Lusaka — THE demise of Zambia's First Citizen, Dr Kenneth Kaunda is the departure of the last of the famed fathers of Africa's independence.
It brings the curtains down to an era of a revered generation of the greatest politicians and liberators whose shoes will prove impossible to fill for current and future generations in the African continent.
Kaunda, who has died in the capital Lusaka, aged 97 after battling pneumonia, will be mentioned in the same breath as Kamuzu Banda (founding father of Malawi), Felix Houphouet-Boigny (Ivory Coast), Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya), Samora Machel (Mozambique), Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe), Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Julius Nyerere (Tanzania), Leopold Sedar Senghor (Senegal), Nelson Mandela (South Africa), Samuel Nujoma *Namibia) and Ahmed Sekou Toure (Guinea).
These great men are doyens of the liberation of their countries and anchors of a patriotic movement known universally as pan-Africanism.
Last month at the commemoration of Africa Day, the African Union (AU) honoured the man famous for his signature safari suit with a special award recognising his role and the immense contribution he made to the liberation of the continent and its people.
Befittingly, the event marked the official launch of the Charter for African Cultural Renaissance.
Kaunda was the only surviving leader among those that attended the meeting to form the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).
Formed in 1963, OAU is the precursor of the AU.
"It is with an indescribable sense of loss that I learnt of the passing of H.E. Kenneth Kaunda, first president of the Republic of Zambia and one of the Founding Fathers of the Organisation of African Unity," stated Moussa Faki Mahamat, the African Union Commission chairperson.
Born the youngest of eight children in the north-eastern Chinsali town on April 28 1924, to a missionary-cum-teacher father and mother who was also a teacher, Kaunda masterminded the independence of the then-Northern Rhodesia from Britain.
He became the first President of an independent Zambia on October 24, 1964.
Kaunda's government did not rest on its laurels after attaining self-rule. His administration is credited with the attainment of the independence of other states, mostly in Southern Africa.
Kaunda was an outspoken supporter of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and opposed white minority rule in Southern Rhodesia.
Zambia provided logistical support for the black nationalist movements in Angola, Mozambique, southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), South West Africa (later Namibia) and South Africa.
In the early 1970s, Kaunda's government permitted liberation guerrilla organisations from the above-mentioned countries to use Zambia as a base for their operations.
South African political stalwart, Oliver Tambo, spent a lengthy proportion of his 30-year exile living and working in Zambia.
For a majority of the Cold War, Kaunda was a strong advocate of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and served as its chairman from 1970 to 1973.
He played a mediatory role for the independence of southern neighbour Zimbabwe, whose freedom was to be attained in 1980.
But like a majority of the "founding fathers", Kaunda was not spared the well-trodden path of liberator-turned-autocrat.
His government would later develop clearly dictatorial tendencies.
Increasingly intolerant of the opposition, he banned all parties except his United National Independence Party (UNIP), following violence during the 1968 elections.
In 1972, Zambia became a one-party state. Kaunda was elected unopposed in 1973 elections.
He assumed single control of the copper-rich nation.
His grip on power started loosening with the advent of the 1990s amid a series of protests over economic crises and his dictatorship.
He was overthrown in a coup that lasted for several hours, masterminded by Lieutenant Mwamba Luchembe of the Zambian Army.
While he survived, the writing was on the wall.
His power weakened, he caved in to demands, assenting to constitutional amendments that would dismantle UNIP's monopoly on power.
Elections held in 1991 heralded his exit from office, after a landslide victory by trade unionist, Frederick Chiluba.
Unlike some that battled to shed off this dictatorial tag, post-defeat, Kaunda rebranded himself such that in the history of Zambia, he until his death remained the most legendary figure in Zambia across all spheres of life.
His involvement with charitable organisations and unmatched fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS earned him local and international acclaim.
That messages of condolences have come from all walks of life- from sport to politics, and from home and abroad underlines his impact.
"Goodbye to you President Kenneth Kaunda. I am and will always be a proud member of the "KK11". Dignity & honor. May your dear soul rest in Eternal Peace, knowing the immense impact you made on all of us Zambians, Africans and World at large," eulogised Kalusha Bwalya, the world famous Zambian international footballer.
Bwalya captained the all-conquering national football team most of whose members perished in a DHC-5 Buffalo transport aircraft of the Zambian Air Force that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean shortly after taking off from Libreville, Gabon, in 1993.
"This is a sad moment for South Africa and the African continent at large, as a giant of the liberation struggle of South African and the continent has fallen. Dr Kaunda holds a special place in the hearts of our movement, our country and the South African people," the continent's oldest liberation movement, the African National Congress, stated.
Zimbabwean President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was exiled in Zambia, during the war of liberation for Zimbabwe paid his tribute to Kaunda.
"It was with a sense of shock and deep sorrow that I learnt of the passing on of His Excellency Dr Kenneth Kaunda, the founding President of the Republic of Zambia. The passing on of this renowned Pan Africanist and elder statesman has robbed the Kaunda family of an exemplary Father, an astute politician, and leader whose immense contribution to the liberation of Southern African countries from colonial rule is well documented and acknowledged by the international community.
"On behalf of the people of Zimbabwe, and indeed on my own behalf, I wish to convey our most sincere condolences to you, and through you to the Kaunda family, the Government, and people of Zambia, on this sad loss," said Mnangagwa.
Botswana has declared a seven- day mourning period in honour of the late Dr. Kenneth Kaunda.
Zambia President, Edgar Lungu, declared 21 days of national mourning.
His death comes as the Southern African country is engulfed by violence ahead of the August 12 poll.
Political players owe it to his legacy to ensure the polls are credible, in line with Kaunda's, "One Zambi, One Nation" ethos.