Zambia’s founding president, Kenneth Kaunda, died on Thursday, June 17, 2021. The ex-president passed away at Maina Soko Military Hospital in Lusaka, Zambia, at the age of 97. Zambia’s president Edward Lungu announced the passing of the liberation hero on Facebook.
“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 Edward Lungu also announced that the country would observe a 21-day mourning period in honor of the departed statesman. Kaunda’s son, Kamarange Kaunda, also confirmed the death of his father on Facebook. He said,
“I am sad to inform you we have lost Mzee,” Kaunda’s son wrote, using a Swahili term of respect for an elder. “Let’s pray for him.”
His death came three days after being hospitalized on Monday. Rumors went around that the ex-president had been infected by COVID-19. However, his aide, Rodrick Ngolo, denied the rumors and stated that Kaunda was being treated for pneumonia.
Kenneth Kaunda will be buried on July 7 at the country’s presidential burial site. While making the announcement on Monday, 21, Vice President, Inonge Wina, said that Kaunda “shall be put to rest… at a very private ceremony for family and selected invited mourners”.
Legacy of Kenneth Kaunda
The ex-president was born in Zambia in 1924, a time when the Southern Africa country was a British colony. His parents are from neighboring Malawi. They moved to Zambia when the father started working in Chinsali as a missionary. Kaunda completed secondary school education in the early 1940s. Thereafter, he started teaching, first in colonial Zambia and then in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) in the mid-1940s.
The freedom fighter returned to Zambia in 1949. At that time, teaching was a top position for Africans while government or business positions were almost exclusive for the Whites. However, Kaunda was not satisfied with such limits. Consequently, he started becoming politically active. Because of his political moves, he was imprisoned several times.
However, he was relentless in his struggle for Zambia’s independence. In 1961, he led a civil disobedience campaign. In 1964, he won the United National Independence Party (UNIP) elections to clinch the prime minister’s position. On 24 October 1964, Kenneth Kaunda became president of an independent Zambia, thus ending British rule in the country.
Uniting Post Independent Zambia
At the time when the charismatic state founder took over power, Zambia had 75 ethnic groups. Nothing united these ethnic communities, which were in abject poverty, apart from the boundaries established by the colonizers. Tribalism was a major post-independence problem but Kaunda led negotiations on the issues and managed to save his country from tribal civil war.
The ex-president gained worldwide respect because of his speeches and interviews that were enriched with philosophical reflections and biblical quotations. Kaunda was also involved in solving different crises in Southern Africa region. In particular, he sought dialogue several times with the apartheid government in South Africa in an attempt to resolve the situation in a peaceful manner. Also, he supported liberation movements in Namibia and Zimbabwe and played a key role in ending the Angolan Civil War.
During Kenneth Kaunda’s presidency, Zambia turned into a one-party state. In order to have absolute control, Kaunda banned political opposition. The police used draconian means to silence Kaunda’s opponents and most of them were imprisoned. Furthermore, corruption increased and state-owned enterprises became more inefficient, yet Kaunda took no blame. This resulted in a worsened economy and heightened tension among citizens.
As years went by, civil society groups and unions led demands for free elections in Zambia. After massive protests, Kaunda gave in to the demands and subsequently lost the 1991 elections. Many praise him for doing something that is rare in Africa. Upon losing the elections, he accepted the result and willingly left office.
The new government harassed Kaunda intensely. At one point, he was declared a foreigner because his parents were Malawians. However, he challenged the decision in court and was declared a Zambian citizen. Perhaps, this explains why eminent Zambians are pouring out tributes on social media.
On Father’s Day, I pay tribute to our founding father, Dr Kenneth Kaunda.
Your love for the country you helped liberate from colonial rule and your selflessness made many of us citizens to look up to you as a father figure. Yet that role came at the expense of your own family. pic.twitter.com/AUDeGxYhDg
— Edgar Chagwa Lungu (@EdgarCLungu) June 20, 2021
Goodbye to you President Kenneth Kaunda. I am and will always be a proud member of the "KK11" . Dignity & honor. May your dear soul rest in Eternal Peace, knowing the immense impact you made on all of us Zambians, Africans and World at large. Sincerest condolences to family. pic.twitter.com/Xaia5aLqTq
— Kalusha Bwalya (@KalushaPBwalya) June 17, 2021
A true African giant has fallen. No sentence about the history of the liberation struggle in Southern Africa will be complete without the name of Kenneth Kaunda. A trailblazing nationalist. Our KK. Tiende pamodzi ndim'tima umodzi. Stand and sing of Zambia proud and free! #RipKK pic.twitter.com/sTnfywQiMQ
— Prof Jonathan Moyo (@ProfJNMoyo) June 17, 2021
Today, most Zambians and the world remember Kenneth Kaunda mostly for the good things he did in his country and the Southern Africa region. He was instrumental in uniting Zambia after independence. He also played a significant role in the independence of several countries in the region. After leaving office, Kaunda was tireless in the fight against AIDS. For these reasons, many consider him a legend and a champion of African freedom.