Kenneth Kaunda, the first charismatic president of Zambia, dies at the age of 97

His death was confirmed by the current President of Zambia, Edgar Chagwa Lungu, who said in a facebook post Thursday: “I learned about your passing this afternoon with great sadness.

“On behalf of the entire nation and on behalf of myself, I pray that the entire Kaunda family finds consolation as we mourn our first president and true African symbol,” the president said.

Kaunda was the first President of Zambia after the South African country gained independence from Britain. He ruled from 1964 to 1991 and is known as one of the giants in the continent’s fight against colonialism.

His office said in a press statement on Monday that he was being treated at a military hospital in the capital, Lusaka. His office told Reuters on Tuesday that he was being treated for pneumonia.

Kaunda was one of the first African leaders to peacefully hand over power in 1991, when popular protests forced him to allow multi-party elections, in which he lost to Frederic Chiluba.

He was a charismatic politician whose popular beginnings after Zambia’s independence became increasingly autocratic as he outlawed political parties, and gradually lost public support as his 27-year rule ended.

He became a beloved African politician after his presidency, devoting much of his time to the fight against HIV/AIDS. He was one of the last surviving leaders of the African freedom struggle.

During his tenure, he supported black majority rule in South Africa and present-day Zimbabwe, and hosted anti-apartheid leaders in Zambia. His signature safari jacket paired with formal trousers is still referred to as a kaunda suit in many parts of Africa.

A 21-day period of national mourning has been declared, Simon Mitty, Secretary of the Cabinet and Principal Private Secretary to the President, announced on state TV.

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