Kenneth Kaunda, Founding President of Zambia , died, aged 97 , this week.
As a student, Kaunda learned about the institutionalised racism of the South African Apartheid state. He suffered it personally as a black citizen in the British colony of Rhodesia and Nyasaland; on one occasion, in his college days, he was ordered out of a book store by its white owner when he tried to purchase a text for the course. Blacks were routinely refused entry to restaurants and general stores. These experiences drove him to become a non-violent, political organiser in the anti-colonial freedom struggle; with his guitar strung on his back , he cycled to village meetings throughout the territory . He emerged as leader of the United National Independence Party and won a landslide election victory in 1964; following independence, he became President of the new country, Zambia.
An obituary on the BBC website conveys all the hallmarks of ingrained, Western , post-colonial, Oxbridge-entitled thinking. It implies that Kaunda, at independence, inherited a wealthy , stable democracy. Those of us who lived and worked in post -independent Zambia know the reality. Kaunda became President of the new Zambia, the former Northern Rhodesia, which had been pillaged by the colonists. Initially, it was independent in name only because the economic levers were still operated by the former colonial overlords; the price of copper, Zambia’s most important mineral resource, was decided in the London Mineral Market and Rio Tinto Zinc (RSA) held a controlling share in the mines. States should have permanent sovereignty over their natural resources and Kaunda ‘s government moved to nationalise the copper mines in 1969. The Western powers and media responded with predictable, sanctimonious cant; what sort of gratitude was this from people to whom we had granted independence?
At independence, Zambia had fewer than one hundred indigenous graduates, six secondary schools and virtually no medical provisions outside of the urbanised areas with the exception of those provided by missionaries. The new Kaunda Government began a huge school building programme in the neglected, rural areas and the provision of basic medical facilities in provincial centres. Kaunda worked hard at orchestrating a pan-African front to oppose apartheid and all forms of racism; although it cost Zambia , a land-locked country, dearly in economic terms, Humanism, the political ideology of the new Government , was a hybrid of Christianity and socialism. Aid and refuge were provided for those fighting colonialism in neighbouring states. Principle demands commitment and economic sacrifice.
Kaunda was the statesman who led the campaign to change the face of Southern Africa