with details of his patients including Dr Chiluba, member of parliament for Chembe, Dalton Sokontwe and myself confronted Dr Kangwa to give us the glimpse or extent of the crisis that was visibly before us.
Dr Kangwa confirmed our fears, Dr Chiluba was gravely ill.
Sokontwe was an avid and ardent follower of President Chiluba. At this stage, many had distanced themselves from Dr Chiluba for fear of losing their jobs, or contract or future opportunities.
It didn’t take long. Sokontwe had also lost his job as Deputy Minister when he refused to heed to several warnings from President Mwanawasa to stop “visiting Chiluba and taking Luapula chiefs to his residence!’’ (details revealed in his dismissal letter).
That morning, we gathered some courage and told ourselves that we would see President Mwanawasa- ‘’Ba Kateka kuti batufwila, icalo teti chitwelele shi-Mwamba”, he said fearing for the worse.
But how were we going to do it?! Sokontwe said we would share our concerns with Minister of Defence, Dr Kalombo Mwansa, who he said was rational and his maturity would see the crisis for what it was and lay in the trust of President Mwanawasa.
We saw Dr Mwansa by 11hrs at his office at Cabinet Office- Ministry of Defence.
True to his assessment, by 14hrs the same day, President Mwanawasa, the First Lady, Maureen Mwanawasa, his aides led by Darlington Mwape and Martin Kalungu-Banda were at Chiluba’s residence in Kabulonga.
Chiluba was later evacuated for specialist treatment to South Africa.
He was accompanied by his spouse, Regina Chifunda-Chiluba, his physician, Dr Justin Kangwa and myself.
Strangely, a few days later, Mwanawasa was also evacuated to the United Kingdom, following what authorities termed a minor stroke.
We stayed in South Africa for four months before doctors could allow him to go back for scheduled and strictly-to-be-adhered to monthly reviews.
Zambia was going to the polls on September 28, 2006, and Dr Chiluba’s last medical review was a few weeks before then. Although Dr Chiluba had began speaking to Mwanawasa and the relationship had warmed up for the first time since 2002, what was coming was a stunner.
Dr Chiluba’s “underground” support and mobilisation for the opposition Patriotic Front since 2002, would come to the fore…
Dr Kangwa and I noticed…that every time we went to see Dr Chiluba, he was pensive, deep in thought, bible in hand, and reflecting.
A day before we travelled back to Zambia, he asked me to call for a press conference to meet me at the airport. He said had an election message for Zambia.
When we landed in Lusaka, we were received by the suspicious Ben Tetamashimba, Solwezi Central MP and now MMD activist and close ally of President Mwanawasa.
He asked me if I knew the details and content of the impending speech! I said I didn’t.
After all formalities were done, we settled in the VIP lounge at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport to address the media.
Dr Chiluba opened his speech with a catalogue of Mwanawasa’s policy failings, and acts of persecution against him and his followers.
He said he was exposing Mwanawasa’s hypocrisy as one that fought corruption but his senior government officials practiced or were involved in it highly.
He attacked Mwanawasa’s deemed nepotism and ended the speech with explosive words…”Support Michael Chilufya Sata and the Patriotic Front!”
Tetamshimba rushed out to make his calls…
On our way out, Dr Chiluba briefly stopped to address his supporters that had thronged his car..he told them, “Bane, natuyefye kwa Sata, twachula pafula’!
This became the banner headline in The Post the following day..
This single action, started the biggest fight that we waged with Dr Kangwa. Dr Chiluba had NOT been going to Court the whole year because he was declared unfit to attend court.
The following week, the prosecution applied to resume Chiluba’s corruption trial.
They proposed that if he could not attend court in person, they would install video conferencing facilities at his house so that he was tried by video call.
The election proceeded on 28th September 2006. Michael Sata didn’t win, but the PF emerged as the largest opposition rising from one member of parliament in 2001- (Lupososhi MP, Emmanuel Mpankanta Musonda) to 42 MPs.
Mwanawasa was sworn-in for his second term on 3rd October 2006.
Chiluba’s medical review was due shortly after that. His bail conditions were that we surrendered both his passport and that of his spouse upon his return from South Africa.
His lawyers applied to have the passports back, while I started the administrative process for our trip back to South Africa.
The prosecution quickly objected to this and applied that Chiluba and his current condition be reviewed not by his personal doctor, but by a medical specialist committee at the University Teaching Hospital (UTH)…The Post ran numerous commentary stories mocking Chiluba as one faking or feigning his illness to escape criminal trial.
At this stage, I requested that we release particular details of Chiluba’s illness.
Dr Kangwa vehemently refused stating that medical records were sacrosanct and was against medical ethics. But against doctors’ orders, I released some details to help with our quest to let him access his treatment.
Dr Chiluba was so sick that he was a candidate of a heart transplant. That he had refused a heart transplant for religious reasons…that he had also refused a heart pace-maker to aid his poor heart condition for similar reasons.
This helped us as the ensuing public outrage was pulpable.
The Court ordered a review by specialist committee at UTH.
The results confirmed our assertions and the assertions of doctors in South Africa.
He needed a heart pacemaker urgently, and his medical condition remained precarious and dire.
The UTH doctors also revealed a matter that we were not aware even of- a kidney problem.
It was during this difficult period that I relied upon the counsel of Dr. Kangwa and help.
He also made his own trips to see Ministry of Health Dr Simon Miti to persuade him and others to rise above the protracted political war between the two camps were engaged in but look at the health of Dr Chiluba as a former president, and a patient.
We won! Dr Chiluba’s medical review and specialist treatment resumed and went on for the next five years till his death in 2011.
The fateful day, when Dr Chiluba died, on 18th June 2011 a few minutes after midnight, I received a chilling call from Dr Kangwa …” Emmanuel ba President bafwa!”
But that’s the story for another day.
The author worked as and official Spokesperson
for Second President, Dr Frederick Chiluba currently serving as Zambia’s Ambassor in South Africa.