Harare – While Africa mourned the death of Kenneth Kaunda the passionate and consummate politician, the world of literature was also lamenting the departure of a great writer and orator.
Before raising to power as Zambia’s first, Kaunda was a fierce anti-colonialism activist who voiced his concerns through the written word.
As an activist fighting colonial rule in the then Northern Rhodesia, Kaunda published an array of books that encapsulated the personal and national struggle for freedom.
His often partly autobiographical works include Black Government (1961), Zambia Shall Be Free (1962), The Humanist in Africa (1966), Humanism in Zambia and its Implementation (1967), Letter to my Children (1973), Kaunda on Violence (1980), The Riddle of Violence (1981), The Political Philosophy of President Kenneth D Kaunda of Zambia (1981) and State of the Nation: National Economy (1988).
Of these, Zambia Shall Be Free is regarded as his most moving and poignant work. It was one of the pioneering writings during the decolonisation wave of the 1960s when it was published by the famed African Writers Series.
The book chronicles Kaunda’s life and personal struggles, and merges these seamlessly with the struggle for black liberation.
“My parents gave me the name Buchizya, meaning ‘the unexpected one’, for I was born in their twentieth year of their marriage, the eighth in the line of children, three of who died young. I was born in 1924 at Lubwa in the hills of the watershed between the great Luangwa and Chambezi rivers,” he wrote.
His mother was quite supportive of his ambitions, and notably, Helen Kaunda is also celebrated as the first African teacher in Zambia.
Kaunda writes about his experience of racism in Northern Rhodesia, giving insights into the experiences that would shape his famed humanism though the influences of the likes of Ghana’s Nkrumah and India’s Ghandi.
Nigerian writer Chkwuebuka Ibeh praises Zambia Must Be Free as one of the towering monuments of African literature.
“Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Ngugi wa Thiongo and their peers first established a global literary platform for their anti-colonial writing in the ‘50s and ‘60s. But nonfiction was not always a part of this tradition. So Kaunda’s account of his life at the time was a much needed contributions to the growing body of literature exploring the widespread resistance against colonial rule. At a time when fiction dominated the African literary scene, Kaunda’s biography opened a new space for documenting the decolonisation efforts”, Ibeh says.
In 1966 when he became the first Chancellor of the new University of Zambia, Kaunda unsurprisingly introduced a free books policy, something that other institutions quickly emulated.