By Kutwano Masote
As I wave goodbye back to Kenneth Kaunda, let me share this story:
It was in about 2002, at the inaugural National Order of Merit awards. They are awarded in different categories, one being the ‘Order of the Companions of OR Tambo’, bestowed upon non-SA nationals whose friendship and support is valued and thereby acknowledged. KK was one of the recipients of an award in this category on that day. Retired President Nelson Mandela was also on the roll for the Order of Mapungubwe, the highest honour.
I was in the small orchestra on stage, the best seat in the house because the cello section is on the stage right closest to the podium where the citations were read by Chancellor in the Presidency, Frank Chikane. President Thabo Mbeki was presenting the medals a mere three meters from where I sat. We rehearsed the day before with all the dignitaries attending as it was a televised event.
On the day, the entire concourse of the Presidency in the Union Buildings rose to their feet as Madiba made it up the ramp to receive his award. The moment was prolonged as the old man took his time, limping to the stage with the help of his walking cane. There President Mbeki waited to put the medal around his neck. A rousing round of applause, and even his personalized anthem Haona a tswanang le ena, accompanied Madiba off the stage and back to his seat. Surely the high point of the morning’s proceedings.
At least until later in the proceedings when KK’s name was called out by the Chancellor and his impressive citation was read. Once more, the entire concourse rose in applause. Then he did the KK thing. Standing at the bottom of the ramp (white handkerchief in hand), he turned to Madiba, smiled, sprinted on the spot like a boxer who had just climbed into a boxing ring. Kaunda then trotted up the ramp like a teenage boy would casually do, demonstrating the reserves of youth still within. Madiba, thankfully with his trademark sense of humor, laughed like a small child. We were all in stitches. It was so unexpected and hilarious. Two old men who clearly did this to each other at every opportunity and laugh about it. Egos long extinguished by then.
KK won the day. Not even death can take that moment away from him and everyone who witnessed it. He had served as Zambia’s president from 1964 to 1991 and lived another 30 years, still in service of humanity. Rest well KK.
.The founding father of a post colonial Zambia, Kenneth ‘KK’ Kaunda passed on Wednesday, June 17, 2021 at the age of 96.