Kenneth Kaunda: Son of Malawian preacher who became Zambia’s liberation hero

Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia’s founding president, was an indelible figure at the centre of Zambia's nation-building which spanned more than five decades. He had lived to a ripe old...

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photo: kenneth Kaunda

Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia’s founding president, was an indelible figure at the centre of Zambia’s nation-building which spanned more than five decades. He had lived to a ripe old age, surviving many health scares and admissions in hospitals towards the end.

He always resurfaced more fit and would be seen afterwards jogging at national events whenever he was invited to the podium. He once told an interviewer that his diet was mostly vegetable and fruit salad as well as raw seeds and nuts.

KK, as he was fondly called, was a towering figure from his days as a liberation hero and was still revered by the 18 million Zambians he led to independence from Britain in 1964.

Although his presence in the public space had slowed down, mostly due to old age, several Zambians and other international citizens of repute would make it a point to visit his home east of the capital Lusaka where the former teacher settled after politics.

Immigrant preacher

The son of a Malawian immigrant preacher David Kaunda, who settled in northern Zambia in the early 1900s, President Kaunda was highly regarded by Zambians and still taken as one of their own, even when he suffered the humiliation of having been declared stateless by his successor Fredrick Chiluba.

Mr Chiluba had used a special clause in law, which barred people whose grandparents were not born in Zambia from becoming president. It is a law that cut Kaunda’s political legs, making him ineligible to contest again after he left office in 1991, ending Zambia’s 27 years of single-party rule, during which the country was run on socialist principles.

At several functions, KK would be seen brandishing his famous white handkerchief, wearing his trademark Kaunda suits now worn around the continent.

The father of eight (two of his children died earlier) and a vegan of many years, is one of the last post-independence heroes in Africa to exit the stage. Nonetheless, he handed over power peacefully following defeat at the elections.

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