Zambia’s first president and champion of African independence Kenneth Kaunda has died at the age of 97, the country’s president Edgar Lungu announced on Facebook Thursday evening. Zambia will have 21 days of mourning, said Lungu. Kaunda’s son, Kamarange Kaunda, also gave the news of the statesman’s death on Facebook Thursday.
Kaunda was admitted to a military hospital in the capital, Lusaka, on Monday suffering from pneumonia. His aides said he did not have Covid-19. In the 1950s, Kaunda was a key figure in what was then Northern Rhodesia’s independence movement from Britain. He became president following independence in 1964. As head of the left-leaning United National Independence Party (UNIP), Kaunda then led the country through decades of one-party rule. During his 27-year rule, he gave critical support to armed African nationalist groups that won independence for neighbouring countries including Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. He stepped down after losing multi-party elections in 1991. He remained lifelong friends with Mr Mandela after the anti-apartheid leader’s release from prison, quipping that they shared the same bond of 27 years — him as Zambia’s president and Mr Mandela as a prisoner. The government declared three weeks of national mourning with all forms of entertainment suspended.