Presenter: Dr Sishuwa Sishuwa

Sishuwa Sishuwa is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Institute for Democracy, Citizenship, and Public Policy in Africa at the University of Cape Town. He works on identity politics, populism, history, civil society, political parties, and elections in Zambia. His most recent publication, “‘A White Man Will Never Be a Zambian’: Racialised Nationalism, the Rule of Law, and Competing Visions of Independent Zambia in the Case of Justice James Skinner, 1964-1969”, appears in the Journal of Southern African Studies.


There is a well-developed literature on the rise to political prominence of Michael Sata and his opposition Patriotic Front party in the early 2000s, particularly in Zambia’s urban centres of Lusaka and the Copperbelt provinces. Existing academic interpretations of this dramatic rise in popularity have looked at socio-economic grievances but focussed too narrowly on the promise of lower taxes, increased wages, more jobs and effective management of urban street vending. Drawing on fieldwork notes, newspaper and oral sources, this research argues that Sata’s embrace of housing concerns and his utilisation of historical memory as a tool of political mobilisation forms an important strand in any explanation of his growing popularity in Zambia’s urban areas and eventual electoral success in 2011. It suggests that instead of treating Sata’s urban support base as one that had homogeneous interests, as the existing literature has tended to do, we must locate what motivated this support by looking at the multiple strands of the campaign. Key in this regard was housing. Sata was able to use housing as such an effective campaign message because of his deployment of historical memory – the missing ingredient in the existing studies. More broadly, this research demonstrates that the politics of memory play a crucial role in how individual political actors in Africa, especially those having ostensibly very similar backgrounds and policies, distinguish themselves from their competitors in the era of multiparty democracy. It emphasises the importance of historical memory in understanding leadership, campaigning and political change.