Sad to learn of the passing of former Zambia Army Commander, Gen Nobby Simbeye.
He will be rembered as the General that saved the nation from the possible tyranny of military rule, and one that sacrificed his family for the sake of the nation.
On the fateful night of the coup attempt on 28th October 1997, soldiers stormed the compound of the Zambia Army Commander, but Gen. Simbeye promptly escaped leaving his wife Mrs.Kinah Simbeye and children.
Gen Simbeye sneaked out of the house when the renegade soldiers stormed the compound.
The coup plot, led by a Captain Steven Lungu (alias Capt. Solo) and Capt. Jack Chiti, was to raid and capture Lt. Gen. Simbeye from his home and hoped to take him to ZNBC studios and force him to broadcast a message to the nation that the Zambia Army had taken over the country.
But it was not to be as Gen. Simbeye escaped and scaled the security perimeter wall.
The mutineers searched for him in the house but couldn’t find him. They held his family and guard soldiers hostage and settled on a private bar full of beer, on which the mutineers got drunk and lost valuable time.
This was four days after Zambia celebrated 33 years of independence.
The country woke up on the morning of 28 October 1997 to hear what many later described as drunken-sounding voice announcing the overthrow of the Frederick Chiluba Government.
A soldier, Identifying himself as “Captain Solo”, claimed to speak on behalf of a “National Redemption Council” whose intention was “saving our nation from total collapse”.
Captain Solo said he was running the “Operation Born Again”!
Earlier, the soldiers broke into an arms depot in Mukango Barracks, assaulted army officers and then proceeded to the Mass Media Complex.
This group of soldiers led by Lungu went to Mukango barracks and ordered some members of 1st Infantry Brigade to drive armoured BRDM vehcles to Mass Media where they would receive further orders.
They drove the armoured miliatry vehicles to capture ZNBC studios while another band of soldiers proceeded to attack the residence of the Zambia Army commander.
That second group was led by Captain Jackson Chiti, failed to find the commander and instead took hostage of his family members and other officers.
In his radio broadcasts that began shortly after 06;00hrs, Captain Steven Lungu declared the constitution suspended, political activity banned, and all airports closed.
He demanded that President Frederick
Chiluba surrender by 09;00hrs and claimed that he had troops surrounding State House.
During his rambling three-hour broadcast Capt. Solo jotted down a list of those he wanted to serve in his administration.
It’s Lt. Gen Simbeye’s escape that saved the day. He raised the early alarm, rousing a commando unit of troops from Lusaka West that drove into City and quelled the coup attempt.
By 8;00hrs in the morning there was silence on the airwaves. Some of the mutinous soldiers at the radio station stripped off their army fatigues and ran away.
Others barricaded themselves in the radio station’s offices. A few tried to resist a commando unit but were quickly overwhelmed.
Captain Solo and 15 other soldiers were immediately arrested, and at least one of the rebel soldiers was fatally shot in the fighting as the troops loyal to the Government of President Chiluba regained control of the mass media complex.
By 8:36 am, Lieutenant Colonel Siame announced to the nation over the radio that the Government was in control and that a set of indiscipline soldiers were captured and that all culprits involved would be arrested.
A tv crew later filmed and broadcast the image of Captain Steven Lungu lying on the ground as soldiers stamped on his chest.
It had taken about three hours to suppress the coup attempt.
The Zambian security forces began a sweep of those who had fled, nabbing four soldiers who had fled in Gen. Nobby Simbeye’s official car.
Two others were soon discovered near the radio station after school children spotted them in their hiding place.
On the same day as the coup attempt, President Chiluba made two national addresses on television and radio to reassure the nation that he was firmly in control, that his government’s legal, political and economic programs would continue as usual, and that Zambians should go about their business as normal.
He made a special appeal to investors, saying the country was stable and long-term investment was safe.
After holding a special Cabinet Meeting on 29th October, 1997, in which the Cabinet discussed how best to handle the investigation of the coup attempt, President Chiluba declared a state of emergency.
This saw the arrest of a total of 54 soldiers. Later political leaders including former President Kenneth Kaunda, ZADECO leader Dean Mungomba and others were detained and implicated in the coup.
On 2nd December, 1997 President Chiluba dropped Vice President Godfrey Miyanda in a major cabinet reshuffle in which he also demoted strongman, Defence Minister Ben Mwila and redeployed Army Commander Gen. Nobby Simbeye into the foreign service.
Chiluba also announced the retirement of Zambia Air Force commander Gen. Ronnie Shikapwasha.
Chiluba, who announced these changes at a State House press conference, said the measures were not necessarily connected to the failed coup of 28th October.
We remember Gen Simbeye as one that saved the nation.