WITH his age, we all knew that it was bound to happen. But that does not make the passing of the founding president of our Republic any easy to bear. Even at 97, Dr Kenneth Kaunda’s departure from this life is as painful as the unexpected death of a person in the prime of his life. This is because in the rearview mirror of history, KK, as he was fondly called, represented one of the last if not the last, in a class of legendary and gallant sons of Africa who did everything they could to liberate their countries.
KK was not an Angel and books can be written about what he did wrong. Like all of us, he had his many faults and failings. But when all is said and done, you cannot take away one fact – Dr Kaunda was a decent man who meant well for his country, for his continent and for all mankind. He was one of a kind, who, at a very tender age, was shaped by the politics of his time and picked values that he stood for, inside and outside government leadership, until he breathed his last.
KK faced many challenges as a leader, some of which may have made him make wrong decisions and take wrong turns. But History has to be kind to this man. Dr Kaunda was not a greedy leader who was only interested in his own welfare and that of the people closest to him. He can truly be described as a man of the people. KK loved humanity, and this virtue characterized his leadership. Nearly all his speeches were decorated with two greatest commandments, that he today leaves behind for Zambia and Zambians to obey: “Love your God with all your heart, soul and mind; And love your neighbour as much as you love yourself.”
When one looks at his leadership and what he tried to do, it is not too difficult to conclude that this is a dogma that hugely influenced the way the fallen hero lived. As a president, KK saw to it that our people had access to the basic needs of human endeavor, as he put it. Education, Health and food, were key necessities that he ensured our people had access to. Many of those who occupy government positions today, many of the educated senior lawyers, doctors, teachers, and politicians today know that they would not be where they are if KK did not insist on free education. Free education and free medical care were real under Kaunda’s leadership.
Those who have read our history will find that one of the key promises that KK made at independence was that our people would have at least an egg and a cup of milk everyday. He may not have achieved that, but that symbolizes how much he believed in the basic dignity of every human being. This was also reflected in the way that he looked at the world. KK was a principled man who did not always stand with the victorious side. He stood on the side that he felt morality, decency and a common humanity dictated that he should.
KK was not satisfied with the Independence of Zambia, it was not enough that he and his fellow gallant freedom fighters had liberated their country. He relentlessly championed the cause for liberation in the whole of Africa and Southern Africa in particular. Zambia still bears the scars of the wounds of liberation that took place around her. Zimbabwe then called Rhodesia, engulfed Zambia in its struggle and KK led the country with stoicism and a dignified refusal to submit to the dictates of the minority white rulers of Zimbabwe and South Africa, whose military might would have easily crushed our country.
KK stood with Zimbabwe, right to the dawn of its political emancipation. The same can be said about Mozambique, Angola, Namibia and even South Africa. There was no price that KK was not prepared to pay to achieve the dignity of man. As he would say himself, man north, man south, man west and man east is still man. KK was a great and gallant champion of the rights of the downtrodden globally.
World leaders respected KK not for any material possessions, great education, race or eloquence in speech, but because of his tenacity and the selflessness he attached to his efforts in defending mankind and the sanctity of life. He relentlessly championed the cause of the downtrodden Palestinians. This made him a good friend of the late Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Liberations Organisation.
This is the man that we mourn today, the founder of our One Zambia One Nation, tiyende pamodzi ndi mtima umo! As the Americans would say, a giant oak tree has fallen today, but leaves behind great lessons. KK, as president, sought medical attention from the University Teaching Hospital. He had confidence in his own institutions. KK drank from the same well where his people drank. Today he dies from our own Maina Soko Military Hospital and goes to his grave a poor man. He ran his race, served a calling to leadership and died the way he lived – a humble man.
Although we are saddened by his passing. We have much to learn from his life, both his mistakes and as well as his achievements. If only our leaders would love their neighbours as they love themselves, we would have a better Zambia.
Go well comrade KK. But what a time to go, when the whole word is ravaged and torn apart by the Covid pandemic. What a time to go when Zambia is on its knees with tears never running dry from the deaths of loved ones! We shall fondly miss you and your unmatched wisdom! Thank you for giving birth to Zambia.
Long Live KK’s spirit! The struggle continues!