Kenneth Kaunda dead
Kenneth Kaunda dead

Kenneth Kaunda, who led Zambia to independence and then served as the nation’s president for almost three decades, has died.

He was 97.

Kaunda’s death was announced by Simon Miti, the cabinet secretary, in a televised speech and President Edgar Lungu declared 21 days of national mourning for the former leader.

While Kaunda had been admitted to the Maina Soko Military Hospital, the main government treatment center for Covid-19 patients, on June 14, he tested negative for the virus and was suffering from pneumonia, according to media reports that cited his assistant.

Waving his trademark white handkerchief to signal approval to crowds of supporters or to dismiss a journalist’s question, Kaunda emerged as a major figure in the fight for majority rule across southern Africa.

His government provided support to Black liberation movements in neighboring Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola and Mozambique, and he was an outspoken critic of South Africa’s White-minority government.

The son of a missionary and the youngest of eight children, Kaunda left teaching in 1954 to lead a civil disobedience campaign, known as Cha-Cha-Cha, against British rule in its Northern Rhodesia colony.

He was jailed twice, for two months in 1955 and nine months in 1959. When Zambia gained independence in 1964, Kaunda, known as KK, was appointed president.

Kaunda, born on April 28, 1924, outlived Nelson Mandela and Robert Mugabe, fellow giants of southern Africa’s liberation struggles. South Africa carried out military attacks in Zambia in the 1980s, as Kaunda supported efforts to topple the apartheid government.