When the twenty year-old journalist, naturally hostile to colonialism from his youth in Cyprus in the
1940s, joined his brother-in-law's business in Northern Rhodesia in 1951, his outlook on
life, race and politics was quite unlike that of his white colleagues. In this memoir
Mr Sardanis is critical of Britain's colonial role in Northern Rhodesia - especially
regarding the colour bar and the imposition of Federation - and of some Colonial
Service officers, but he did make friends with a few. Any Overseas Service pensioner
interested in the transition to Zambian independence and the early years following it
should not be deterred by a potentially conflicting attitude from reading Africa: Another
Side of the Coin.
The title, presumably the choice of a publisher aiming at a wider readership, is
misleading. Mr Sardanis does conclude with an optimistic assessment on the state of
democracy and the human potential in Zambia and elsewhere in Africa (Cote d'Ivoire is
his principal other example) but the book is essentially about Zambia and the author's
personal experiences in pre-independence nationalist politics and post-independence
implementation of government policy. He had a greater role in both than any other
European and he records it with a fascinating objectivity and insight into the characters
involved, especially Kenneth Kaunda (KK).
The author's early years in Northern Rhodesia were spent largely in Balovale in the
remote northwest and he expresses an almost mystical love of the bush. His transport
and trading business flourished, evolving into the Mwaiseni stores chain. He made many
African friends but only got involved in politics after the formation of UNIP and the
emergence of KK, on his release from prison in 1960, as clearly the most charismatic
African leader. They became close and KK would stay with the Sardanises in Chingola
"quite often". He joined UNIP's finance committee and was persuaded to stand for one
of the hopeless "National" seats in the 1962 elections.
More important for Zambia was Mr Sardanis' role in government, as head of the
Industrial Development Corporation and later as the Permanent Secretary for State
Participation as well as Chairman of Indeco and the mining companies. In effect, he ran
the economy of Zambia, responsible only to President Kaunda. Leading to these roles, he
was responsible for implementing the state takeover of the principal industrial and
trading companies and, finally, the mainstay of the economy - mining.
The nationalization deals were done efficiently and quickly and created trust with the
owners, who mostly remained as minority shareholders and managers. But he had many
critics in and out of government. Some resented his power or his management
techniques, while some felt he was being too generous to the business owners, especially
the mining companies.
But it is hard to envisage another regime that could have implemented the political
decision to nationalize with as little bitterness and in as short a time. The decision on the
mining companies was announced in August 1969 and was effective from January 1970.
The purchase price was in the form of "Zimco Bonds" to be redeemed out of dividends
to the state's shares - in effect at no cost to the state unless profits dropped dramatically.
The previous controlling companies, but not the private shareholders, benefited from
management and sales contracts.
Things began to fall apart after Mr Sardanis' departure from government a year later.
In 1973, given corrupt advice, KK decided to redeem the Zimco Bonds at par - the
discount on the market had been more than 50 percent - and cancel the management and sales
contracts (which were not linked to the Zimco Bonds). Mr Sardanis names those,
including four senior Zambians, believed to have benefited from this scam, estimated to
have cost the state more than US 100 million dollars. No one was prosecuted.
In a subsequent career, Mr Sardanis developed a substantial international enterprise,
the ITM and Meridian Bank group with turnover up to $1 billion, which collapsed in the
mid nineties. That, he promises, is another book. In Africa: Another Side of the Coin he
has written an articulate personal memoir in which the private person with a tough
underlay comes through. He now lives at his game-reserve "village" of Chaminuka,
north of Lusaka, still a dedicated Zambian.