Former Zambian politician and first president of Zambia, Kenneth David Kaunda, died on June 17, 2021, at the age of 97. The late nationalist was in the forefront of the struggle for his country’s independence from British rule. The death of the liberation hero and prolific writer has marked the end of an era of pioneer nationalists, who led the struggle for independence in Africa. In his death, Africa has lost a great patriot, leader and intellectual.
Kaunda led Zambia to independence from British rule in 1964 and remained president from then till 1991. The late president represented different things to different people. While British authorities and the white minority regime in the then Northern Rhodesia (later, Zambia) saw Kaunda as a trouble maker and a thorn in the flesh, who must be silenced by imprisonment, Zambians hailed him as a great teacher and mobiliser.
Kaunda was regarded as a dependable ally and great mentor by many freedom fighters in Africa. Generally, Kaunda was a hero and a statesman, who played a stabilising role in many parts of Africa. His brand of activism was spiced with nationalism and intellectual engagement which led to his writing many books. His publications include; Zambia Shall Be Free; The Humanist Outlook; Humanism in Zambia; The Riddle of Violence; and Zambia Independence and Beyond: The Speeches of Kenneth Kaunda.
Following his demise, world leaders have lauded the achievements of the departed elder statesman. There is no doubt that Kaunda was a Pan-Africanist and humanist, who at grave risk to his country, provided base for the liberation movements of Southern Africa and its peoples. He was one of the greatest African leaders and he played a significant role in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Kaunda stood out as one of the most humane and idealistic African leaders in the post-independence age. He was of great presence and charm, gifted with the power of oratory and mobilisation. His outstanding role as a leader of the Frontline States in the long confrontation between independent black Africa and the white-minority regime in the southern part of Africa, which culminated in the election of Nelson Mandela as president of South Africa in 1994, remained indelible.
Kaunda was born on 28 April 1924 at Lubwa Mission in Chinsali, then part of Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, and was the youngest of eight children. Both Kaunda’s father and mother were teachers. His father was born in Nyasaland, also known as Malawi and his mother was the first African woman to teach in colonial Zambia. He later, followed in his parents’ footsteps and worked as a teacher from 1943 to 1949.
Due to his commitment to political activism, Kaunda resigned his teaching job in 1951 and became the Organising Secretary of Northern Province’s Northern Rhodesian African National Congress. On November 11, 1953, he moved to Lusaka and became the Secretary General of the Africa National Congress (ANC). In 1955, Kaunda was imprisoned for two months with hard labour for distributing subversive literature. Rather than being cowed by the prison experience, Kaunda became more daring in engaging the colonial masters.
He later broke up with the ANC and formed the Zambian African National Congress (ZANC) in October 1958. ZANC was banned in March 1959. In June, Kaunda was sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment. He later joined the United National Independence Party (UNIP), the successor to ZANC. In January 1964, UNIP won the next major elections. On October 24, 1964 he became the first President of an independent Zambia. He held on to the position till 1991 when he lost to Frederick Chiluba, the leader of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy.
Kaunda received many honours and awards, including, Grand Cross of the Order of Prince Henry (Portugal) in 1975; Supreme Companion of O.R. Tambo (South Africa) in 2002; and Commander of the Most Courteous Order of Lesotho (2007). He also was given an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from Fordham University in 1963 and the 2007 Ubuntu Award.
Despite his shortcomings, Kaunda was one of the respected politicians in Africa. In his works in and out of office, Kaunda had demonstrated his love for his country and others on the continent. We commiserate with his family, the government and people of Zambia and the political class on the passage of the great African patriot. May God grant him eternal rest.