Zambia's first president and champion of African independence Kenneth Kaunda has died at the age of 97, the country's president Edgar Lungu announced on Facebook Thursday evening.
Zambia will have 21 days of mourning, said Lungu. Kaunda's son, Kamarange Kaunda, also gave the news of the statesman's death on Facebook 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." Kaunda had been admitted to the hospital on Monday and officials later said he was being treated for pneumonia.
The southern African country is currently battling a surge in COVID-19 cases and the country's founding president was admitted to Maina Soko Medical Center, a military hospital which 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.
Prime Minister condoled his demise and said, "Saddened to hear of the demise of Dr. Kenneth David Kaunda, a respected world leader and statesman. My deepest condolences to his family and the people of Zambia."
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.