Zambia is mourning the death of Betty Kaunda, wife of the country’s founding president, Kenneth Kaunda, who died early Wednesday in Zimbabwe while visiting her daughter.
The former first lady is viewed as the mother of the nation and the strength of her husband, who played a leading role during Africa’s liberation struggle. Kaunda was 84.
Zambia’s minister for foreign affairs and tourism, Given Lubinda, President Michael Sata and the people of Zambia are shocked and saddened by the death of the woman known by most Zambians as “Mama Kaunda.”
“The Zambian people and the government of Zambia received the information about the passing of the former first lady, Mama Betty Kaunda, with a great sense of shock because the last time Mama Betty Kaunda appeared in public in the company of her husband, she looked well and happy with her usual smile. Mrs. Betty Kaunda is considered by all Zambians as a mother of the nation, and the country at the moment is engulfed in a sense of grief,” he said.
Lubinda said Kaunda’s popularity even in death, and nearly 21 years since her husband left power, is symptomatic of the kind of humble life she led.
“People in Zambia remember very well the painful experience that Mrs. Kaunda underwent in 1990 after Frederick Chiluba became the second Republican president. President Kenneth Kaunda was humiliated, together with his family, and yet Madam Betty Kaunda handled everything with such a sense of responsibility and so much grace. Even after Dr. Kaunda was imprisoned by Frederick Chiluba during Christmas, Madam Betty Kaunda never said any word disparaging President Chiluba and his government,” he said.
He said the late former first lady is also being mourned by many Zambians because in life they consider her as a fountain of hope and inspiration.
Mrs. Kaunda’s husband, the first president of Zambia, contributed greatly towards the liberation of Zambia and the southern African region as a whole.
Lubinda said Kaunda was the strength of her husband during the liberation struggle.
“Dr. Kenneth Kaunda in his book, Letter to My Children, narrates very eloquently what he kept repeating as his fountain of strength during the liberation struggle, and his fountain of strength was no other than Mama Betty Kaunda. When President Kaunda was incarcerated during the liberation struggle, he went into incarceration with strength because he knew that Mama Betty Kaunda was there to continue the struggle and to continue to take care of their children,” he said.
Lubinda said the Zambian government will give Mrs. Kaunda a befitting funeral.
According to The Zambia Post newspaper, Kaunda is survived by her husband of 66 years, eight children, 30 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.