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Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia’s first charismatic president, died at 97
His passing was confirmed by the current President of Zambia, Edgar Chagwa Lungu, who said in a Facebook post on Thursday: “I learned of your passing this afternoon with great sadness.

“On behalf of the whole nation and on my own behalf, I pray that the entire Kaunda family will be comforted as we mourn our first president and true African icon,” the president added.

Kaunda was the first president of Zambia after the southern African country gained independence from Great Britain. He reigned from 1964 to 1991 and is known as one of the giants of the continent’s struggle against colonialism.

He was being treated for an undisclosed illness at a military hospital in the capital Lusaka, his office said in a press release on Monday. His office told Reuters on Tuesday he was being treated for pneumonia.

Kaunda was one of the first African leaders to hand over power peacefully in 1991 after popular protests forced him to allow multi-party elections, which he lost to Fredrick Chiluba.

Watch CNN’s interview with Kaunda in 2010

He was a charismatic politician whose popular beginnings after Zambia’s independence became increasingly autocratic as he banned political parties, and gradually lost public support by the end of his rule of 27 years.

He became a beloved African statesman in his post-presidency, devoting much of his time to the fight against HIV / AIDS. He was among the last living leaders in the struggle for African independence.

During his tenure he supported the black majority regime in current South Africa and Zimbabwe and hosted anti-apartheid leaders in Zambia. His signature Saharan paired with formal pants is still known as the Kaunda suit in many parts of Africa.

A 21-day period of national mourning has been declared, Simon Miti, cabinet secretary and senior private secretary to the president, announced on state television.

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