|Carrying on through adversity|
Families living in poverty face enormous challenges, but privileged families also have their own obstacles to overcome.
On the surface, the rich and powerful often appear to have little to worry about financially. They seem to have carefree lifestyles which are sustained effortless.
Children of politicians, doctors, lawyers, engineers and successful business families, are often expected to emulate their parents. This idealistic expectation puts them under so much pressure to achieve.
The pressures faced primarily revolve around academic, professional and social accomplishments.
For children whose parents are in leadership positions these pressures are magnified.
Stoic and fresh-faced, wearing blue jeans on a lovely sunny Friday afternoon Miriam is the image of a thoroughly unpretentious person. She appears totally composed however, her demeanour shows the smallest signs of uncertainty.
The firstborn child to the third president of Zambia, the late Levy Patrick Mwanawasa, Miriam has an uncannily resemblance to her late father.
In this journey called life, we all love smooth waters, but life is not all smooth sailing, sooner or later the waters raise a storm. Therefore, the question is not, ‘when will storms rise? But rather, how will you handle the storm?’
Despite her father’s prominence Miriam’s young life is not unlike the life of many young people. She has struggled to find a place where she feels she belongs. Her life shows the reality that challenges transcend demographics, family income and social status.
She reflects on her ups and downs as well as her relationship with her famous father.
Miriam and her siblings are the only first children to lose their father during his term in office as president. His death brought an outpouring of emotion from the Zambian people.
Looking back Miriam says she had a very close relationship with her father. He was a young law graduate, employed and unmarried when she was born on September 30, 1975.
Her aunt, the first-born on her father’s side, raised her from the age of 2 until she was 4, that is when Miriam went to stay with her father until completing her higher education.
‘He was quite strict but in that strictness there was meaning to it. I really wish I had listened to him the time he was still alive. There are certain things he advised me to do that I never followed. I thought he was just being mean to me but actually he meant well. And I miss him for that.’
She recalls facing many challenges at school and after graduating from Kabulonga Girls, Miriam went against the wishes of her father who wanted her to pursue further education in India. Instead, she chose to venture into business following the examples of her late grandfather and aunt, both of whom were successful business people and had left a profound impression on her young mind.
Her business of choice was general supplying and this has been her main occupation since 2001. She would supply various government ministries with produce and she also tried her hand at farming, rearing chickens and growing vegetables - mostly beans, for sale.
Despite Miriam’s lack of business experience, she threw herself into aggressively acquiring contracts. All went well with her business, but the economic downturn led to financial struggle – her business gradually imploded.
Some people thinks that you all of a sudden start making or having lots of money just because your father is president but that’s not so, Miriam says. She never took it for granted that her father’s professional achievements and politically privileged position extended to her.
Miriam’s courage to go out on her own in capitalistic fashion speaks to her belief that being an entrepreneur is not only in her DNA but that the journey to success is truly unique to each individual.
When Miriam reflects on the late Mwanawasa’s term in office, she is happy and proud of the legacy he has left as president. Among his most notable contributions and development for the Zambian people is his agriculture policy ‘that has led people to know the importance of land and farming’.
Now when she looks at her father’s lifestyle, she is in awe of how truly authentic he was and how lucky she was for his wisdom. Miriam says her father always valued agriculture that is why he had invested in farms prior to his presidency where he successfully cultivated commercial crops, including bananas. She recalls a childhood spent at her grandmother’s Teka farm where he took her during school holidays when she wasn’t visiting her mum. She dreams of having the opportunity to fulfill her father’s vision and make Teka farm a successful commercial venture.
She is thankful for her father’s support particularly during her most difficult times. Her father was there to help when her first child, a daughter, was diagnosed with mental retardation. He gave Miriam an allowance and employed a maid to assist with his grandchild’s care. In addition, he built Miriam a house in PHI for which she has yet to access due to family dynamics. Miriam recalls how concerned her father was for his granddaughter and he always wanted to give her the financial stability to secure her future, which is why he built her the house.
During his tenure as president her relationship with her father suffered tremendously and her memories of this time are bleak. Her personal circumstances changed in many respect and she tried to keep up appearances as she was in the public eye.
A lot of times when she tried to interact with her father she was hindered by those around him. At some point she didn’t tell him much about her business or worries because she didn’t want to add to his stress.
‘Normally whenever I told him things he would get sick and I didn’t want to make him sick because he already had enough problems to worry about the nation and I could see his health was deteriorating. So, because of that love I had for him I decided not to stress him.’
Her father’s sudden death was unimaginably traumatic for Miriam. She recalls that it was particularly stressful because of all of the speculation and emerging details of his illness and death.
May be not so surprising, Miriam is of the view that her father’s public service came with a huge cost to his personal welfare. Not lost on her is the fact her father died while serving the country.
After the death of the patriarch, families do not always communicate easily and the process of inheritances stirs up deep emotions. This has definitely been the case with Miriam. She has been facing something of an impasse over her father’s estate and benefits, having failed to talk through the outstanding issues and find common ground with other beneficiaries.
Miriam has left things as they are in order to maintain family unity. Her decision was also influenced by Bishop T.B. Joshua who advised her to let things be. Whether the status quo will hold in the future remains to be seen.
‘We’ve left it to God… We are not depending on that anymore. We’re trying to empower ourselves, work hard and see where the future will take us… ‘I’m very prayerful.’
Miriam says she finds joy and solace in God and has placed her faith above everything else.
Hearing Miriam speak you understand that her decision was not made out of resentment, anger, jealousy or desperation, but out of love for herself and what inspires her. The path she has chosen is due to her desire to experience a life of joy and meaning. Furthermore, at a conscious level she is aware that a public spectacle is a far cry from the low-key, conservative image long cultivated by her father.
‘I also believe that these challenges I have passed through are to strengthen me and I know that I’m not the only one who is going through this, there are other people out there. And I’m urging them to be strong because they are not alone. If I, a former president’s daughter can actually go through so much pain what more them? I’m wishing them well and I believe that God will come through for us as women.’
Miriam moved to Luanshya to simplify her life following her father‘s death. She commutes to the capital to visit family and conduct business. She is confident that she will be able to rise above any problems. Every successful person has faced challenges. You have to learn from them and move on. If you’re looking behind, you’re not looking forward.
Her future plans involve sticking with her supplying business as well as starting another venture after concluding a course in construction.