LUSAKA (Reuters) -- Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia’s founding president who led his country for 27 years and championed Africa’s struggles against apartheid and HIV/AIDS, has died at the age of 97.
“KK”, as he was popularly known, was being treated for pneumonia at the Maina Soko Medical Center, a military hospital in Lusaka. “On behalf of the entire nation and on my own behalf, I pray that the entire Kaunda family is comforted as we mourn our first president and true African icon,” President Edgar Lungu said in a message on his Facebook page.
Authorities declared 21 days of mourning for the liberation hero who ruled from 1964, after the southern African nation won its independence from Britain, until 1991.
Although Zambia’s copper-based economy fared badly under his long stewardship, Kaunda will be remembered more for his role as an anti-colonial fighter who stood up to white minority-ruled South Africa.
He shared a loss experienced by countless families in Africa when his son Masuzyo died of AIDS in 1986, and he began a personal crusade against the disease.
“This is the biggest challenge for Africa. We must fight AIDS and we must do so now,” he told Reuters in 2002.
“We fought colonialism. We must now use the same zeal to fight AIDS, which threatens to wipe out Africa.”
As leader of the first country in the region to break with its European colonizers, Kaunda worked hard to drag other former colonies along in Zambia’s wake towards majority rule.