LUSAKA, 17 June 2021 – Zambia’s founding president and one of the last in the generation of Africa’s independence leaders, Kenneth Kaunda, has died.
He was 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, calling for prayers for the repose of his soul.
KK, as Kenneth Kaunda was fondly called, died at a military hospital in the Zambian capital, Lusaka.
He had been admitted to the hospital last Monday and was undergoing treatment for pneumonia, according to aides, Zambian authorities, and family members.
One of his aides who spoke to reporters on Tuesday ruled out speculation that the elderly statesman was suffering from complications from COVID-19.
Kenneth Kaunda does not have COVID, the aide told reporters at the time.
Zambian President Edgar Lungu said the southern African country was mourning “a true African icon”.
The head of the African Union (AU) commission Moussi Faki Mahmat praised Kenneth Kaunda for helping found the Organization of African Unity – the predecessor to the AU.
The end signs were in the air, notably after Lungu on Tuesday followed by his South African counterpart, Cyril Ramaphosa, tweeted messages asking people to pray for Kenneth Kaunda.
The elderly statesman himself also sent out a message asking for prayers.
“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,” Lungu wrote on Facebook on Thursday afternoon soon after learning of KK’s passing into glory.
Legendary Zambian footballer and former captain of the national team, Kalusha Bwalya, said Kaunda had made “an immense impact” in the country and across Africa.
The late Zambian leader was a key player in the movement for independence from Britain for the then Northern Rhodesia.
KK also openly and fervently supported liberation movements in Zimbabwe, the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, and independence for frontline countries such as Mozambique as well as for far-away West African nations like Guinea-Bissau.
He was sworn in as Zambia’s first president after the country gained independence from Britain on 24 October 1964.
Kenneth Kaunda went on to rule the copper-producing nation for 27 years.
In one of the first truly democratic and multi-party presidential elections on African soil, he lost, conceded defeat, and left power peacefully in 1991.
Critics blamed him for turning the country into a one-party dictatorship under his then ruling United National Independence Party.
KK turned his attention to humanitarian causes, including joining 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 told Reuters in 2002.