Zambia’s founding president, Kenneth Kaunda, who died on 17th June 2021 at the age of 97 was buried on Wednesday at the country’s presidential burial site after the High Court dismissed a challenge by his children that the burial at the site would be go against his wishes.
His son Kaweche had gone to court to seek permission to allow the family to bury him at his farm residence, next to his wife Betty, as per his wishes. In court documents dated July 6, Kaweche asked the court to declare “null and void” the government’s plan to bury Kaunda at the official Embassy Park site.
President Edgar Lungu declared Kaunda’s birthday, April 28, a national holiday in honour of the nation’s founding president.
The burial was attended by former Mozambique president Joaquim Chissano, Kaunda’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well and opposition leaders attended the burial ceremony.
Kaunda will be remembered more for his role as an anti-colonial fighter who stood up to white minority-ruled South Africa.
Kenneth David Kaunda was born on April 28, 1924, the youngest of eight children of a Church of Scotland minister at Lubwa mission in the remote north of the country. Known also by his African name of “Buchizya” – the unexpected one – he did menial jobs to earn school fees after his father’s death. He worked as a teacher and a mine welfare officer and entered politics in 1949 as a founder member of the Northern Rhodesian African National Congress.
In his early days of fighting for independence Kaunda cycled from village to village preaching majority rule. In 1963, Kaunda’s party UNIP won the country’s elections paving the way for Kaunda to become the prime minister of Northern Rhodesia. In 1964, he became the President of Zambia when it became independent.
Kaunda was not ashamed to weep in public and had a unique speaking style, emphasising key thoughts by repeating whole sentences, his trademark white handkerchief in his left hand.
He espoused an ideology of “humanism” mixing Christian ethics, traditional African values and socialistic principles.
In foreign affairs, Kaunda was a high-profile figure among the seven southern African states which led the fight against apartheid, andhe let Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) make a home-in-exile in Lusaka during the three decades it was banned in South Africa.
Kaunda also played a major role in Mozambique’s independence talks in 1975, Zimbabwe’s in 1980 and Namibia’s in 1990.
Despite accusations of corruption against his UNIP party, he won credit for bending with the winds of political change and preferring peaceful transition to violent confrontation.
In 1991, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), led by trade union leader Frederick Chiluba, swept UNIP from power by a landslide in elections by 75% of the vote and leaving UNIP with only 25 seats in the National Assembly. When Kaunda handed power to Chiluba on 2 November, 1991, he became the second mainland African head of state to allow free multiparty elections and to relinquish power peacefully after he had lost. The first, Mathieu Kérékou of Benin, had done so in March of that year
He was philosophical about his defeat in 1991. Urging unity and peace, he said in a broadcast: “Those who go into opposition are still an active catalyst for good government, indeed an integral part of good government.”
In 1996, Kaunda tried to make a political comeback, but he was blocked when Chiluba forced through constitutional amendments which declared the former “Father of the Nation” a foreigner because his parents came from Malawi.
He was arrested in December 1997 and charged with treason following a coup attempt by junior army officers two months earlier. He was detained in a maximum security prison but later placed under house arrest until the state dropped the charges.
After his son and political heir Wezi Kaunda was murdered in October 1999, Kaunda announced his withdrawal from domestic politics to concentrate on halting the spread of AIDS through his Kenneth Kaunda Children of Africa Foundation.
Apart from Masuzyo and Wezi, Kaunda and his wife Betty had six other children – four boys and two girls. In his later years he led a quiet life, mostly staying at home and only occasionally appearing at state functions.