KK is mourned with warmth

Kenneth Kaunda’s legacy is complex, but he is remembered fondly for opening his country and his heart to liberation movements, living modestly and investing heavily in education.

The African continent has lost one of its most dignified leaders with the death of Kenneth Kaunda. He died on 17 June at the age of 97. Known affectionately as KK, the former president of Zambia fought colonialism and led his country to independence in 1964.

Circa January 1963: From left, Joshua Nkomo of the banned Zapu party of Southern Rhodesia and Kenneth Kaunda attend an event in Zomba in then Nyasaland, later Malawi. (Photograph by Central Press/ Hulton Archive/ Getty Images)

Kaunda was a passionate supporter of the ANC and hosted a number of its exiled leaders, including Oliver Tambo, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, in Lusaka. He opened his country and heart to liberation movements across southern Africa and was a vocal critic of the apartheid regime, for which his country paid a sigificant price, including attacks by the Rhodesian Air Force in 1979 and the South African Air Force in 1986.

Kaunda invested heavily in education and, after his son died of Aids in 1986, became a leading voice in the struggle against the disease.

Aside from his trademark white handkerchief, Kaunda was known to be a passionate musician and would often grab a guitar and treat visitors to an impromptu concert. He went from anti-colonial activist to founding father of Zambia and internationally respected pan-Africanist to authoritarian leader, turning Zambia into a one-party state.

16 March 1964: Kenneth Kaunda, while still the prime minister of a newly independent Northern Rhodesia, inspects the police at their training barracks near Lusaka. (Photograph by Central Press/ Getty Images)
22 December 1967: From left, Grégoire Kayibanda, Jean Bokassa, Haile Selassie, Jomo Kenyatta, Ismael al-Azhari and Mobutu Sese Seko in Kampala, Uganda. Kenneth Kaunda is in the back row, centre. (Photograph by Hulton Archive/ Getty Images)

He retired to a modest home in Lusaka, where he would make tea personally for visitors. His death is mourned across the continent because of his pan-Africanism, his personal warmth and his willingness to allow a peaceful transition when he was ousted from power in 1991.

Circa 1989: From left, State President FW de Klerk, Minister of Foreign Affairs Pik Botha and Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda during the latter’s visit to South Africa. (Photograph by Beeld via Gallo)
Undated: From left, Nelson Mandela, Kenneth Kaunda and Oliver Tambo. (Photograph by Daily Dispatch/ Avusa Media/ Gallo Images via Getty Images)
10 November 2000: Kenneth Kaunda plays the guitar during a workshop for orphans and vulnerable children in Lusaka. He sharply criticised African leaders for doing little to combat the HIV and Aids crisis. (Photograph by Reuters)
14 September 2019: Kenneth Kaunda attends the funeral of former president Robert Mugabe at the National Sports Stadium in Harare, Zimbabwe. (Photograph by Wilfred Kajese/ Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
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