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Kenneth Kaunda, former President of Zambia, interviewed about his personal life and career

Kenneth Kaunda, former President of Zambia, interviewed about his personal life and career, by Shaka Sisulu at the Presidents home in Lusaka, Zambia, December 28, 2013


Shaka Sisulu: Tell us a bit more about (your wife) Aunt Betty, when did you meet her?

Kenneth Kaunda: Her parents were working at my home district. My parents were there, her parents were there and when time for her to come to this world, her parents invited my mother to receive her, it was in 1928.

SS: Was your mother a midwife?

KK: She was a teacher, therefore quite cultured in that field, quite used to that. So after a short time her parents were transferred to my home district to another place called Mpika nearby and she grew up there. One of the times she (My mother) passed through Mpika she stopped to see how this girl was growing up and she was quite impressed, after some years she stopped again and this girl was grown up. She had even gone to train as a teacher, and in 1946 my mother passed there again, she noticed this girl was growing very big now, and she was impressed. So she came back home and said young man go there and see, look at that girl, find whether she can make you a good wife.

SS: Ok! It’s a nice way to organize. At the time that she suggested this were you, did you have your eyes at anybody else?

KK: No! I was a young man of 22 years; very active in politics moving up and down the district organizing, organizing against Colonialism so I was a teacher of course, otherwise I was out organizing for our independence.

Shaka: So when your mom suggested you go to Mpika, you went there?

Kenneth: I went there.

Shaka: And what did you find there?

KK: I was very impressed indeed, very impressed I said this is a great woman. This young woman is mine and I’m going to be hers. Let’s see what happens. So I asked President Sata’s parents there, his father to be my envoy to the family of my wife and say please this Kaunda boy wants this to happen, they agreed so Sata’s…President Sata’s, President Sata’s father was my big, messenger he went, he delivered the message, they agreed and so I went back home.

Shaka: Nobody asked her?

KK: Ooh! By that time we had agreed already. I had spoken to her, we had an immediate meeting and love was there, love was there in big capital letters, LOVE, LOVE and so it was great. For me to go back there and get married there so… do a wedding there with her parents present and then I would, I would take her with me back home to do our own again marriage there, so we did that. I went to Mpika this time with my own priest from my own church and the job was done. Marriage took place and I left with her as my wife and me as her husband, we went back home.

KK: There another wedding ceremony, was… took place conducted by the same priest again it went very well so it was two places we got our marriage done. This was 1946.

Shaka: And you were happy together?

KK: 66 years together. Quarrelling, quarreling, quarrelling on our own but when people came to visit us we were happy, no quarrelling, we were a very happy family and we produced a number of children… some of them are now Colonels in the army and some of them are medical doctors and some of them are something else, but we lost one child. When he become very serious, seriously ill we bought her and Harambe to live with us in our State House.

KK: And when he passed on my wife and I made a decision because of fighting AIDS as Head of State. I was fighting AIDS my wife joined me and we thought this should be announced, he died of AIDS, to get out this idea of fearing, don’t mention AIDS, someone dying of AIDS saying no! no! it’s not AIDS, he died of something else. And we made that public, just to show that we are not going to participate in that business of hiding.

SS: You spoke about some of your children, what is it like raising family of 8 children with your wife when you are so busy as a politician?

KK: When we moved from home to Lusaka the capital I had been elected Secretary General of the African National Congress of Northern Rhodesia and she worked out a system where she was able to go to Foreign Department of Northern Rhodesia government and ask for a permission, a permit to chop down one or two trees to produce charcoal with those trees, charcoal she was able to feed our children and all of us, she was able to send them to school and she was able to use that money to look after us as a whole. So she did everything and she grew up like that. That was a wonderful contribution on her part.

SS: There was a lot of your own political success that was owed to her?

KK: Very much indeed! Not only that she was also in politics, there was what we called women’s organization of the African Nation Congress Northern Rhodesia. We were very close. As a teacher, we were both trained teachers I keep saying most of the time I was out, she was on her own with the kids at home and therefore she really was responsible for the way these kids were coming up as most of the time I was out, mobilizing, organizing both inside, outside of the country, so most of the responsibility for getting the family moving was Betty Kaunda’s responsibility.

SS: When did you both learn how to dance? Yesterday you told us this wonderful story about both of you doing the ballroom dance did you learn this together?

KK: No! That I taught her, I taught her how to do it.

SS: When did you learn how to dance?

KK: My… my elder brother was a player of guitars, organs so he used to play those instruments and we used to dance right at home and so we grew up there knowing how to dance on our own and when she joined us, she joined a family which was a dancing family.

SS: And that’s also where you learnt to play your guitar and your piano?

KK:  Yes! My brother taught me how to play the guitar, the organ. I was taught by some missionaries- my parents and they got us a small organ, which I learnt how to play.

SS: And singing? And the singing, and writing songs?

KK: Singing… well my parents of course were very useful in that field because they were both teachers, also and when we were growing up playing music of different types. So we joined them in a way and I think that’s when I suspect we were fortunate but then I was unfortunate that I became active in politics and therefore as I went down the country behind I learnt quite a lot about how to sing, how to compose some songs on certain subjects. Political matters, poverty, and issues in all that nature. I enjoyed… composing songs.

SS: I mean yesterday you sang two songs that you could compose, one for your wife, one was ‘Tiende Pamodzi’ is it possible to be a good revolutionary if you are not composing songs or writing poetry?

KK: It’s politics which, made me active in life and therefore, most of the songs I composed were politically inclined, inclined to be political because we were trying to say something about political situations where we were at that particular time, at that particular time in our nation, or in the continent of Africa.

Shaka: So were you made for politics?

KK: I don’t know whether I was made for politics or I made my life political but I must say that those commandments of the Lord, God Almighty I think influenced my life to a great deal. Remember the commandments are love God your Creator with all your heart, all soul, all your mind, all your strength as those made in his image like you the commandment is love your neighbor as you love yourself, do unto others as you would have them do unto you so this guidance, these commandments I think they helped me a lot in terms of what songs I… I would go in for composition, which subjects.

SS: So sometimes when you reflect on your own life, in, on the politics that you made your life, do you not get a sense that this was your destiny? God put you on earth to be KK as you are? God put you on earth to be the father of the nation?

KK: I have no doubt at all young man that the commandments I keep referring to are God’s desire for not only one man but for human beings East, West, North, South, whatever we are all required, to be influenced by this commandments and therefore whether or not one can say… God made me to be what I am. I can’t say that.  I don’t know, but I must say is there is no doubt in my mind that his commandments are responsible for what I am today, no doubt about it. His commandments, and therefore it is his hands.  Of course, we must end there by saying it is his hand, his hand that has made me to be where I am today.

SS: On your journey to where you are, are there any great friends that influenced you on your journey in politics aside from Aunty Betty?

KK: Well there is no doubt at all that Mahatma Gandhi of India influenced my thinking a lot because of his non-violent approach to life. He taught us all in this world, all human beings should remember that if you are fighting British-Colonialism you can do that peacefully in a non-violent way but if you are fighting other Colonial powers no, you got use force. This teaching influenced me a lot in my thinking and… it, it made me decide that my calling in Zambia, we could manage to fight ours non-violently, whereas our other neighbors as well Mozambique, Southern Rhodesia, South Africa… Southeast Africa, those could not do it that way.

KK: But we also knew that when it came to these other countries they had to find ways of fighting in a violent way, how did they do that? How did they do that? So we fought here non-violently, we went to prison, out, went back, we had been in prison for being, for doing things… we of course were is something… some kind of environment that has got violence, killing people or want to kill soldiers of the British, no! We were in prison for these things; defying British laws, unjust laws, British colonial laws when we did that we were arrested, imprisoned, came out, continued to fight and I say until when, now when we do that? When doing that we had a duty to help our brothers in other countries, first we wanted to fix South Africa. So we had to help them how to go about this, to tell the whole world what was happening in South Africa because the rest of the world did not appreciate the ugliness, how ugly Apartheid was in life of human beings.  So because of that we had a great strong relationship with that great African leader Julius Kambarage Nyerere.  Between two of us we agreed that we would help our brothers and sisters in countries where they couldn’t fight for their independence in a non-violent way.

KK: To get them prepared for this, President Nyerere made arrangements in Tanganyika soil, Tanzania today, made arrangements for us to get our people from near countries to pass through Northern Rhodesia and go to Tanganyika to go and train for the use of weapons. This is how China came here, that’s how the Soviet Union came in, they brought in people to train our brothers and sisters who were coming from South Africa, from Southern Rhodesia, from Mozambique, from Angola they came through here, through Northern Rhodesia.

KK: Because we were strong as a party, they could come into Northern Rhodesian area and we would help them escape Northern Rhodesia police, how they came to the border with us and then leave through Botswana if they were from South Africa and they would meet, we would meet them, and guide them to escape Northern Rhodesian police or the British, or the British and we would take them to the boarder in Tanganyika.

KK: And Julius Nyerere’s people would receive them there take them to the training centres, he had sub-centres for all those countries; Angola, Mozambique, Southern Rhodesia, South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique…we did that as soon as we became independent in Zambia. We were nearer towards these countries than Tanganyika was so we had of course established already centres for, for parties those who were struggling for independence on Zambian soil, and so we began to find areas where to train them the use of arms and we did that in rural areas.

KK: That’s now how the Boers began bombing us, they came through but we were turning them here, they began bombing our roads, our bridges and our centers and we’ve become a center now of attacks by all these people including Portuguese on the borders of Angola, borders of Mozambique, but we went through all that because of that teaching of that great man Mahatma Gandhi.

SS: Did you fear for your own life at all?

KK: Without doubt that… I was open, there was no doubt at all that I was target of the Boer system, they knew what I stood for, I had spoken to the Boer leader Vorster… demanding the release of Nelson Mandela and his colleagues. The next one I met was Botha, his successor, and I made the same point, then of course I met de Klerk who flew from South Africa into Livingstone.  He was then just Secretary General of the Boer party, political party and I was with him, I was making same point and in the end I was satisfied and I said to a press conference which I held here that I can do business with this man. And did things happen I thank God.

KK: I had met many other Boer leaders, business ones, they became very interested when they began seeing me meeting the leaders, political leaders. Businessmen wanted to see what I was talking about I told them on several occasions. I didn’t meet many religious leaders but definitely businessmen I did and quite, quite useful.

SS: Was there ever an attack or an attempt on your own life that you could remember?

KK: Many occasions in… but I want to believe that the home attacks, those attacks that I suffered, quite serious attacks they were mainly by people like late President Chiluba, he’s agents I think he was working with the South Africans very much, they were close friends. The Boers leaders and Chiluba, President Chiluba of Zambia they were very close friends and they happened to organize attacks on me and I escaped several times from gun shots and I thank God I escaped, he, he saved me I can say and that’s how I survived death.

SS: A leader was not as fortunate, Samora Machel. Do you remember the events leading up to his passing?

KK: I have very sad memories about that, he had come to meet with me, President Samora Machel we had various meeting and he was going back when this thing happened, yes! I was very sad. He had come as my guest we were still close friends working together; fight together that fight when this happened.

SS: Did the energy in the fight against apartheid go down when Samora Machel went down?

KK: Of course not, of course not, we always thought it was a way of paying a very high price, the highest we had ever paid but we were still fighting and we had to go ahead, go on, go on.

SS: I’m going to just mention a few names of other African leaders and just give me a memory or a thought or what you can think of them. Patrice Lumumba?

KK: Very close colleague, I met him once but unfortunately he was, his life was stolen by capitalists elements, we lost him.

SS: Agostinho Neto?

KK: Very close colleagues and comrades, very close comrade.

SS: Nkrumah?

KK: Very close comrade. He was our leader, he was there before we started and he came out with a teaching that Ghana’s independence was not meaningful without our South Africa being independent, we learnt a lot from that.

SS: Robert Mugabe?

KK: Yes! We were close colleagues and comrades.

Shaka: I want to go back a bit in time with you if you allow me, what made you break away from the ANC and form UNIP?

KK: You see when we…became the active in politics in Zambia we had North Rhodesia African Congress led by Godwin Lewanika who became one of the Rulers, King to the Northern Province area. He was also President of the African National Congress, and the Secretary General, they were together in ‘50s, they were leading us and I remember one day they called a meeting of the African Congress in Lusaka.

KK: A place called Kawata township and that meeting this young man called Harry Nkumbula who has been at the University of Makerere in East Africa was back and they asked him to speak, he was speaking, he spoke very well I shouted “Long live Harry, death to the traitor!” I did that and we end up, we elected him as youth leader so he took over, he now teamed up with African National Congress of South Africa and he renamed our congress here African National Congress Northern Rhodesia.

KK: This was 1951, ‘52 I even invited him to my home district, we looked after him, he went back to Lusaka, he impressed everybody, in ‘52 he made me Provincial Vice Secretary for Northern Province. Then at Northern Province was three provinces, three of them they were all one province and before I was elected Secretary General, I worked round that province for three months and I managed to do that because I had a bicycle.

KK: I had bought a bicycle when I was a teacher. When I came back home my second born child rushed to his aunt, my first born sister of my mother and said a huge fellow was come with big beard, meaning his father, he didn’t know it was me.

KK: After that I was elected Secretary General now of the African National Congress for the whole country in ’53 and I moved to Lusaka and took over now the mobilization of the whole country, that’s how I came out to come and help organize the African National Congress of Northern Rhodesia and I was of course cautious to the fact that there were so many other people who were trying to do the same but I had to add my own,

SS: You were now in Lusaka working for the ANC you had, you had left your teaching job?

KK: Yes! I left my teaching job in 1949, so a colleague of mine and I bought those two bicycles and we used to go to the border with Congo buy certain clothes come back to town, and until I managed to buy these two bicycles. And we decided to go back home now to go and form co-operative shops, corporative farms.

KK: In two different places in our district we didn’t have much sufficient money but my wife and one kid, we put them on a lorry we had to go by cycling back home, to cut that story short back to there we can now going round to organize co-operatives then, came politics.

KK: I was elected Secretary General of the African National Congress of Zambia, that’s why we continued now from there until we had to…we were sometimes together we were very close together with my President, the new President.

KK: And myself we were very close together until the early ‘60s… a new brunch, a new group of Zambians had grown, had come up and were not very happy with what my President was doing, he was friends with a man called Harry Franklin who was representing African interests in our National Council around our parliament. My young people were not happy with him because of his friendship with this man Harry Franklin who was also a member of parliament representing our interest. But he was not doing what we thought he should be doing, let me cut the story short, that a thing brought troubles between me and my leader.

SS: This is the man who in Lusaka you had said 8 years earlier “Long live Harry death to the traitor!”

KK: The same man exactly!

SS: You felt he was a traitor now?

KK: I’m still very fond of him, I must say but all young people who had grown up, some of them were lawyers, some of them were Economists, some were trained and educated in India, some educated in London, they were all back now and they were all looking to me saying you are delaying our independence, let, let this old man go and rest you take over.

KK: They were telling me that, I said no! No! I still trust that old man but then one day we were meeting and they told me that they are going to leave if I didn’t take a decision.  So, sad day for him, my leader, this one started saying ‘no, no I’m leaving I’m not happy with this leadership’, he left. A number of them left, all active young men, very strong organizers until then Samuel Masopo our treasurer said Mr. President I’m sorry, I’m leaving.

KK: He was sad, very sad so you all of them had left, one of our first African lawyers who worked here in the politics and so in the end young man I had to leave I stood up and said old man, I was still respectful old man… he said KK stop! Stop! Stop! I said old man I must leave, I must go.

KK: He said Kaunda come back! Come back! I said sorry old man I’m going, I left and that’s how the UNIP organization was formed. It was a sad moment for my brother, my senior man, my leader but it was better off a very active politics from there we moved very fast, very fast indeed.

SS: Your Excellency in all the years of politics what was some of the biggest lessons that you’ve learnt?

KK: Very good question. I think that… the question of loving your neighbors as you love yourself is an extremely important one and I think it dawned me during all that difficult period more than before and it helps me a lot to have do it, make contributions towards what my colleagues and I were doing during the struggle.

SS: Do you remember how you used to pick yourself up when things were difficult and also how did you celebrate when you earned successes?

KK: I think during celebrating times one thing that came into my mind was thanking God with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind, all my strength that he had made this possible for us. So I think that’s how I saw it, how I still see it today, to thank God.

KK: I think that… the question of loving your neighbors as you love yourself is an extremely important one and I think it dawned me during all that difficult period more than before and it helps me a lot to have do it, make contributions towards what my colleagues and I were doing during the struggle.

SS: Do you remember how you used to pick yourself up when things were difficult and also how did you celebrate when you earned successes?

KK: I think during celebrating times one thing that came into my mind was thanking God with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind, all my strength that he had made this possible for us. So I think that’s how I saw it, how I still see it today, to thank God.

SS: Do you have any dreams for your children and your grandchildren?

KK: What I dream for my children, my grandchildren, is prayer for them, each of them, each one of them, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren. I pray for each one of them may the good Lord, God Almighty bless you, guide you, in your thoughts, your words and deeds each of them even you my guests, I’m saying the same thing to you even when I greet you, I saying may the good Lord, all mighty continue to bless and guide you that’s the right thing to do for him and for his people on earth East, West, North, South, Amen! That’s what I do.

SS: It’s been an honor and privilege to speak with you, we were able to learn a bit more about the history of our continent from you. As they say from your lips to God’s lips, thank you Mr. President.

KK: Let me say that it’s been for me a wonderful experience to see some of you children of all those great freedom fighters in South Africa who worked with Nelson Mandela, Oliver O.R Tambo, and those great names there. I see some of you here interesting thing I worked with them, I thank God for them a lot and please continue to follow the foot steps of your parents that’s what is going to assist South Africa to get where it should get.

KK: I always say for now after the independence of Africa it’s important to remember fighting poverty and issues of hunger, ignorance, diseases, crime, corruption and above all exploitation of man by man these are the things we should stand for now, we must stand for now as freedom fighters. Once again I say young people thank you for coming to Zambia, Lusaka Zambia may God continue to bless and guide you in your thoughts, words and deeds Amen!

SS: The young people who don’t know much about the history of Africa, of Zambia, of South Africa, when they hear about Kaunda what would you like them to think about?

KK: You know, he is one of those kind of guys who became interested in this trouble for independence and he helped with the independence struggle in Zambia regards what was happening.

SS: I see, you remind me very much of my grandfather, he has an incredible humanity, moved mountains to change the world for all of us and even the way he wanted to be remembered is nothing like the great work that you’ve done, thank you for that Mr. President.

KK: Thank you young man, thank you but we leave all that in God’s hands, He guides, He is, He leads and we shall see where, we shall see where.

Shaka: Right, we wrap it up for real this time!  


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