Zambia Enters 21 Days of Mourning After Death of Founding President Kenneth Kaunda

Zambia entered 21 days of mourning after its founding president and African independence champion, Kenneth Kaunda, died on Thursday, President Edgar Lungu said.

Kaunda died at 97 after being hospitalized on Monday, when officials said he was being treated for pneumonia.

In an announcement on Facebook, Lungu wrote a farewell to Kaunda, saying citizens of Zambia were "comforted that [he is] now with Our Father, God Almighty in heaven."

"On behalf of the entire nation and on my own behalf I pray that the entire Kaunda family is comforted as we mourn our First President and true African icon," Lungu wrote.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Kenneth Kaunda
Zambia's founding president and African independence champion Kenneth Kaunda died on Thursday at 97 after being hospitalized Monday with pneumonia. Above, Kaunda attends the inauguration ceremony of the Patriotic Front's Edgar Lungu in Lusaka on January 25, 2015. Moses Mwape, File/AP Photo

Kaunda's son, Kamarange Kaunda, also gave the news of the statesman's death on Facebook on Thursday.

"I am sad to inform we have lost Mzee," Kaunda's son wrote, using a Swahili term of respect for an elder. "Let's pray for him."

The southern African country is battling a surge in COVID-19 cases and the country's founding president was admitted to Maina Soko Medical Center, a military hospital that is a center for treating the disease in the capital, Lusaka.

At the time, Kaunda asked for "all Zambians and the international community to pray for him as the medical team is doing everything possible to ensure that he recovers," according to the statement issued by Kaunda's administrative assistant Rodrick Ngolo.

Kaunda was a leader of the campaign that ended British colonial rule and he became Zambia's first democratically elected president in 1964. He led the country, which became a one-party state, until 1991, when he was defeated in an election following the introduction of multiparty politics.

During his rule, Kaunda made Zambia a center for anti-colonial groups fighting to end white minority rule in southern African countries including Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Kaunda allowed the guerilla organizations to maintain military bases, training camps, refugee centers and administrative offices.

Kenneth Kaunda press conference
Zambia's founding president and African independence champion Kenneth Kaunda died on Thursday at 97 after being hospitalized Monday with pneumonia. Above, Kaunda during a press conference in Paris on March 29, 1983. Philippe Bouchon/AFP via Getty Images