African leaders gathered in Zambia yesterday for a state memorial service for Kenneth Kaunda, the nation’s founding President and champion of African nationalism.
The service was held at the National Heroes Stadium in the capital, Lusaka, where the leaders paid tributes to the late leader who was considered as one of the last generations of African leaders who fought colonial rule and became President after Zambia gained its independence in 1964 and backed nationalist movements that fought to bring majority rule to the southern African states of Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.
He worked with other Africa’s newly independent leaders such as Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, Senegal’s Leopold Senghor, Guinea’s Ahmed Sekou Toure, and Congo’s Patrice Lumumba on an agenda to transform the continent, ensure independence from the former colonial powers and ensure self-reliance.
The Presidents of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, and Zimbabwean Emmerson Mnangagwa flew into Lusaka, to honor Kaunda, 97, who died last month after suffering from pneumonia and would be buried on July 7.
Zambian President Edgar Lungu presided over the service where Kaunda’s casket, draped in Zambia’s flag, was brought in by a military guard who held a 21-gun salute and a flypast by air-force planes.
After his death, the government declared three weeks of national mourning with all forms of entertainment suspended. Zambia’s military flew his body to the country’s 10 provinces so that people from all areas of the country could pay their last respects.
President Lungu has also declared public holidays for the days of the memorial and the funeral which will be held in private next Wednesday.
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.
Speaking at the ceremony, African Union Chairman, Moussa Faki Mahamat said Kaunda was a “giant among men” and “the last of the founding fathers who delivered independence to more than just his own land”.
“Had it not been for the selfless efforts of his generation, I would not be before you today as the African Union would not exist, “We are forever indebted to Kenneth Kaunda and the people of Zambia” added Mr Mahamat.
Draped in his country’s flag, his coffin was brought to the Lusaka Show Grounds by the Zambian military. It was a memorial fit for the father of African nationalism.
White handkerchiefs waved
Ordinary Zambians came out to show their last respects. They waved their white handkerchiefs in mourning. It was an item he carried with him when he was incarcerated during the struggle for liberation.
In attendance were African leaders, past and present. They too spoke about Kaunda’s legacy and said they would remember him as a liberator who had a good heart and a leader who put Africa’s interest before his own.
Kaunda rose to prominence as a key figure in what was then Northern Rhodesia’s independence movement from Britain in the 1950s. He was nicknamed by some as “Africa’s Gandhi” for his non-violent approach to activism.
As head of the left-leaning United National Independence Party (UNIP), Kaunda then led the country through decades of one-party rule. His popularity at home waned as he became increasingly autocratic and he stepped down after losing multi-party elections in 1991.
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 told Reuters news agency in 2002.
The first President of Zambia, Kenneth David Kaunda was born on April 28, 1924, at the Lubwa Mission near Chinsali in Northern Rhodesia. His father was a minister and teacher who had left Nyasaland (now Malawi) in 1904 and his mother was the first African woman to teach in colonial Zambia.
After completing his education in the early 1940s, Kaunda began teaching at Lubwa in 1943 and was headmaster there as well from 1944 to 1947. He then moved to the copper mining area, where he founded a farmers’ cooperative, was a mine welfare officer (1948), and became a boarding master at Mufulira Upper School from 1948 to 1949.
The urbanized copper area was a natural setting for African nationalism. Resenting the racial discrimination that prevailed in central Africa, Kaunda helped to found the African National Congress (ANC), the first major anti-colonial organization in Northern Rhodesia. He was its secretary-general from 1953 to 1958 under ANC President Harry Nkumbula.
Early on, Kaunda became committed to the non-violent principles of India’s Mohandas Gandhi, a position strengthened by his visit to India in 1957. He parted ways with Nkumbula and became President of the Zambia African National Union from 1958 through 1959.
When civil disorder led to the banning of this party, Kaunda was jailed for a period of nine months. On his release, he became President of the new United National Independence Party in 1960. On October 30, 1962, he was elected to the Legislative Council. He formed a coalition government with Nkumbula’s ANC and served as Minister of Local Government and Social Welfare in 1962.
Zambia slowly moved through the complications of gaining independence. Much of the success was attributed to the skillful diplomacy of Kenneth Kaunda, who succeeded in allaying the fears of the huge European and smaller Asian community that black leadership will ignore their interests. In October 1964, the new nation of Zambia was born with Kaunda as its President.