Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia’s first president, has died aged 97 at a military hospital in the capital Lusaka suffering from pneumonia. He became president following independence in 1964 and ruled Zambia for 27 years. Kaunda – popularly known as KK – was at the forefront of the struggle for independence from British rule and a strong supporter of efforts to end apartheid in South Africa. The actual Zambian President Edgar Lungu said the country was mourning “a true African icon”. He was hailed as a modernising force in the continent despite his initial rejection of the concept of multiparty democracy. One of his first political acts when he was a teenager was to become a vegetarian in protest at a policy that forced Africans to go to a separate window at butchers’ to buy meat. Kaunda set up his own party, the Zambian African National Congress. Within a year it was banned and Kaunda was in prison.
As a president later, in the new Africa’s political spectrum he was a moderate, dedicated to multiracialism, and always hoped for a peaceful evolution that would accommodate white Africans as well as black. He was a close ally of the late Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe. A prolific writer, he published a number of books advancing his ideology of African Socialism. He succeeded in uniting the disparate parts of his country under his slogan One Zambia, One Nation. Away from politics Kaunda was a keen ballroom dancer. He was also an accomplished guitar player and composed liberation songs which he played as he travelled the country to drum up support for the campaign against colonial rule.