One Week After His Death, Tributes Continue For Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda, Last of the Liberation Giants

Kenneth Kaunda

The late Kenneth Kaunda. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Leaders from across the world continue to pay tribute to Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia’s founding president and Pan African visionary who built a formidable Frontline States movement that led to the downfall of white racist colonial outposts in Rhodesia, Namibia, and South Africa, leading to majority rule in most southern African countries.

Dr. Kaunda died on June 17 at age 97. He led his country from Independence in 1964 to 1991.

Kaunda’s authority derived in no small degree from the fact that while other African leaders secretly dined with the evil regimes, he remained unwavering and steadfast in the fight against the racist UDI regime of Ian Smith and the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Zambia bore the brunt of Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa’s attacks and numerous acts of sabotage, aerial bombardment, and destabilization.

Kaunda’s country Zambia was tied by trade, finance, agriculture, business structure, and communications to Rhodesia, South Africa and the entire southern Africa due to the legacy of colonial rule. Kaunda could have easily asserted Zambia’s economic independence through the country’s copper profits through measured and covert co-operation with Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa to Zambia’s benefit.

But KK, as he was affectionately called, took a principled stance in support of Africa’s liberation and independence. For him it was Africa first. As a towering and visionary leader, KK became an influential figure and an inspiring example for the oppressed majority in Rhodesia, South Africa and Namibia.

He developed strategic cooperation with all key liberation movements in southern Africa putting himself and his people to attacks by the racist regimes. KK lived to see the sacrifices pay off with the liberation of Zimbabwe in 1980, Namibia in 1990, and South Africa in 1994.

Rhodesians and apartheid South Africa underestimated the role that Kaunda was to play in thwarting their plans to maintain their white supremacist rule in the two colonial countries. At the time, Sir Seretse Khama of Botswana and Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda made their necessary accommodation with the white regimes that surrounded and economically dominated them. Khama later became one of the four presidents who co-ordinated policy against Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa.

Dr. Banda, remained more isolated for his contempt for the liberation movements and the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the Pan-African body that preceded the African Union (AU).

Kaunda, the humble, affable and resolute leader made no such accommodation. He set about cutting Zambia off from the southern octopuses. He hosted guerrilla fighters and liberation movements fighting for freedom from Portugal and apartheid in Rhodesia and South Africa.

Zambia joined in sanctions, with some tactical compromises in the fight against the racist regimes. Out of anger, Ian Smith, the leader of white-ruled Rhodesia closed the border and the railway to teach Zambia a lesson on dependency. Kaunda closed and never reopened the border on his side. Smith realized his mistake and back-tracked.

Zambia was enjoying a copper boom and this gave Kaunda the funds to build the alternative roads and the pipeline through Tanzania to the sea.

Without Kaunda’s guidance, his vision, his charisma and what analysts at the time called his “political adroitness,” Zambia and all the liberation movements might have succumbed or become disjointed due to the accumulating military and economic pressure from the apartheid regimes. 

World leaders recalled Kaunda’s legacy.

China through foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said, “Mr Kaunda was an internationally renowned and the older generation of leader, politician and social activist of African independence movements. Mr Kaunda had been committed to the friendship of the two countries, and set forth the innovative expression of ‘all-weather friendship’, an accurate and expressive description of China-Zambia relations.”

In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “The UK Government extends its sincere condolences to the people of the Republic of Zambia on the death of former President Kenneth Kaunda. Dr. Kaunda was the defining figure in Zambia’s independence movement and laid the successful foundations of your nation, through his leadership, vision, and famous mantra ‘One Zambia One Nation’. He was greatly admired too as a staunch activist against apartheid and a campaigner to address HIV/AIDS. Our thoughts are with his family and the people of Zambia at this time of mourning.

In appreciation of his contribution to their various struggles, most African and southern African countries in particular, announced varying periods of mourning and lowered their national flags to half-mast.

Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa said, “It was with a sense of shock and deep sorrow that I learnt of the passing on of His Excellency Dr Kenneth David Kaunda. The passing on of this renowned Pan Africanist and elder statesman, has robbed the Kaunda family and the people of Zambia, and indeed the rest of Africa, of an exemplary Father, an astute politician and leader whose immense contribution to the liberation of Southern African countries from colonial rule is well documented and acknowledged by the international community. On behalf of the Government and people of Zimbabwe and indeed on my own behalf, I wish to convey our most sincere condolences to you and through you to the Kaunda Family, the Government and people of Zambia, on this sad loss.”

Kaunda during a 1970 visit to what was then West Germany. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Mozambique’s president, who is also chair of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), Filipe Jacinto Nyusi said, “The SADC region and the entire African continent are very grateful for the important contribution of former President Kenneth Kaunda to our common efforts to bring about and defend independence, peace and security in the region and across the continent. In fact, his gigantic legacy will shine forever and will inspire the present and future generation of leaders in Zambia, in the region, across the African continent and beyond.”

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa said, “He was a pioneering champion of a decolonized, united and prosperous Africa. We bow our heads in grief at the passing of a beloved and rightfully revered father of African independence and unity – President Kenneth “KK” Kaunda. We recommit ourselves to building the Africa of KK’s vision – an Africa of peace, justice, prosperity and innovation.”

President Mokgweetsi Masisi of Botswana said, “Kaunda was Botswana’s best friend and together with the likes of Sir Seretse Khama, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere championed the liberation and independence of our region.”

“Kaunda’s commitment to Africa’s liberation will never be forgotten,” said Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame. “His leadership on the continent and legacy of Pan-Africanism will live on for generations to come.”

Kaunda was a sui generis of his own time. There will never again be a man or leader like him, who devoted his life, his knowledge and his struggle not only to the Zambian and African people but to all of humanity.

His legacy must live on because Kaunda is a man who brought about a turning point in Africa’s politics and whose great influence was felt not only across Africa but across the world too.

Sifelani Tsiko is a veteran journalist based in Harare, Zimbabwe. He can be reached via [email protected] 

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