posters of Kenneth KaundaPosters of Kenneth Kaunda at his state funeral in July 2021. [photo: South African Government]

[This is an excerpt from an article in The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs.]

I had many contacts with Kenneth Kaunda during the period of Zambia’s move towards independence. It was a complicated time, not least because Zambia’s links (when it was Northern Rhodesia) with Southern Rhodesia were greatly affected by the racist attitude of those then leading Southern Rhodesia.

One of Kaunda’s great strengths was his forward-looking approach.

He was international in his approach, and he was highly regarded for his judgement. He did not always have an easy time. One example of this was when he decided that the time was appropriate to stand down as president of Zambia, and let someone else take over. No sooner had he resigned than his successor had him arrested and detained. There was an immediate reaction from his friend and former Tanzanian President, Julius Nyerere, who had a great regard for him. Nyerere flew immediately to Zambia and demanded to visit Kaunda in jail. He then announced that he intended to stay with him and called for his friend’s release. Kaunda was duly released, and was able to set up a home in the country.

One important aspect of Kaunda’s internationalism was his world-wide travelling. He was always drawing great strength from his wide-ranging experience of international affairs.

I met him on a number of occasions when I was visiting Africa (as Africa correspondent of The Times in the early 1960s). Later, when I had left that paper, and was working in the UK, I continued to keep in touch with him.

I also met him when he visited the UK.

One such occasion remains firmly in my memory. It was in the mid-960s, soon after I had given up working as the Africa correspondent of The Times, and had taken up a role as a Careers Adviser at Oxford University. Kenneth Kaunda, then President of Zambia, was on a visit to the UK.

He decided to come to Oxford to visit me. I was asked, for security reasons, to say nothing in advance to anyone about the visit. My slight concern was that I lived in a house in a cul de sac. We had a long garden and five sets of neighbours with houses on the garden’s borders.

My concern was increased when Kenneth Kaunda arrived in a large official car, flying the Zambian flag! His driver got out and asked if he might have a quick look inside the house, for security reasons. I said he would be welcome to stay for lunch, but he politely declined, and said he would drive into Oxford to visit his college. We were left in sole charge of the President.

W.P. Kirkman is Emeritus Fellow, Wolfson College, Cambridge, UK.