Zambian vice-president: 'South Africans are backward'

Published: May 1, 2013

One of the most colourful men in African politics happens to be white. Guy Scott is the vice-president of Zambia but his race is probably the least exceptional thing about him.

On a recent afternoon in the capital, Lusaka, Scott held court with the kind of candour – and eccentricity – seldom heard from today’s media-honed political class. He dismissed South Africans as "backward", insisted that Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe wants to quit, and discussed Zambia by way of references to Marlon Brando and the Klingon empire.

The 68-year-old grandfather was just back from Margaret Thatcher’s funeral in London when he took the Guardian on an impromptu tour of an emerald auction at the InterContinental Lusaka hotel. Discussing similar auctions in India with a deferential salesman, Scott said: "Jaipur is a terrible dump. It produces nothing but zinc."

As officials fluttered around him, Scott, wearing a dark suit, blue striped shirt and blue and red tie, was informed that the Hollywood actor Mila Kunis recently visited a local mine as an "ambassador" for Zambian emeralds. "How come I didn’t see her?" he pondered morosely.

The son of English and Scottish immigrants – his father Alexander was also an MP here – Scott then gave an interview that wasted little time on diplomatic language. Discussing neighbouring Zimbabwe, where Mugabe has ruled for 33 years, he disclosed: "I think if you asked him he’d say it was enough. That’s what he said to us a few months ago. I said the way forward in African democracy is the way we do it in Zambia. He said, ‘I absolutely agree, I wish it would happen to me.’"

As in lose an election? "Yes, and a smooth handover. I think he meant it, or he was toying with the idea of meaning it. He wanted to hear how it sounded, maybe. Or something."

Scott went on to describe 89-year-old Mugabe’s persona. "He’s a funny chap. He seems to doze off and then he suddenly laughs at a joke while in the middle of dozing. And very articulate, without a note, without a scrap of anything.

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