With the demise of Zambia’s independent President, the Great Mwalimu (Teacher) Kenneth Kaunda, on Thursday at the age of 97, Africa has lost another irreplaceable legend, three months after the sudden death of Tanzania’s President John Magifuli, who departed as an unsung hero at 61.
A heavy rain has indeed uprooted an “Irokko,” the late Nigerian wordsmith and celebrated novelist Chinua Achebe, would have written.
KK, as Kaunda was famously called by his admirers across Africa, governed Zambia from 1964, when it gained independence from Britain, until 1991 when he stepped aside after an electoral defeat.
A pan-Africanist, he supported the struggle for decolonization/emancipation of Africa and the impendence of neighbouring Southern African countries.
Famous for his broad smiles with glittering white teeth, and often dressed in French suits with white hand scarves to match, KK was a principled activist, who preached non-violence.
Nicknamed Mwalimu, Swahili for teacher, Kaunda mentored many young politicians and endeared himself to many in Africa and beyond.
He later became one of the most committed activists against HIV/AIDS, after the deadly virus claimed the life of one of his children in 1986. In an emotional appeal for international partnerships to fight the disease, he said: ”It does not need my son’s death to appeal to the international community to treat the question of AIDS as a world problem.”
Unassuming and down to earth, Kaunda remained respectful of his peers involved in Africa’s decolonization struggles such as the late Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Nelson Mandela of South Africa.
As tributes pour in, eulogizing the departed African Statesman, the Zambian government has declared weeks of national mourning, while Kalusha Bwalya, one of Zambia’s most decorated football stars, tweeted: “Goodbye to you President Kenneth Kaunda. I am and will always be a proud member of the “KK11.”
In some of his famous quotes, Kaunda affirmed that: “Passive resistance is a sport for gentleman (and ladies), just like the pursuit of war, is a heroic enterprise for the ruling classes but a grievous burden on the rest.”
And in a moving homage to Mandela, that underscored his own belief, Kaunda said: “This great son of the World, Madiba, showed us the way. Whether you are white, black yellow or brown you are all God’s children, come together, work together and God will show you the way.”
Adieu Mwalimu Kenneth Kaunda! May God comfort your immediate and extended families, the People and Government of Zambia, Africa and beyond, and grant all, the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss of your demise!