President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa has described the passing of former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda as a “deep, sad loss”.
KK, as he was affectionately known, passed away on Thursday at a military hospital in Lusaka after being admitted on Monday for an undisclosed illness.
The 97-year-old was also regarded as the country’s founding father after he became the nation’s first democratically elected President, after Zambia gained its independence in 1964.
“We are united in our sadness with the Kaunda family, and the government and people of the Republic of Zambia.
“President Kaunda dedicated his 97 long years to the liberation and service of the people of Zambia,” said President Ramaphosa.
The President hailed “KK” for having devoted himself and the Zambian people, and supporting liberation movements around our region in their quest for independence and freedom.
“Steadfast against the intimidation of the apartheid state, he offered Lusaka as the headquarters of the African National Congress (ANC) in exile. Under his leadership, Zambia provided refuge, care and support to liberation fighters who had been forced to flee the countries of their birth,” he said.
Kaunda stood alongside the people of South Africa at the time of their greatest need and was unwavering in his desire for the achievement of their freedom.
It was in honour of this remarkable contribution that the South African government bestowed on President Kaunda the Order of the Companions of OR Tambo in 2002.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation has expressed sadness at Kaunda’s passing, saying the Zambian leader first met former President Nelson Mandela in 1962 during his travels through Africa to secure support for a nascent-armed struggle in South Africa.
“He next saw him soon after his release from prison in February 1990, when he visited Lusaka at the start of another tour of the African continent. The two leaders then maintained a friendship which would endure until Madiba’s passing in 2013,” it said.
In a statement on Thursday, the foundation said the 1990 visit to Lusaka was emblematic of the role Zambia played in South Africa’s liberation struggle under Kaunda’s leadership, as ANC headquarters were located in Lusaka for many years.
It said that Zambia paid a heavy price for its support, with the country suffering systematic destabilisation by the apartheid state.
“We will not forget Kaunda’s contributions to the struggle against colonialism and apartheid, and the lessons his life holds for reflection on how democracy should be measured and how it can be deepened,” said the foundation.