Chiluba, the single man.

Author:Bandi, Kalumbi
Position:Feature: Zambia - President Frederick Chiluba
 
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After the recent divorce from his wife of 33 years, President Frederick Chiluba steps down from the presidency at the end of the year as one of the most eligible bachelors in Zambia. But treating the divorce lightly in public, has earned him the wrath of many Zambian women.

When President Chiluba ended his 33-year-old marriage to Vera in late September, he personally announced it -- in song. But there was no sad refrain, not even a hint of sorrow, as the words fell from his lips at a political rally in Kirwe, the hub of Zambia's Copperbelt region.

Rather, the president seemed to thrive in his new civil status. Zambia had no first lady -- so what?, he seemed to say.

"I will combine the roles," Chiluba told his party members, speaking mainly in Bemba, Zambia's major language. "I will also be the first lady. I will be cooking and making tea."

"Bushimbe nabumpesha mano, mayo bushimbe (bachelorhood has confused me)," Chiluba sang out (twice), urging the crowd to record his "golden voice".

Until that day, the president had maintained a dignified silence on his domestic affairs, dodging questions on whether his wife had moved out of State House.

"That is not a question," he had shot back at a tabloid reporter last year.

It was the vibrant Vera Chiluba's absence from public life that had caused all the speculation. She had vigorously championed humanitarian causes through her charity, HOPE (Help Other People Emerge) Foundation, which provides food relief and initiates income generation activities for orphans and widows, among others.

Criss-crossing the country on her community work, Vera had even helped raise her husband's profile. But then she suddenly disappeared from public view. And the president did not clear the air.

"I don't know, I have just arrived and I haven't been home yet," Chiluba said when asked at Lusaka airport last December whether his wife had left home.

Then, a week before his singing debut, State House finally broke the news: Ndola's Chifubu local court had granted the divorce the previous day.

"The president and the family were anxious that the matter is treated with due decorum to enable them to settle and come to terms with the new circumstances," a spokesman said.

The president did not want his divorce to be subjected to undue political comment, public debate and controversy to save his family from further anguish and pain. However, his light-hearted response to the divorce has aroused public controversy.

"It is...

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