African leaders gathered with ordinary Zambians to attend a memorial service Friday for Kenneth Kaunda, the nation’s founding president and supporter of African nationalism.
Many of the mourners walked into Zambia’s National Heroes Stadium in the capital, Lusaka, waving white handkerchiefs, Kaunda’s trademark symbol.
Neatly distanced in compliance with COVID-19 social distancing rules, scores of mourners stood on the terraces, dancing to dirges and solemn music played by a military band.
Kaunda, who died on June 17, is remembered for leading Zambia to independence from British colonial rule in 1964 and backing nationalist movements that fought to bring majority rule to Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
He always carried a white handkerchief — an item that he said symbolized love and peace, and which he started carrying while incarcerated during the struggle for independence.
A casket draped in the Zambian flag was driven on a gun carriage into the 60,000-capacity National Heroes Stadium and placed under a white marquee.
Foreign dignitaries in Lusaka to pay their respects include South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta and Ghana’s Nana Akufo-Addo, as well as junior British foreign minister James Duddridge, representing Zambia’s former colonial ruler.
Since Kaunda’s death, Zambia’s military has flown his body to the country’s 10 provinces so that people from all areas of the country could pay their respects.
He hosted many of the movements fighting for independence or black equality in other countries around the continent — sometimes at a heavy cost.
But his popularity at home waned as he became increasingly autocratic and banned all opposition parties.
He eventually ceded power in the first multi-party elections in 1991, losing to trade unionist Fredrick Chiluba.
Zambia declared a period of mourning after his death, with flags flown at half-mast, while his body was taken around the country for the public to pay their respects.