Zambia’s founding President Kenneth Kaunda, who led his country for 27 years and championed Africa’s struggles against apartheid and human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS), is dead.
“KK”, as he was popularly known, was being treated for pneumonia at the Maina Soko Medical Centre, a military hospital in Lusaka. He died yesterday at 97.
“On behalf of the entire nation and on my own behalf, I pray that the entire Kaunda family is comforted as we mourn our first president and true African icon,” President Edgar Lungu said in a message on his Facebook page.
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Authorities declared 21 days of mourning for the liberation hero, who ruled from 1964, after the southern African nation won its independence from Britain.
Although Zambia’s copper-based economy fared badly under his long stewardship, Kaunda will be remembered more for his role as an anti-colonial fighter, who stood up to white minority-ruled South Africa.
He shared a loss experienced by countless families in Africa when his son Masuzyo died of AIDS in 1986, and he began a personal crusade against the disease.
“This is the biggest challenge for Africa. We must fight AIDS and we must do so now,” he told Reuters in 2002, adding “we fought colonialism. We must now use the same zeal to fight AIDS, which threatens to wipe out Africa.”
As leader of the first country in the region to break with its European colonial masters, Kaunda worked hard to drag other former colonies along in Zambia’s wake towards majority rule.
In 1991, he was forced to hold the first multi-party elections for 23 years, which he lost to long-time foe, trade unionist Frederick Chiluba.
Though he was widely admired as a warm and emotional man, the voters judged he had overstayed his welcome in office and mismanaged the economy.
Kenneth David Kaunda was born on April 28, 1924, the youngest of eight children of a Church of Scotland minister at Lubwa mission in the remote north of the country.
Known also by his African name of “Buchizya” – the unexpected one – he did menial jobs to earn school fees after his father’s death. He worked as a teacher and a mine welfare officer and entered politics in 1949 as a founder member of the Northern Rhodesian African National Congress.
President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday described the Zambia’s founding father and independence nationalist as “one of the greatest African and world leaders of all time who, loved his country and people profoundly.”
The President’s message was conveyed in a statement issued by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu.
The President responded to Kaunda’s death by saying, “I have received his demise with tremendous shock because I know his contributions to the growth of not just Zambia, but also Africa at large.”
“We must not forget how Kaunda provided refuge to anti-apartheid liberation fighters from South Africa and erstwhile Rhodesia.
“The late Kaunda was one of the most outspoken advocates for Africa’s emancipation from colonialism and imperialism, and he did so with passion and sincerity.
It is impossible to consider Kaunda’s legacy without remembering his selflessness and dedication to service.”