Zambia yesterday put to rest an illustrious son of the soil Benjamin Yoram Mwila.
He is a man who distinguished himself in business, politics and social life. Almost self effacing, BY wielded tremendous wealth and power but did not allow these to get in the way of his duty to the nation.
At the political level, he served with diligence in the position of minister of defence, a position he held for seven years, making him the longest-serving minister in that position. BY served at a time when Zambia’s relations with some neighbouring countries were at the cusps of aggressive interaction. Together with his colleague in foreign affairs Vernon Mwaanga, they not only pacified the situation but indeed prepared for the worst.
BY worked tirelessly to ensure that Zambia was adequately defended by ensuring that the morale, equipment and general preparedness of the nation and defence force were always at their maximum to enable Zambia shake off aggression or indeed, in strength, negotiate for peace.
So prepared were our defence forces that they became an integral element of the peace-keeping initiatives in Africa and beyond. Our officers always performed in an exemplary manner and as a result were and continue to be greatly sought after.
That BY was able to work with second Republican President Frederick Chiluba to avert what appeared to be an imminent fall out with one of our neighbours is a mark of greatness and wisdom.
At the political level BY will leave a mark of distinction. At the dawn of multi-party democracy, BY risked all to champion the cause of the Movement for Multi Party Democracy (MMD). He believed that diversity was the bedrock of democracy. As rightly indicated by veteran politician, Vernon Mwaanga, BY was courageous. He spoke his mind regardless of whether the truth was at loggerheads with the leadership.
BY was never afraid to speak his mind either in Parliament or during Cabinet meetings, Mwaanga told the large audience that graced the Cathedral of the Child Jesus to wish BY a fond farewell.
His children who delivered moving eulogies were unanimous in describing BY as a man who believed in forthright speaking and never sugar- coated situations in order to maintain friendship, and yet in spite of his frankness and seeming aloofness, BY’s house was never empty – a fact amply demonstrated by the wide range of people who attended the funeral.
That is why it was most unfortunate that the ugly hand of party thuggery marred what should have been a very happy and memorable send off for a democrat who cherished diversity.
Archbishop Telesphore Mpundu was forced to admonish the loud crowd that was determined to continue drumming and singing outside the church as the liturgy commenced.
There is need for political leaders to educate their followers about the values of unity in diversity; that opposition members are not necessary enemies but are citizens enjoying inalienable rights to freedom of conscience, association and indeed affiliation to any political party of their choice.
We must build a culture that is tolerant and founded on a unity of purpose.