Kenneth Kaunda who was Zambia’s first president and one of the last of the generation of African leaders who fought colonialism has died at aged 97.
In the 1950s, Kaunda was a key figure in what was then the Northern Rhodesia’s independence movement from Britain. In 1953 he became the general secretary of the Northern Rhodesian African National Congress but the organisation failed to mobilise black Africans against the white-ruled Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.
In 1959, Kenneth Kaunda was imprisoned with hard labour for distributing leaflets that the authorities deemed subversive. Disillusioned with what he saw as the failure of his party to take a stronger line on the rights of indigenous Africans, Kaunda set up his own party, the Zambian African National Congress.
Within a year it was banned and Kaunda was back in prison. His incarceration turned him into a radical.
By 1960 he had become the leader of the new United National Independence Party (UNIP) and, fired with enthusiasm following a visit to Martin Luther King in the US, he began his own programme of civil disobedience which involved blocking roads and burning buildings.
Kaunda stood as a UNIP candidate in the 1962 elections which saw an uneasy coalition with the African National Congress (ANC) take power in the legislature. He became president following independence in 1964.
“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.”
Zambian President Edgar Lungu said the country was mourning “a true African icon”.
“I learnt of your passing this afternoon with great sadness,” he wrote 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.”
Another tribute came from Kalusha Bwalya, former captain of the national football team, who said Kaunda had made “an immense impact”.
Kaunda, popularly known as KK, was a strong supporter of efforts to end apartheid in South Africa. He was also a leading supporter of liberation movements in Mozambique and what is now Zimbabwe. In later life, Kaunda turned his attention to the fight against HIV after one of his sons, Masuzyo, died from an Aids-related disease.
“We fought colonialism. We must now use the same zeal to fight Aids, which threatens to wipe out Africa,” he said in 2002.
As a committed pan-Africanist, he began the task of building a new Zambia, free to determine its own way in international affairs.
But poor economic management caused his popularity to plummet, and he was voted out of office when free elections were held in 1991.
Kenneth David Kaunda was born on 28 April 1924 at a mission station near the border between what was then Northern Rhodesia and the Congo.
Kenneth Kaunda was admitted into a military hospital in the country’s capital, Lusaka as a result of suffering from pneumonia. Reports say Kenneth Kaunda did not have Covid-19 or related diseases.