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Zambians give handkerchief salute, African statesmen mourn liberation hero Kenneth Kaunda

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Obert Simwanza

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Lusaka, Zambia – Mourners waving white handkerchiefs, Kenneth Kaunda’s trademark symbol, paid tribute Friday at a memorial service for Zambia’s first president, who died last month aged 97, as VIPs hailed him as one of southern Africa’s great statesmen.

Neatly distanced in compliance with Covid rules, scores of Zambians stood on the terraces of the National Heroes Stadium in Lusaka, swaying to dirges and solemn music played by a military band.

A hero of the struggle against white-minority rule, Kaunda died on June 17 at a military hospital where he had been admitted with pneumonia.

He always carried a white handkerchief – an item that he said symbolised love and peace, and which he started carrying while incarcerated during the struggle for independence.

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A casket draped in the Zambian flag was driven on a gun carriage into the 60 000-capacity stadium and placed under a white marquee.

The funeral cortage carrying the body of the late Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda arrives at the state memorial service for him in Lusaka on July 2, 2021. – Mourners waving white handkerchiefs, Kenneth Kaunda’s trademark symbol, gathered at a Lusaka stadium on July 2, 2021 for a state memorial service for Zambia’s first president, who died last month aged 97. (Photo by – / AFP)

Zambia’s founding father was then given a multiple gun salute.

Braving the coronavirus pandemic ravaging the southern African country, several foreign dignitaries and presidents flew to Lusaka to pay their respects.

Namibian President Hage Geingob (R) consoles Zambian President Edgar Lungu (L) during the state memorial service of former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda in Lusaka. Photo by AFP

Zambia is among Africa’s top three countries reporting the highest number of new cases  over the past week, after South Africa and Tunisia, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

“Today is a passing of an era,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa told mourners.

“Kaunda was the last surviving leader of the generation who lit the path to Africa’s freedom from colonial misrule.”

The African Union’s commission chairman, Moussa Faki Mahamat, described Kaunda as “a unifier,” a “giant among men.”

“Had it not been for the selfless efforts of his generation, I would not be before you today, as the African Union would not exist,” he noted.

Ghana’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, said “we are marking what is truly the end of an era on our continent… the last of the great freedom fighters, the philosopher king”.

Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi pays his last respects to the late former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda during his state memorial service in Lusaka. Photo by AFP

‘Defeated Goliath of oppression’

Britain’s Minister for Africa James Duddridge, representing Zambia’s former colonial ruler, said Queen Elizabeth II was saddened by Kaunda’s death and that “the world has lost a great man.”

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland described him as a “warrior who defeated the Goliath of oppression.”

Kenyan leader Uhuru Kenyatta remembered the “many moments (his father Jomo Kenyatta) …shared together, fought and struggled together for this continent” with Kaunda.

“I have lost not only a mentor but a person who greatly inspired me as well,” said Kenyatta.

Kaunda, popularly known by his initials of KK, was president of Zambia for 27 years, taking the helm after the country gained independence in October 1964.

He headed the main nationalist group, the left-of-centre United National Independence Party.

He was nicknamed by some “Africa’s Gandhi” for his non-violent, independence-related activism in the 1960s.

He hosted many of the movements fighting for independence or black equality in other countries around the continent — sometimes at a heavy cost.

But his popularity at home waned as he became increasingly autocratic and banned all opposition parties.

He eventually ceded power in the first multi-party elections in 1991, losing to trade unionist Fredrick Chiluba.

Taxi tribute

Zambia declared a period of mourning after his death, with flags flown at half mast, while his body was taken around the country for the public to pay their respects.

He will be buried next Wednesday at the country’s presidential burial site situated opposite the cabinet office in Lusaka.

Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera said Kaunda’s burial would signify the “planting of a vibrant seed.”

“From this seed, let’s harvest a new African generation with new pan-Africanism… free from corruption,” he urged.

Some taxi drivers in Lusaka drove with their headlights on as a way of mourning the country’s founder.

“We have agreed here that we will be driving with our lights on as a way of mourning Dr Kaunda, shikulu (grandfather). The loss is too huge, not only here in Zambia but the entire world,” driver Lazarus Daka, 37, told AFP.

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