Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia’s first president, dies aged 97

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Kenneth Kaunda, the founding president of Zambia, has died at the age of 97.

The former president’s death was announced by Zambian media on Thursday afternoon.

He was on Monday admitted to Maina Soko military hospital in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital, where he was treated for pneumonia.

Zambian President Edgar Lungu had subsequently asked citizens to offer prayers for him.

“He stood up for this great nation at its most critical moment, and so we can all stand up for him in his moment of weakness,” Lungu had said.

Kaunda, one of Africa’s liberation heroes, was said to have made a steady recovery and was responding well to treatment as of Wednesday.

He ruled Zambia for 27 years — starting from 1964 after the country gained independence from Britain.

After losing the 1991 multi-party elections to Frederick Chiluba, leader of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy, Kaunda stepped down.

In 2000, he resigned as leader of his United National Independence Party (UNIP).

Kaunda’s death comes as the Southern African country is battling a surge in COVID-19 cases.

The Zambia ministry of health had said bed occupancy rate at COVID-19 care centres had exceeded 100 percent and that health workers were overwhelmed.

“Having 726 in-patients due to 65+9- with 195 admissions and 28 deaths in 24 hours for a small population of our country is very alarming, and calls for us as a people to put all our different opinions and beliefs aside and bind together to effectively respond to the current situation,” Kennedy Malama, permanent secretary in the ministry of health, had said.

“Experience from across the globe has shown that once COVID-19 hospitalisations reach 40 percent bed capacity, the health care workers and other systems become overwhelmed due to the unique demands COVID-19 patients present.

“We are now operating at 100% bed occupancy and we are still mobilising more bed space. This is not sustainable.”

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