A STATE memorial service for Zambia’s first president, Kenneth Kaunda, has been held with a 21-gun salute and a fly past by the air force.
Mr. Kaunda died last month, aged 97, after suffering from pneumonia.
He was one of the last of a generation of African rulers who fought colonial rule and became president after Zambia gained its independence in 1964.
The service is being held at a stadium in the capital, Lusaka, where foreign dignitaries are paying tributes.
Inside the stadium, many Zambians also waved white handkerchiefs in tribute to the former leader who was rarely seen without one.
After his death, the government declared three weeks of national mourning, with all forms of entertainment suspended. His body was also taken around the country for members of the public to pay their respects.
Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu has also declared public holidays for the days of the memorial and the funeral – which will be held in private next week.
Among those at Friday’s ceremony were the leaders of Kenya and Ghana, as well as South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, who shared images of the day on social media.
Kaunda – popularly known as KK – was a strong supporter of efforts to end apartheid in South Africa. He was also a leading supporter of liberation movements in Mozambique and what is now Zimbabwe.
Speaking at the ceremony, African Union chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat said Kaunda a “giant among men” and “the last of the founding fathers who delivered independence to more than just his own land”.
“Had it not been for the selfless efforts of his generation I would not be before you today as the African Union would not exist,” added Mr. Mahamat. “We are forever indebted to Kenneth Kaunda and the people of Zambia.”
Kaunda rose to prominence as a key figure in what was then Northern Rhodesia’s independence movement from Britain in the 1950s.
He was nicknamed by some “Africa’s Gandhi” for his non-violent approach to activism.
As head of the left-leaning United National Independence Party (UNIP), Kaunda then led the country through decades of one-party rule.
But his popularity at home waned as he became increasingly autocratic, and he stepped down after losing multi-party elections in 1991.
In later life, Kaunda turned his attention to the fight against HIV after one of his sons, Masuzyo, died from an Aids-related disease.
“We fought colonialism. We must now use the same zeal to fight Aids, which threatens to wipe out Africa,” he told Reuters news agency in 2002.