Former president Thabo Mbeki says Zambia's first president Kenneth Kaunda played a pivotal role in the liberation of Africa from colonialism and apartheid.
Mbeki was delivering the first Kenneth Kaunda Memorial Lecture at the Mulungushi International Conference Centre in Lusaka on Thursday night, on the first anniversary of Kaunda's death. The function was hosted by the Centre for Policy Dialogue.
In the address streamed by the SABC, he said he had been regularly exposed to Kaunda's leadership during the two decades he was based in Zambia.
"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 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," Mbeki said.
He added that Kaunda had been opposed to settler colonialism in particular.
South Africa had struggled against "colonialism of a special type", where settlers within the country ensured the indigenous African population was stripped entirely of rights and productive property, including land.
This ensured settlers could suppress any rebellion by the majority - the black oppressed.
Mbeki said independent Zambia was born in 1964 under circumstances in which the liberation movements in southern Africa were launching strategic offensives to remove the colonial and apartheid regimes.
He said Kaunda was not just concerned with Zambia's independence, but also that of Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, and had opened the country's doors to their liberation movements.
Kaunda had felt that apartheid, which formed institutions where no blacks could go, did not just happen in South Africa, but these other countries too.
Mbeki quoted from Kaunda's writings, saying that Tanzania's Julius Nyerere had helped the Zambian liberation movement, so he [Kaunda] had felt that Zambia had to do the same for other liberation movements, even if it meant being bombed.
'Radio Freedom made an important contribution'
Known as "KK", Kaunda had left an indelible imprint on the successful struggle for the total liberation of Africa from colonialism and apartheid, Mbeki said.
"For those of us who know first-hand what President Kaunda and all Zambia did to help us achieve our freedom, 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," he said.
Mbeki said that in the 1980s, as sanctions bit, the white elite in South Africa wanted to talk to the African National Congress (ANC) about ending apartheid. He said "big white business" was the first to defy the apartheid regime in this regard.
Former ANC president Oliver Tambo and Kaunda agreed that the meeting should be in Zambia, and Kaunda arranged flights and a venue for the delegations. The Zambian president had also attended as an observer, adding gravitas.
Kaunda also authorised that the Zambia Broadcasting Service should give a slot to the ANC for a daily broadcast, under the name Radio Freedom, which Mbeki regarded as a powerful mobilising tool.
"Radio Freedom made an important contribution to the ultimate victory of our liberation movements."
However, the apartheid regime was still assassinating ANC leaders, so Zambians helped secure Tambo's safety so that he would not become a victim of apartheid terrorism, said Mbeki.
When Kaunda heard about this, he arranged a house for Tambo in Lusaka, with Zambian guards.
According to SA History Online, Mbeki was reunited with his father Govan in Lusaka, after decades apart.
Tambo suffered a serious stroke in 1989, while working at his desk in Lusaka and Kaunda quickly arranged for a plane to fly him to a hospital in London, selected by Tambo's wife Adelaide, who was in London at the time.
Mbeki said, thanks to Kaunda's quick assistance, Tambo could return to South Africa after the unbanning of the ANC, and he was able to deliver the opening address at the first conference of an unbanned ANC in 1991.
He said it was not possible to separate the "two African giants" - Kaunda and Tambo.
'Man of principle, high values and integrity'
Kaunda had also provided a plane for a delegation, led by Tambo, to listen to proposals by different heads of the Frontline States ahead of anticipated negotiations with the apartheid regime, and continued to support the ANC after its unbanning.
Mbeki said, on 28 April 1990, he had flown out of Lusaka with a senior ANC delegation to return to South Africa to join former president Nelson Mandela for the first session of negotiations with the apartheid regime.
At the time, the apartheid government wanted to send a plane, but Kaunda felt that the ANC needed to show that it sought no support or assistance from it. Kaunda insisted that the ANC delegation fly into South Africa "on its own wings" in a Zambia Airways plane.
When they arrived at the (now) Cape Town International Airport, the delegation of senior ANC leaders on board kept reminding themselves that they could never disappoint Kaunda, or the Zambians who had hosted them with unequal warmth.
South Africa admitted Kaunda into the Order of the Companions of OR Tambo - the highest award to non-South Africans who have distinguished themselves as friends and supporters of the country. The government also set aside a government house in Pretoria for him to use to write his memoirs. Mbeki said the memoirs were in the process of being published.
The former South African president received a standing ovation following his tribute.
"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," Mbeki concluded.
Kaunda died at the age of 97 in June 2021.
Kaunda's wife Betty died in 2012, aged 84. They had eight children.
They were survived by 30 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.