LUSAKA – Zambia’s Guy Scott became Africa’s first white head of State in 20 years yesterday after the president, Michael “King Cobra” Sata, died in a London hospital aged 77.
Scott, a Cambridge-educated economist born to Scottish parents, had been Sata’s vice-president.
He will be interim leader until an election in three months, making him the first white African leader since South Africa’s FW de Klerk lost to Nelson Mandela in the 1994 election that ended apartheid.
Scott (70) is ineligible to run for the presidency in the election because of citizenship restrictions, leaving Defence minister Edgar Lungu and Finance minister Alexander Chikwanda the most likely contenders for the ruling Patriotic Front party’s ticket, analysts say.
“Elections for the office of president will take place within 90 days. In the interim, I am acting president,” Scott said in a brief televised address.
“The period of national mourning will start today. We will miss our beloved president and comrade.”
Many Zambians welcomed Scott’s interim appointment.
Scott is a lively character who has caused diplomatic controversy in the past, describing South Africans as “backward” in an interview with Britain’s Guardian newspaper last year.
“He is a black man in a white man’s skin,” said Nathan Phiri, a bus driver.
“The very fact we accepted him as vice-president shows that we consider him as one of us.”
Sata, who was nicknamed “King Cobra” because of his sharp tongue, died on Tuesday, the government said earlier.
He had been president of Zambia, Africa’s second-largest copper producer, since 2011.
The cause of death was not immediately disclosed, but Sata had been ill for some time.
“As you are aware, the president was receiving medical attention in London,” Cabinet secretary Roland Msiska announced on State television.
“The head of State passed away on Tuesday, President Sata’s demise is deeply regretted.”
Sata, whose populist platform included defending workers’ rights, was often fiercely critical of the foreign mining companies operating in Zambia’s copper belt. Analysts said his death could prompt a rise in investment in the country.
“President Sata has been a divisive figure for Zambia on the economic front, espousing increasingly authoritarian and ad hoc policy measures against the crucial mining sector in recent years, which has hampered investment,” South African consultancy ETM said.
“The president’s passing could make way for a more reformist administration and help to remove broader policy uncertainties.”
Sata, whose varied CV included stints as a policeman, car assembly worker, trade unionist and platform sweeper at London’s Victoria station, had left Zambia on October 19 for medical treatment, accompanied by his wife and family members.