Lusaka – Former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda and one of the last of the generation of African leaders who fought colonialism, has died aged 97.
“I am sad to inform we have lost Mzee,” Kaunda’s son, Kambarage, wrote on his late father’s Facebook page, using a term of respect. “Let’s pray for him.”
According to his aides, Kaunda who was admitted on Monday to Maina Soko Medical Centre, a military hospital in Lusaka, did not have Covid-19, but unfortunately succumbed to pneumonia.
“You have gone at a time we least expected but we are comforted that you are now with Our Father, God Almighty in heaven,” Zambian President Edgar Chagwa Lungu posted on twitter.
The former Zambian leader’s support for liberation movements in the region, including hosting Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) in exile, saw the country come under pressure from its bigger neighbours and hurt the copper-rich economy by cutting important export routes.
Kaunda became the first foreign head of state to be visited by South African liberation icon Nelson Mandela on his release from prison in 1990. However, the following year, he was ditched by Zambian voters, when he was pressured into scrapping decades of one-party rule and holding multi-party elections in the copper-rich but impoverished country.
Widely known as KK, his warm personality and trademark white handkerchief, often used to dab his eyes during an emotional speech, made him a colourful and well-known character in the struggle against apartheid.
He was ousted by labour leader Frederick Chiluba and his Movement for Multiparty Democracy.
On Christmas Day, 1997, Kaunda was arrested in connection with an alleged coup plot against Chiluba. He was imprisoned and then held under house arrest until June 1998 when the charges were dropped.
In retirement, Kaunda emerged as a respected voice of experience on the continent, from mediating in conflicts to his frank approach to the AIDS epidemic after acknowledging that the disease had killed one of his own sons.
Kaunda was born the youngest of eight children of a Presbyterian minister on April 28, 1924 at Lubwa mission in the north of the then Northern Rhodesia.
He taught at Lubwa from 1943 to 1947 before moving to the Copperbelt mining area, where his political career developed as he sought to end the racial discrimination of the colonial regime.
In the 1950s, he organised boycotts of butchers discriminating against blacks and became a founding member of the Zambia African National Congress (ZANC).
He vowed not to eat meat until his country had majority rule, but even after independence in 1964 remained a vegetarian.
He later joined the United National Independence Party (UNIP), and led it to victory in elections at independence.
Kaunda had nine children with his wife Betty, who died in 2012.