Kenneth Kaunda no more

Zambia’s founding president and liberation hero, has died at a military hospital in Lusaka where he was being treated for pneumonia, his son, Kambarage, said on Thursday.

According to the family, Kaunda has died at the age 97.

Kaunda ruled Zambia from 1964, when the southern African nation won its independence from Britain, until 1991, and afterwards became one of Africa’s most committed activists against HIV/AIDS.

“I am sad to inform (members) we have lost Mzee (the old man). Let’s pray for him,” Kambarage said on the late president’s Facebook page.

The former president had been feeling unwell and had been admitted to the Maina Soko Medical Centre in Lusaka earlier this week.

Although Zambia’s copper-based economy fared badly under his long stewardship, Kaunda will be remembered more for his role as an anti-colonial fighter who stood up to white minority-rule in southern African countries including Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.

He shared a loss experienced by countless families in Africa when his son Masuzyo died of AIDS in 1986, and he began a personal crusade against the disease.

“This is the biggest challenge for Africa. We must fight AIDS and we must do so now,” he told Reuters news agency in 2002.

“We fought colonialism. We must now use the same zeal to fight AIDS, which threatens to wipe out Africa.”

The youngest of eight children, Kaunda’s father died when he was eight years old. His mother was a teacher – a rare profession for Zambian women in those days.

Kaunda started his political career as organising secretary of the Northern Rhodesia African National Congress (ANC) in the Northern Province of Zambia.

But in 1958 he broke from the ANC to form the Zambian African National Congress (ZANC). The colonial authorities banned it a year later, and Kaunda was imprisoned in the capital Lusaka for nine months.

ZANC became the United Party for National Development (UNIP) in 1959.

The following year Kaunda was released from prison and elected president of UNIP. He then stared organising civil disobedience known as the Cha-cha-cha campaign.

It was the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi that made Kaunda become committed to non-violent principles.

Using his rhetorical skills to appeal to the public, Kaunda won independence for his nation without resorting to violence in 1964. As UNIP president, he ruled Zambia for 27 years.

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