The year I prayed for Robert Mugabe

This time last year I was running around excitedly telling all my friends that I had an African president in the family, something none of them could boast. My younger daughter Theo is married to Sasha Scott, son of Dr Guy Scott, who was president of Zambia from October 2014 to January 2015, and the only white African president since apartheid. When I first met him five years ago he was an opposition MP, but then in 2011 his party won the elections and the new president, Michael Sata, appointed him vice-president. Dr Scott’s job as veep seemed to involve constant travelling. President Sata was reluctant to leave the country, so he had to stand in for him at state funerals, of which there seemed to be an extraordinary number.

This led to a peculiar situation when Theo and Sasha finally decided to get married — they fixed a date when Dr Scott was pretty sure he could come, but the big fear right up to the day was that President Mugabe would die and Dr Scott would have to attend the funeral in Zimbabwe. So I found myself in the unusual position of praying for President Mugabe’s good health, at least until Theo was safely married. The wedding was much enhanced by the presence of the veep’s security squad with their bulging holsters — all the children preferred them to the entertainer with balloons.

And then on 28 October 2014 President Sata died. He was in hospital in London and had been ailing for some time, so it was not a surprise. I rang Sasha to say shall we crack open the champagne? But he said sternly that this was no time for celebration as the country had lost a great leader and his father had lost a great friend. Still, he was quite pleased that his father, as acting president, now had a presidential helicopter and two motorcades. Unfortunately, he was not eligible to stand as president because his parents were not born in Zambia: his job was to oversee the elections and produce a new president, which duly happened in January when Edgar Lungu was elected. So I had a president in the family for only 90 days, but it was good while it lasted.

This is an extract from Lynn Barber’s Christmas Notebook.




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