Black Affairs, Africa and Development

Zambia former president and liberation leader, Kenneth Kaunda, 97, dies

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Zambia’s first president, Kenneth Kaunda, has died at a military hospital in Lusaka, the capital, two days after he was admitted for an undisclosed illness, according to his office. He was 97.

Kaunda was one of southern Africa’s staunchest liberation leaders, taking the country’s highest position after Zambia won independence from Britain in 1964. He ruled for 27 years, until 1991.

As the head of nationalist United National Independence Party (UNIP), he eventually banned opposition parties, making Zambia a one-party state in 1972, easily winning the 1973 presidential election as the only candidate.

He conceded his post after losing the 1991 presidential election when he allowed opposition parties again, earning even more praise from Zambians.

Kaunda’s illness was not revealed, but Zambia has had a surge in Covid-19 cases.

Staunch anti-colonialist

As a staunch anti-colonialist, he allowed freedom fighters from neighbours Zimbabwe and South Africa to set up remote bases and training camps to combat white rule in their countries. Zambia was where the freedom fighters set up refugee centres as many fled apartheid and Rhodesian white rule.

Despite earlier despotic tendencies, he was well-regarded as a liberation leader and elder statesman, who mediated crises in Zimbabwe and Kenya.

Kaunda did not shy away from controversy either—he became a HIV-AIDS campaigner, after announcing publicly that one of his sons had died from the disease.

As a speaker at the funeral of fellow former president and freedom fighter Nelson Mandela, Kaunda continued his elegy after his allotted time, even when they tried to usher him away.

They were “trying to control an old man who fought the Boers,” he said, as many laughed, referring to his freedom fighting days.

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