Kenneth Kaunda, the Frontline hero

When all eulogies are recited and done, Zambia’s first President and independence hero, Kenneth ‘Buchizya’ Kaunda, will undoubtedly go into the annals of history as one of the few Pan-Africanists who sought the liberation of Africa from Cape to Cairo using “moral suasion” or civil disobedience than confrontation.

Indeed, Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe ‑ among others of Kaunda’s protégées ‑ may be alive to tell the story of the liberation struggle in Africa but Kaunda’s record will remain in the archives of the world as a “True Statesman of Africa”.

Earlier, Africa as a continent, had other Pan-Africanists who espoused a ‘free Africa, a free people’ in the mould of notable names like Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and Tanzanian first President, Julius Mwalimu Nyerere who put their brains together to see the liberation of Africa – paving the way for a ‘Black Continent’.

Nkrumah and Nyerere may have lived their time and departed to their own worlds without realising their much-cherished dream of ‘fighting for a free Africa’ ruled by its own nationals.

At home, Kaunda left a legacy in “One Zambia, One Nation” motto in which he united 72 tribes into one irrespective of race, creed, tribe, colour which has seen Zambia unite and enjoy peace for almost 50 years now.

However, Kaunda’s, let alone Zambia’s, contribution to the peace on humanity, oppression by colonialists and his zeal to see a liberated Southern African region will remain insurmountable.

At the height of the liberation struggle, Kaunda put his life, his country’s sovereignty and the peace it enjoyed at stake against the colonialists that ruled most of the SADC countries-South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Angola, Lesotho, Botswana, among others.

For the love of humankind, Kaunda allowed liberation movements waging their own independence struggles from colonial masters to seek asylum in Zambia. Some of the prominent nationalists who sought refuge in Zambia were the iconic late Vice President of Zimbabwe Joshua Nkomo and former South African President Thabo Mbeki.

Now 90 years old, Kaunda, who celebrated his birthday on April 28, remains an icon of peace, a liberator and one of the towering founding fathers of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), where he espoused freedom and allowed affected countries to decide their own destiny. 

As history would have it, after independence in 1964, Zambia was one of the most vocal opponents to white minority rule and colonialism. Kaunda, commonly referred to by many as KK and ruled Zambia from 1964 to 1991, was a very visible advocate of change in Southern Africa.

He actively supported MPLA during the Angolan liberation and civil war, SWAPO during their fight for Namibian independence from apartheid in South Africa, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and the African National Congress in their fight against apartheid in South Africa. Many of these organisations were based in Zambia during the 1970s and 1980s. For this reason, the apartheid regime in South Africa and the Rhodesian regime carried out military raids targeting key infrastructure inside Zambia such as bridges, which they bombed as a way to dissuade Lusaka from supporting the liberation movements in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Zambia's support for the liberation movements also caused problems for the country’s economy, since it was heavily dependent on electricity supply and transportation through South Africa and Rhodesia.

However, the power woes were partly solved by the Kariba Dam. The construction of the Chinese-funded Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority (TAZARA) in 1976 ‑ with a US$500 million loan to be repaid over 10 years.  


For its part in the liberation struggle, Zambia enjoys wide popularity among the countries it supported as well as all over Africa.

The late ‘African hero’ and award-winning former South African president, Nelson Mandela, had a lot of respect for Kaunda and often referred to the debt South Africa owes Zambia. Mandela always referred to Kaunda as his “old friend and brother”.

During his presidency, Kaunda met United States Presidents John F Kennedy and Jimmy Carter. Kaunda’s passion for the freedom of South Africa forced him to differ with former British Prime Minister ‘Iron Lady’ Margaret Thatcher on several occasions, despite their friendship. Kaunda disliked her policy (Sympathy for Apartheid) towards South Africa.

As with most African states, Zambia was a member of the Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War, and is still today. In practice, Zambia was more to the left than to the right during the Cold War.

The country had good relations with the People's Republic of China and with Yugoslavia. Kaunda is famous in Yugoslavia for crying openly at President Josip Broz Tito's funeral.

After seeing freedom become a reality in almost all the SADC countries, Kaunda continued to promote policies that supported respect for humankind and opposed all oppressive laws that were espoused by various organisations like the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and other Frontline States.

Now that Kaunda, has done his homework, with various eulogies said, sung and ululations echoing beyond the cascading mountains – North, South, West and East of Africa and indeed the rest of the global village, the question is:

How many have honoured Kaunda for his role in bringing peace to mankind, in Africa and the rest of the world? This is a million-dollar question.

Namibia, one of the SADC countries whose leaders sought asylum in Zambia during the liberation struggle, two years ago recognized Kaunda’s relentless effort in bringing peace to that country like the old adage, “Every good turn deserves another”.

Zimbabwe also honoured Kaunda among other African nationalists at its 25thindependence anniversary.

Zimbabwe honoured the leaders of the Frontline States for their immense contribution to the liberation of the country and the region as a whole.    As part of its silver jubilee celebrations, Zimbabwe awarded the regional heroes the Royal Order of Munhumutapa, which is the highest national honour.

The first chairperson of the frontline states, the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania was honoured for his “exceptional accomplishments as the luminary and conscience of African nationalism”.

The citation said he was “the fulcrum of liberation efforts in the region for his outstanding contribution to Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle against colonialism and all its tentacles.”

The late Chief Seretse Khama of Botswana was recognised for his “exceptional commitment to the eradication of colonial domination, unyielding dedication to Pan-African ideas and sterling contribution to Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle and the pursuit of justice and equality”.

Zambia’s founding president Kaunda, the only leader among the five who are still alive, was honoured for his “exceptional strength of resolve, selfless dedication, revolutionary leadership and outstanding contribution during Zimbabwe’s long and arduous struggle for equality, justice and self-determination.”

Unaware of what Namibia had in mind, Kaunda could not help but shed tears when he received a furnished Windhoek house worth R13 million from the Namibian government.

The gesture was in appreciation for all that he did and sacrificed for the sake of that country’s freedom.

According to Namibian media reports, at the official handover of the house, Namibia’s President, Hifikepunye Pohamba described Kaunda a true Pan-Africanist in deed and in spirit.

“We are here to officially handover this house to His Excellency Kenneth Kaunda as a token of our deep gratitude and appreciation for what he has done for Africa in general and for Namibia in particular.

“This is simply to say to you, Your Excellency, that Namibia is your second home and you are always welcome,” President Pohamba said while thanking Kaunda for his personal contribution and that of his country towards liberation efforts on the continent, especially the SADC states.

Zambian people, President Pohamba added, went beyond their national interests, and hosted African national liberation movements, immediately after Zambia’s independence in 1964.

Zambia embraced and extended hospitality to many exiled citizens of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), South Africa, Angola, Mozambique and Namibia at great cost.

“This led to many sacrifices in the form of lost human lives and destruction of the economic infrastructure as a result of acts of military aggression and destabilisation by the apartheid regime of South Africa and the colonial forces of Southern Rhodesia.” 

Namibia benefited immensely from the solidarity of the people of Zambia, he recalls adding;

“We shall never forget that we gained our freedom and independence through the unwavering solidarity and support we got from Zambia and other Frontline States, which provided a rear base to us during the difficult days of our struggle for freedom and independence, and became our home away from home,” he pointed out.

Zambia was not only the home of freedom fighters, but also provided political leadership by availing some of its distinguished sons and daughters such as Rupiah Banda (former president), Guendoline Conny, Paul Lusaka and General Peter Zuse, who served as presidents of the United Nations Council for Namibia, said Pohamba.

Zambia was also home to the UN Commission for Namibia, which extended vital support to exiled Namibians and some of its nationals who died in the struggle are buried in Zambian graves in the country.

President Pohamba added that Zambia equally opened up its universities, colleges and other academic institutions for the education and training of many young Namibians to be ready to serve as administrators and managers of an independent Namibia.

The Founding President and Father of the Namibian Nation, Sam Nujoma and Zambian nationals also witnessed the handing-over ceremony.

To spice up the occasion, the municipality in Windhoek sought to honour Kaunda by renaming Uhland Street after him.

This indeed is a feat that Kaunda will live to remember -perhaps included in his memoirs that some people that he helped find peace – recognised his tireless efforts and sacrifice of his own country and its people to help others.

The renaming ceremony was later done in the presence of Kaunda, Pohamba and Windhoek Mayor Agnes Kafula. At home, hordes of Zambians and other foreign nations have continued singing praises for Kaunda and the untiring role played in liberating SADC and indeed preaching peace to the world even to his own foes for the love of mankind.

President Michael Sata, Zambia’s fifth President, who is also a freedom fighter and worked closely with Kaunda in government, believes the former head of state Kaunda deserves to be bestowed with the honour he deserves.

May 2014
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