Thabo Mbeki’s moving tribute to Kenneth “KK” Kaunda

I had the great privilege of spending almost two decades in this great African city and country, constantly exposed to President Kaunda’s leadership. I am therefore acutely aware of the reality that I will be speaking today of an outstanding African patriot who was to the end of his life my own leader.

Author
Thabo Mbeki

A few days after President Kaunda passed away, on 26 June 2021, one Emmanuel Mensah-Abludo, caused the publication in the Nigerian newspaper, Premium Times, of an Obituary entitled “Kenneth Kaunda: The last African Liberation Giant goes home”.

The Obituary said:

“Barely a week ago, the last of the giants of the African liberation struggle in the past century, Kenneth David Kaunda, Zambian President (1964-1991), finished his earthly journey. He joined the ancestors at an advanced age of 97 at a military hospital in the Zambian capital Lusaka. Mr Kaunda was admitted on Monday, June 14, 2021, suffering from pneumonia, and passed on June 17.

“When the soul of the nonagenarian freedom fighter, Mr Kaunda, departed to the mercy of God on that fateful day, the shockwaves of the news of his passing left many with sadness and teary eyes, in the African homeland specifically and across the world. From North to South and from the East to the West, tributes poured in for the statesman described as “the last giant of 20th century African nationalism.”…

“As citizens of the world, we have to emulate Kaunda’s sacrifice, courage, candour, supportive attitude, perseverance, nationalistic fervour and above all, the pursuit of truth on all fronts whilst vigorously fighting misinformation and disinformation at every level. We pray that the soul of the late President Kenneth David Kaunda continue to have a peaceful repose in the Lord till we meet again in company of Kwame Nkrumah, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Julius Nyerere, Ahmed Sekou Toure and others. Adieu!!!”

Thus does this moving Obituary to our beloved leader, KK, refer to some other African patriots who were his peers. This brings to mind an historic process of which all these leaders were the product.

I refer here to the series of Pan African Congresses which started in 1900, bringing together Africans on the Continent and the African Diaspora.

In this regard we must recall the famous words which came from that 1900 1st Pan African Congress held in London, England. In a message entitled “To the Nations of the World” that Conference said:

“In the metropolis of the modern world, in this the closing year of the nineteenth century, there has been assembled a congress of men and women of African blood, to deliberate solemnly upon the present situation and outlook of the darker races of mankind.  The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the colour line, the question as to how far differences of race – which show themselves chiefly in the colour of the skin and the texture of the hair – will hereafter be made the basis of denying to over half the world the right of sharing to utmost ability the opportunities and privileges of modern civilization.”

This was the Message of men and women of African blood to the nations of the world as the twentieth century into which KK was born began – that the problem of the century was the problem of the colour line. That same Message also said among other things:

“Let not the natives of Africa be sacrificed to the greed of gold, their liberties taken away, their family life debauched, their just aspirations repressed, and avenues of advancement and culture taken from them. Let not the cloak of Christian missionary enterprise be allowed in the future, as so often in the past, to hide the ruthless economic exploitation and political downfall of less developed nations, whose chief fault has been reliance on the plighted faith of the Christian church.”

In its Message, the 1900 Pan Africanist Congress of men and women of African blood held out this hope for the future:

“In any case, the modern world must remember that in this age when the ends of the world are being brought so near together the millions of black men in Africa, America and the Islands of the Sea, not to speak of the brown and yellow myriads elsewhere, are bound to have a great influence upon the world in the future, by reason of sheer numbers and physical contact.”

I have been talking about words spoken by Africans in 1900, which provided the firm basis on which Kenneth Kaunda and his peers stood as they engaged in political struggle 50 years later in the 1950s.

Some of KK’s peers mentioned in the Obituary we cited, like the great Kwame Nkrumah, participated in the very important 1945 Fifth Pan African Congress.

The importance of that Congress derives in particular from the assertion that is correctly made that first:

● those who gathered in Manchester, England in 1945 in that year’s Pan African Congress were legitimate successors of the men and women of African blood who had convened in London, England in 1900; and second,

● many of these went from the Congress straight into the battles which led to the liberation for instance of Ghana in 1957 and the gradual accomplishment of the goal set in 1900, when that year’s Congress said the oppressed in the world, including the Africans, ‘are bound to have a great influence upon the world in the future’.

The marching orders issued by the 1945 Fifth Pan African Congress were contained in a clarion call entitled “The Challenge to the Colonial Powers”.

“The delegates to the Fifth Pan-African Congress believe in peace. How could it be otherwise when for centuries the African peoples have been victims of violence and slavery. Yet if the Western world is still determined to rule mankind by force, then Africans, as a last resort, may have to appeal to force in the effort to achieve Freedom, even if force destroys them and the world.

“We are determined to be free. We want education. We want the right to earn a decent living; the right to express our thoughts and emotions, to adopt and create forms of beauty. We demand for Black Africa autonomy and independence, so far and no further than it is possible in this “One World” for groups and peoples to rule themselves subject to inevitable world unity and federation.

“We are not ashamed to have been an age-long patient people. We continue willingly to sacrifice and strive. But we are unwilling to starve any longer while doing the world’s drudgery, in order to support by our poverty and ignorance a false aristocracy and a discredited Imperialism.

“We condemn the monopoly of capital and the rule of private wealth and industry for private profit alone. We welcome economic democracy as the only real democracy. Therefore, we shall complain, appeal and arraign. We will make the world listen to the facts of our condition. We will fight in every way we can for freedom, democracy and social betterment.”

I would like to believe that all of us will have heard the voice of the young Kenneth David Kaunda as we listened to what the Fifth Pan African Congress said in 1945 in its Challenge to the Colonial Powers.

I am talking here about Kenneth Kaunda as he played a leading role in the historic organisations of the Zambian struggle for liberation from colonial rule – the Northern Rhodesia African National Congress, the Zambian African National Congress and the United National Independence Party, UNIP – and led the cha-cha-cha civil disobedience campaign.

It is an established historical fact that the struggle for the total liberation of Africa from colonialism and apartheid was hardest in our region of Southern Africa and of course in Algeria and Kenya as well.

The reason for this is easy to identify. It is simply settler colonialism. As all of us know, there was a large French settler population in Algeria which then left Algeria as the French government conceded to the demand of the Algerian people, led by the FLN, for independence.

Though it was not expelled by liberated Algeria, the French settler population fled back to France because it feared the wrath of the Algerian people, having waged a brutal war against them to perpetuate colonial domination.

In Kenya the Mau-Mau also engaged in a bitter struggle in part to regain the land the people had lost through a process of land dispossession by the British settler population. Many of these also left after Kenya won its independence.

As we all know, in Southern Africa settler colonialism was most manifest and had the greatest impact in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola and Mozambique.

Let me speak briefly about South Africa in this regard.

As we engaged in struggle to defeat the apartheid regime, we characterised this settler colonialism as colonialism of a special type – special because the settlers exercised power in their own name, not some foreign colonial power.

Essentially this indicated how entrenched were the settlers in our country and how determined they were to make South Africa their permanent home.

As an expression of this, and as all of us know, they ensured that:

● the indigenous African population was stripped entirely of any rights;

● even in law that black majority was treated as being sub-human;

● that majority was stripped of all productive property, including land, to ensure that it is available to the white economy as cheap labour,

● they – the settlers – have the forces and the strength to suppress any rebellion by the majority;

● similarly, they have the possibility to defeat any external attempt to support the struggle of the black oppressed for liberation; and therefore,

● they have the means to ensure that they remain in power in perpetuity.

As we can imagine, and indeed as we know from experience, this was a setting which spoke of the inevitability of the most terrible violence which the apartheid regime would visit on the ANC and the struggling masses, as well as and especially the region of Southern Africa which supported the struggle to end apartheid and therefore white settler minority domination.

I am certain you know why I have taken this small detour to talk about the phenomenon of settler colonialism in our region and Continent and its impact. I have done this because, as you know, KK left an indelible imprint on what became a successful struggle to realise the historic achievement of the total liberation of Africa from colonialism and apartheid.

In my detour, I have tried to emphasise the point that this struggle particularly in our region would demand great sacrifices on the part of the oppressed but struggling masses.

At the same time, it would require that these masses and their liberation movements should do their best to secure dependable allies for themselves, especially in our region and the rest of Africa.

Let me mention some relevant dates in this regard.

The ANC in South Africa and the MPLA in Angola started engaging in armed struggle in 1961. ZAPU of Zimbabwe and Frelimo of Mozambique followed in 1962. ZANU of Zimbabwe was next in 1965, followed by SWAPO of Namibia in 1966.

It was into these circumstances that independent Zambia was born in October 1964 and in which it spent in what could be called its formative first two years – circumstances of a region in which the liberation movements had launched the strategic offensives finally to defeat and remove the colonial and apartheid regimes.

Here I must also remind all of us that the Smith regime in Rhodesia announced its Unilateral Declaration of Independence in November 1965, confirming the determination of the colonial and apartheid regimes in the region to fight to the end.

As we all know, independent Zambia, led by President Kenneth Kaunda, opened its doors to all the liberation movements.

Undoubtedly the Smith and other white minority regimes in our region, without exception, would have said of independent Zambia – a friend of my enemy is my enemy!

In this connection I would like to jump some years and quote important words uttered by President Kaunda in an interview in 2008.

Here is what he said:

“We were not only fighting for the independence of Zambia – Northern Rhodesia to become Zambia. We were also very much concerned with seeing to it that our neighbours in the region also became independent – Angola west of us, Mozambique east of us, Zimbabwe south of us, Namibia and of course South Africa itself.

“These were being run by colonialists, settlers, apartheid elements in society, people who did not believe that people of all races were God’s children, people who believed that they were put on earth by God. They formed Churches which were only for Whites and Blacks could not go there. It became openly apartheid. It was there in South Africa. It was there in Zimbabwe. It was there in Angola, Mozambique…

“We decided we had no right to say that Zambia is independent. We had to do what that great son of Africa, Julius Nyerere in Tanganyika, was doing. Julius Nyerere brought in all liberation movements from these countries and gave them liberation centres in Dar es Salaam, capital of Tanzania. We ourselves were there, Zambians were there. We had our offices there.

“As soon as we became independent, it was our duty now to do what Julius Nyerere had been doing. We opened our doors and all liberation movements moved from Tanzania to Zambia.

“That meant we were bombed from time to time by South African war planes, Rhodesia, the Portuguese in Angola, the Portuguese in Mozambique, the settlers in Namibia, all these were now attacking Zambia because they wanted us to fear that accommodating liberation movements meant being bombed, bridges being destroyed. You build, they bomb them again and so on. The places where you hide your oil – they come to bomb and destroy those. This is what life for us was.

“But it was something we had to do. When God says ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’, ‘Do unto others as you want them to do to you’ – there is no choice there. We understood that. We accepted it.

“We went together and I remember one good Missionary who wrote a book about my humble self and he asked President Nyerere to put in an Introduction there. And he said in this Introduction – if Kenneth Kaunda and the people of Zambia had decided that it was too difficult, like the late Dr Banda of Malawi had done, and would not participate in the struggle, President Nyerere wrote – we would have understood that this was the right thing for him and the people of Zambia to do. But (President Nyerere) said – they went ahead with what they were doing.

“So you can see that all around people understood the situation and were realistic enough to make the point that it was a very difficult situation. But we were committed. It’s the right of all God’s children that all people should be free from oppression by other people.

“And today it’s wonderful to be able to say yes we suffered, but the price was worth it. Everybody now is free. Yes, people are making mistakes, but they are our mistakes by these governments, not mistakes made by foreign governments for us. So we are happy with what we did.”

[KK Interview: University of California TV: February 2008.]

I am indeed very glad that I have had this opportunity to let KK speak for himself, as well as for the Government and people of Zambia with regard to their role and place in the historic struggle for the final and decisive push to end colonial and apartheid domination in our Continent, Africa.

For those of us who know first-hand what President Kaunda and all Zambia did to help us achieve our freedom it was very moving to hear KK’s own words –

“And today it’s wonderful to be able to say yes we suffered, but the price was worth it… So we are happy with what we did.”

With your permission let me relate some instances of the important support we received from KK as we engaged in struggle to defeat the apartheid regime.

Half way through the 1980’s a US Bank sent shock waves through the apartheid system by refusing to roll over its loans to the apartheid regime, demanding immediate payment. This marked a sharp intensification of the international economic sanctions against apartheid South Africa and therefore a further advance of the liberation struggle.

One of the results of this was that the demand grew particularly among the white elite in South Africa that the time had come to talk to the ANC to seek an end to the apartheid system. Naturally the apartheid regime was strongly opposed to the very idea of what was now called – Talking to the ANC!

Big white business was the first to defy the apartheid regime in this regard. Accordingly, an important delegation travelled here, Lusaka, to talk to the ANC.

Our President, Oliver Tambo, had mentioned to President Kaunda the business request to meet the ANC.

President Kaunda agreed that the meeting should take place in Zambia. He offered to host the meeting at Mfuwe Lodge in the Luangwa Game Park. He arranged the flights to take both delegations from Lusaka to Mfuwe and back.

He accompanied the delegations to Mfuwe in person and sat in at the meeting merely as an observer, which assisted enormously to highlight the importance of the meeting.

That visit by Business to meet the ANC in Zambia in 1985 opened the way for more delegations to visit the ANC both in Lusaka and elsewhere in Africa and the rest of the world.

The critical outcome of that process of Talking to the ANC resulted in ensuring that by the time the regime lifted the ban on the ANC in 1990, we had succeeded to rally around the broad objectives of the ANC the majority of the broad leadership in our country, black and white, and thus further weakened the regime by deepening its domestic isolation.

This was the strategic outcome of the process which started at Mfuwe Lodge, hosted by our great leader, KK.

We were very happy that we could inflict another defeat on the apartheid regime with regard to that meeting at Mfuwe Lodge by informing our people in South Africa directly about what had been discussed.

I say this because understanding the need for the ANC constantly to communicate to the oppressed in South Africa, President Kaunda had authorised that the then ZBS, the Zambia Broadcasting Service, should give us space to make Radio Broadcasts to South Africa every day.

Our daily signature tune introducing our broadcasts said – ‘This is Radio Freedom, the voice of the African National Congress and Umkhonto we Sizwe, coming to you from Lusaka, Zambia!’

As KK had foreseen, Radio Freedom became a very powerful tool of our liberation movement in terms both of helping to mobilise the masses of our people and strengthening the unity of the fighting masses around a common agenda.

Whatever the futile efforts made by the apartheid regime to jam it, Radio Freedom made an important contribution to the ultimate victory of our liberation movement.

As our liberation struggle made further advances especially during the 1980s, the apartheid regime grew more desperate and worked to assassinate more of our leaders. This meant that we had to strengthen the security around President Tambo.

One of the things we did was to request many of our Zambian friends secretly to accommodate President Tambo for 2 to 3 days a time, thus to ensure that the enemy would not know where OR was staying on any particular day.

We were greatly moved that not even once did any of our Zambian friends decline our request. They all agreed and hosted Oliver Tambo knowing very well that they might become victims of apartheid terrorism if the apartheid killers found out where their enemy, OR, was staying.

In time President Kaunda heard about what his fellow Zambians were doing to help us, the ANC, to protect Oliver Tambo. He intervened and allocated a house and home to OR located within the grounds of State House.

This meant that during the evenings, when the apartheid assassins would normally carry out their operations, the Zambian security organs would be responsible for OR’s safety.

Very regrettably Oliver Tambo suffered from a heavy stroke during 1989 while he was working at his desk at the ANC Headquarters in Lusaka. The ANC immediately moved him to the Lusaka Teaching Hospital and informed President Kaunda.

Acting on the advice of the doctors, KK immediately arranged for a plane to fly OR to London and ensured that he was accommodated in a hospital in London appointed by Mrs Adelaide Tambo who was resident in London at the time.

That speedy intervention by President Kaunda created the possibility for OR to receive the appropriate medical attention in the UK and Sweden such that, though afflicted with a partial disability, he was able to return to South Africa after the unbanning of the ANC.

Happily, he was able to deliver the opening Presidential Address at the very first ANC National Conference after its unbanning, in 1991. The Conference elected him as the National Chairperson of the ANC, a post he held until he passed away in 1993.

In the revolutionary memory it is not possible to separate these two African giants, KK and OR, recalling that they were to each other more than mere comrades-in-arms.

During the same year he suffered a stroke, 1989, President Tambo informed KK that such was the impact of the multi-faceted offensive against the apartheid regime that sooner rather than later it would seek to engage the ANC in negotiations.

OR proposed to KK in this regard that it would be strategically advisable that the ANC prepares a Roadmap on Negotiations which should guide such negotiations whenever their time came.

KK agreed to this. Together they agreed that such a document should be discussed and agreed with the Frontline States and then put to the African Union for its endorsement. After that efforts would be made to get it approved by the UN General Assembly. Thus would it carry the required weight to provide the framework for the negotiations.

Practically this is what happened. We prepared the first draft of the Negotiations Document and discussed it with President Kaunda. He then gave President Tambo a business jet to enable him to fly with a small delegation to consult the other Heads of the Frontline States.

OR therefore visited Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Luanda before returning to Zambia. This took about a week, thanks to the plane kindly provided by President Kaunda.

OR and his delegation amended the Negotiations Document to accommodate proposals made by the different Heads of State as the delegation visited the various capitals. The delegation then met President Kaunda and briefed him on the amended Document. After studying the document and discussing with OR he made his own observations which were then incorporated in the document.

The ANC had forwarded the Document to Mozambique and requested the comments of President Chissano, which he sent.

The ANC presented the finalised Document to the fully mandated OAU Ad-Hoc Committee of Heads of State on Southern Africa which met in Harare in August 1989. The Committee adopted the Document on behalf of the OAU and entitled it – ‘Harare Declaration: Declaration of the OAU Ad-hoc Committee on Southern Africa on the question of South Africa’.

Later the Declaration was adopted by the UN General Assembly with a few slight amendments.

Indeed, it then played an important part in framing the negotiations which officially began with the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) in December 1991.

Yet again we warmly associate this historic new beginning with our dear leader, President Kenneth Kaunda.

It marked yet another defeat of the negative forces in our region which had defined Zambia as their enemy.

In this regard I must mention a meeting of the Frontline States on the Nkomati Accord which the Government of Mozambique and the apartheid regime signed on 16 March 1984.

The FLS meeting was held in Arusha, Tanzania on 29 April 1984.

I am certain that many of us here will recall that one of the major elements of the Nkomati Accord was that the Government of Mozambique would not allow the ANC to operate from the country. In return, the apartheid regime promised that it would stop supporting its instrument, RENAMO.

The Frontline States met because they were very concerned that independent Mozambique had agreed with the apartheid regime to prohibit the ANC from using the country to continue the struggle against the apartheid crime against humanity. By the time they met, six weeks after the signing of the Accord, they had seen the departure of many ANC members from Mozambique.

When he spoke at the Frontline States meeting, President Kaunda spoke about a confidential agreement between himself and President Nyerere. He reported that he and Mwalimu Nyerere had an agreement that they would never allow the situation to arise when their two countries would have to appeal to the IMF and the World Bank for help. He said that the reality however was that, in his words, “I have betrayed Mwalimu”. He said that even as he was speaking, there was an IMF representative at the Ministry of Finance in Lusaka. Now the Government could not take any important decision on the economy without consulting the IMF representative to seek his agreement. He described this as a defeat for Zambia and himself, and said they had to act to reverse it.

He used this story to argue that the Frontline States and the liberation movements must accept that during the continuing struggle, they would suffer temporary defeats. What was important was that they must assume collective ownership of these defeats and take collective action to reverse them. Together they must declare that victory is certain.

And indeed, contrary to the expectations of the Pretoria regime when it coerced Mozambique to sign the Nkomati Accord, Mozambique played a sustained and critical role in the struggle for the liberation of South Africa, fully supporting the ANC.

Once again KK had risen to the challenge posed by a temporary defeat to underline the obligation of independent Africa to be ready to make the necessary sacrifices for the liberation of all Africans, to be loyal to the Pan Africanist cause, and to expect no easy victories.

Programme director:

Because of what President Kaunda meant not only to the ANC, but also to the masses of our people, we were very sad when we received unhappy pieces of news about him some years later, after UNIP lost the 1991 Elections.

Unable to stand by as we received this news, at some point we requested the late President Frederick Chiluba to receive an ANC delegation here in Lusaka. Fortunately, he agreed.

We sent a delegation made up of the late Joe Modise, former head of our People’s Army, and James Motlatsi, at the time President of the South African National Union of Mineworkers, who knew President Chiluba as a former fellow trade unionist.

One of the humble requests our delegation made was that the President should kindly use his good offices to ensure that President Kaunda was properly accommodated in a house he should own and which would befit his status as a former President of Zambia and an outstanding African statesman.

In 2002, when we were in Government in South Africa, we admitted KK into the ‘Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo in Gold’, our country’s highest order awarded to non-South Africans who have distinguished themselves as friends and supporters of the people of South Africa.

Further, very concerned that KK should have the possibility to write what would be very important Memoirs, we set aside one of the houses in Pretoria owned by the Government for him to utilise.

The house had the necessary staff, including the required security personnel, and would be fully supported by the Government with regard to President Kaunda’s needs.

For him, this could be a home away from home.

As we began this Lecture we cited an Obituary published in a Nigerian newspaper which, among others, described President Kaunda as ‘the last African Liberation Giant’. We fully agree with this assessment.

KK was a giant in many ways. He was one of the giants in the struggle for the total liberation of Africa. He was a giant as a man of principle, high values and integrity. He was a giant in his respect for the truth. He was a giant also in his love for the people and his commitment to serve their interests, inspired both by Christian teachings and his devotion to Zambian humanism.  

The book ‘A Humanist in Africa by Kenneth D. Kaunda’ was published by Longmans Green in 1966.

One reviewer of the book, W.H. Crane, wrote:

“Some readers might find (President Kaunda) too optimistic and uncritical in his judgement of traditional African values, and too negative in his appreciation of western values; but after the years in which traditional African values have been violated by the colonialist, it is time for the balance to be redressed. The Africans, and African society could have no more worthy champion than the President of Zambia.”

Many years after this correct tribute was published, in 1990 our Secretary General, the late Alfred Nzo, informed President Kaunda that we had agreed with the apartheid regime that after the unbanning of the ANC and other political organisations and other changes, we would return home to begin the negotiations visualised in the Harare Declaration.

President Kaunda was indeed very happy to hear this news and asked that our Secretary General should keep him informed about all further developments.

Ultimately Secretary General Nzo informed President Kaunda that he would lead a senior ANC delegation back to South Africa on 28 April 1990, flying out of Lusaka. The delegation would join Nelson Mandela and other leaders at home for the first session of negotiations between the ANC and the regime, scheduled to take place during the 2nd to the 4th of May. SG Nzo told KK that the regime would send a plane to collect the ANC delegation.

The words spoken then by President Kaunda have remained etched on our memories ever since.

He said the return to South Africa of the senior leaders of the ANC, originating from the Headquarters of the Movement, was an important and historic moment, especially as the mission of these leaders was to secure the liberation of South Africa from apartheid tyranny.

He said it was vital that even as the delegation landed on South African soil it must demonstrate that the ANC is a sovereign political formation, a worthy representative of the people which sought no support or assistance from the apartheid regime.

It would therefore be strategically wrong for the ANC Headquarters delegation to arrive in South Africa transported by a plane supplied by the apartheid regime. KK insisted that the ANC delegation had to arrive in South Africa flying on its own wings.

It was a Zambia Airways plane which carried us out of the then Lusaka International Airport, now the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport, and brought us safely to what was called the D.F. Malan Airport in Cape Town, and now the Cape Town International Airport.

All of us who flew on that Zambia Airways plane on that April day in 1990 kept reminding ourselves that we and all our comrades had a task never to disappoint our very dear leader, KK, and the sister people of Zambia who had received and hosted us with unequalled warmth and comradeship.

A decade before this, after the independence of Zimbabwe, KK began to sing:

Tiwoloke Limpopo ndi mtima umo!
And indeed we crossed the Limpopo.

  • This is an edited version of former President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki’s lecture on ex-Zambian President Kenneth David Kaunda, which was delivered in Lusaka on the first anniversary of his passing away.
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