Kenneth Kaunda (Photo by William Campbell/Sygma via Getty Images)
- Zambia has declared 21 days of mourning, with flags to fly at half-mast.
- Leaders in southern Africa has recalled how late former president Kenneth Kaunda supported their independence movements.
- The African Union celebrated Kaunda as one of its founding fathers.
The death of one of the last of a generation of liberation leaders, Kenneth Kaunda, was met with sadness and nostalgia, as many remembered his contributions to democracy across Africa.
Kaunda, Zambia’s first independence president affectionately known as KK, died on Thursday at the age of 97.
In a live televised announcement on Zambia’s public broadcaster, Cabinet secretary Simon Miti said Kaunda died peacefully at 14:30 at the Maini Soko Medical Centre in Lusaka.
The president’s office has declared 21 days of mourning, with “all activities of an entertainment nature” suspended and flags flying at half-mast.
Kaunda led Zambia from independence from Britain in 1964 until he was defeated in an election 1991.
Further details of his state funeral would be communicated, said Miti.
“Dear KK, I learnt of your passing this afternoon with great sadness,” Zambia’s president, Edgar Lungu, wrote on his Facebook page.
You have gone at a time we least expected but we are comforted that you are now with Our Father, God Almighty in heaven.
Lungu’s political rival, Hakainde Hichilema, was among the first to publicise Kaunda’s death, writing on his Facebook account: “Bashikulu KK will be sorely missed by all Zambians and the rest of the people on the African continent. Rest in peace gallant son of Africa.”
Echoing the official statement, Hichilema also announced his party, the United Party for National Development, would cease campaigning ahead of the 12 August general election while the country mourned.
News of Kaunda’s death reverberated across the region.
Botswana declared a seven-day mourning period with flags flying at half-mast.
Kaunda was the first head of state to visit newly independent Botswana in 1966, President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s office said in a statement.
“Scores of young Batswana professionals were trained in Zambia during the nascent stages of Botswana’s independence,” the Presidency said. “Zambia’s expatriate personnel were also among the first to help Botswana form its institutional framework from scratch.”
“Africa has lost a giant of a man,” said Namibia’s president, Hage Geingob. “However, Africans, and Namibians in particular, shall be eternally grateful for his stellar contribution to our freedom.”
In South Africa, the Nelson Mandela Foundation recalled Kaunda’s support for the ANC, with the party being headquartered in Lusaka while it was banned during apartheid.
The foundation said in a statement:
Zambia paid a heavy price for its support, with the country suffering systematic destabilisation by the apartheid state.
“Many of the earliest engagements between the ANC and structures of the South African state and civil society took place in Zambia.”
“Africa has lost one of its finest sons,” said African Union (AU) commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat. “He embodied the true sense of Pan-Africanism, placing his own country Zambia at grave risk in order to provide safe harbour for the liberation movements of southern Africa as well as its peoples.”
The AU also lauded Kaunda’s role in the Frontline States that opposed the apartheid regime, and his leadership as one of the founding members of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which would later become the AU.
Social media was flooded with public tributes, along with black and white images of a young Kaunda posing with fellow liberation leaders like Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and Mozambique’s Samora Machel.
He is also pictured with the founding members of the OAU, among them Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, as well as African-American civil rights leaders Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.
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