“…The wind of change is blowing through this continent. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact…”
The above was the most famous sentence included in the address that Prime Minister Harold MacMillan made to the Parliament of South Africa on 3 February 1960 that became known as the “Winds of Change” speech. Although the intention of these words is the focus of debate, the words carried great wisdom a few decades before real change took place in southern Africa .
Thirty years after, since the riots and attempted coup of July 1990 , Kenneth Kaunda and his United Independent Party suffered from a delayed “winds of change” and in September the President accepted the augmenting pressure from the opposition and opened the possibility of an election with more than one party. This constituted a breakthrough for Zambia’s history as it ended twenty years of one-party rule.
A pro-democracy opposition group was legalized to campaign for a vote on a multiparty system. The Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) was created and, by the size of the crowds it attracted to its rallies, it looked like the winner of the elections from the onset. The new party attracted many relevant Zambians and Frederick Chiluba was chosen as their presidential candidate.
While the intense campaign of Zambia’s first multi-party elections for parliament and the presidency since the 1960s went on, there was some uncertainty about the security situation in the country. Fears increased towards the end of the process and by elections day, all personnel of the United Nations were gathered at a large hotel in Lusaka for security reasons in case of an evacuation if violence erupted.
Those of us working in the field we quite sure that nothing would happen but we still needed to follow the rules, so we had a good time getting to know each other better and playing tennis.
The elections were held on Thursday 31 October 1991 and the new party won 76% of the vote and gained an almost complete control over the Government. When this happened, we were free to return to our normal jobs and during the weekend we visited our friends Desmond and Mary.
The first Sunday of the November they organized another of their great lunch gatherings where we met several people and at that time, as they had information on the new Zambian politics, we learnt that, literally as we ate, the new President was holding meetings to form his cabinet and that there were some good people among the candidates.
When we left in 1993, things were still looking up for Zambia politics. Eventually the Government started functioning and things continued with a feeling of a greater freedom than before. Later on, through its overwhelming parliament majority, Chiluba introduced constitutional changes that blocked former President Kaunda and other prominent opposition leaders from the 1996 presidential elections so, he won a second term until 2001.
Unfortunately, the initial optimism regarding promised reforms started to fade and, towards the end of Chiluba’s first mandate in 1996, new parties started to appear. Despite this and although Chiluba was not their candidate, Levy Mwanawasa of the MMD won the elections in 2001 and after several claims for irregularities by some of the opposition parties were dismissed the party maintained a small majority in congress.
Democratic elections continue to be held in Zambia and the country has developed a great deal since the time we were there as we could see during our trip to lake Bangweulu some years back. During the most recent elections held in 2021, Hakainde Hichilema of the the United Party for National Development became the new president of the country.
 Reading for those interested in history:
Credit: Sussex Research Online: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/19120/ Dubow, Saul (2011) Macmillan, Verwoerd, and the 1960 `wind of change’ speech. Historical Journal, 54 (4). pp. 1087-1114. ISSN 0018-246X