Monday, February 26, 2024

Birthday Tribute Kenneth “Buchizya” Kaunda: The Unexpected One


By Field Ruwe EdD


In the heart of the jungle, man and beast were dead in their tracks, locked in a gaze. Roaring and ready to pounce was the king of the jungle, famished yet strong. Standing at 6ft 2in (1.88m, including the zonky hair) with bicycle above the head, ready to hurl, was Buchizya, the man who would become president.

The bicycle as a weapon was drawn from the entrails of his instinct without a pause of thought. The locking of eyes was about the only defence Buchizya had, triggered by a high level of adrenaline. He, like most of the Chinsali young men who scoured the savannah forest learned that the locking of eyes with a predator such as the one before him, eliminated the surprise of ambush.

In what seemed like eternity, Buchizya’s 24-year old heart did not succumb nor did it lodge into his throat. He could hear it pumping the same way it had since he came into this world on this day the 28th April, in the year of our Lord One Thousand Nine Hundred and Twenty-four in the Bembaland called Lubwa in the Chinsali District.

It’s clear his Malawian parents, missionary and teacher Reverend David Julizya Kaunda, son of Mtepa Kaunda and NyaChirwa both Tongas of Nkhata Bay, and teacher Helen Jengwera Nyirenda, daughter of the Tumbuka (Henga) elderman Mugagana Nyirenda of Chisanya Village near Ekwendeni, were content with seven children. When he showed up, they named him Buchizya, meaning “the unexpected one”—just as unexpected as the lion.


As a young boy, intuitively mapping his destiny, Buchizya was aware his parentage was a thorn in his side. He began to distance himself from his own tribe and the country of Malawi (Nyasaland). Beholden to Bemba dictates, he embraced the Bemba language and spoke it with an accurate intonation, just like his childhood Bemba friends Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe, Robert Speedwell Kapasa Makasa, and John Malama Sokoni.

As he grew older, he was able to identify and understand the classifications of thought, codes and pictograms that undergirded the Bemba language and culture. By the time he became a teacher at Lubwa, at the age of sixteen, Buchizya was a quintessential Bemba. An authority on the language, a Bemba gatekeeper would capture not a scintilla of accent.

At the age of eight Buchizya interred his father. The death of David Kaunda rendered a blow in the gut of the Kaundas. David, the African-Malawian who brought rigor to Lubwa was notorious for his impertinence and insubordination to white authority, an attitude that landed him in prison for a couple of hours for drumming for the 10 o’clock church service while the Chinsali Native Commissioner’s wife was still in bed. To the Chinsali white civil servants, and some Catholic missionaries, David’s death brought a sigh of relief.

With David gone, the hamstrings of the Kaunda influence were expurgated and the family was left vulnerable in a foreign land. Without a father, young Buchizya’s deep-seated anxiety about the future took command. Mindful of the indubitable service of his father which so justly entitled him, he saw a sudden necessity of doing for himself that which nudged his sensibility.

From his earliest age, Buchizya was judged to be more determined, more polemical, and more fearless than his siblings—more like his uncle Robert Gwebe Nyirenda. Circumstantially, his uncle, Helen’s brother Robert Gwebe Nyirenda (senior) of Karonga, Nyasaland (Malawi), had stolen his heart, perhaps at birth and washed over him.

Robert, who throughout his teacher’s training at Overtoun Institution, Khondowe, opposed European imperialism gave up teaching, and in 1912 became one of the founders of the North Nyasa Native Association, Malawi’s first political party. It was from this celestial realm that Buchizya descended. As he grew older he unconsciously hopped on his uncle’s golden wings and took a flight.


But landing was not that easy. There was molten bubbling on the surface. That molten was his identity. It was more deadly than the lion. It was an enigmatic faulty right from birth. When, he told his mother and siblings that he was abandoning teaching and throwing himself into the politics of a country that was not his, they cautiously took a backseat to his ambition for they knew what lay ahead. Buchizya was not “one of us,” many Bembas said. He was a foreigner, a bona fide Malawian, a Malawian Tonga with Tumbuka roots.

But Buchizya “the unexpected” was born an outlier with unbridled ambition. It was not just his handsome ebony face under the kalwena-combed zonky hair, there was a truculent stubbornness about him that never could bear to be terrified at the will of others, not even at that of a lion. In the company of fellow boys; Kapwepwe, Makasa, Sokoni and others, some older than him, Buchizya was often a trailblazer. In general, he was extraordinary in the decisions he made.

He was intrepid too. With a born-to-fight Mtepa mindset, Buchizya, eyes still set on the lion, waved the bicycle. Mtepa was the grandfather he never met, a brave Tonga warrior who died in the revolt against the Ngonis in 1895, seventeen years after David’s birth. Cognizant of Buchizya’s clout, the lion turned, and slowly slunk off into a mesh of elephant grass.

Watching the lion disappear, Buchizya breathed a sigh of relief. As he got back on the bicycle, he thanked God for His tender mercy and sang songs of praise, not in Tonga, Tumbuka, not even in English, but Bemba, the language he had to perfect if he were to meet the demands of his 1952 new role of Provincial Organizing Secretary of the African National Congress (ANC) for the Northern Province.

Riding his bicycle through a forest inhabited by some of the most dangerous creatures in the world, Buchizya was thinking for himself. He was a notch ahead of other early political rising stars Godwin Mbikusita Lewakina, Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula, Dauti Yamba, Mainza Mathew Chona, and Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe. Unlike them, he possessed a singular ability to translate the majesty of his imagination and idealism into a pragmatic stratagem that befitted his dream—that of becoming president of the Republic of Zambia.

But with the label of “foreigner” stuck to his back like a leech, Buchizya knew his cycling was in vain and the fate of his political career at stake. He knew he had to overcome a deep-seated prejudice and the common wisdom that no foreigner could rule Zambia. Acknowledging only his identity could defeat him, he branded himself a Bemba, and dropped his Buchizya name and replaced it with his father’s name David. Henceforth he was to be called Kenneth David Kaunda. He did so, knowing his father was someone the Bembas revered.


Then, he devised a brilliant piece of political strategy with audacious assertions. Aware recalcitrant friends still held him at arm’s length, and did not fully embrace his self-acquired Bemba kinship, Kenneth doubled his efforts by courageously inculcating his self-proclamation in the minds of the Bemba people, and set out to take their temperature. To this, he got himself a bicycle, an acoustic guitar, a prophetic toga (a cloth draped over the shoulders and around the body), and Jesus sandals. Then later, he added the famous white handkerchief.

The bicycle, the same one that had just saved his life, he used to cycle the breadth and depth of the beast infested savannah; the guitar juxtaposed his melodious voice each time he sang “Tule bomba tule bachulila ba mwansa kabinga” (We are working and suffering for colonizers), and other songs of social protest; the prophetic toga he wore to look like the law giver who met God face-to-face on Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments; and the Jesus sandals completed the “prophetic” outfit. The white handkerchief was a necessary prop used when too much pressure was laid on the safety valve of his emotions.

Dr. Kenneth Kaunda with United National Independence Party supporters after a meeting with Iain Macleod, Colonial Secretary, March 1960. Source: UK National Archives
Dr. Kenneth Kaunda with United National Independence Party supporters after a meeting with Iain Macleod, Colonial Secretary, March 1960. Source: UK National Archives

A combination of the above paraphernalia coupled with a good measure of charisma, gave Kenneth an acceptable unique iconic poise. The Birth Trait theory was held in him that “some humans are born with unique qualities that earmark them for leadership, while the majority of people are destined to follow and be subordinate.”

Everywhere he went people gathered in their hundreds to hear him speak. There was a thrum of urgency in his tone when he spoke or sang. Each time he did, his voice rose an octave with unspoken cry for freedom. In towns and cities his fame spread in advance, and people flocked to his rallies. Many considered him a hero—a martyr, even a prophet. When he shouted “kwacha!” they all replied “ngwee!” in hysteria and carried him shoulder high as he waved his white handkerchief.

Right to Left: Sam Nujoma, Samora Machel, Kenneth Kaunda, Robert Mugabe
Right to Left: Sam Nujoma, Samora Machel, Kenneth Kaunda, Robert Mugabe


The lion infested path Kenneth took on his bicycle led him to the State House on 24th October 1964. Along the path, Buchizya “The Unexpected One” guided by his personal beliefs and conviction became Kenneth David Kaunda the radical vegetarian; the prisoner; the humanist; and the liberator.

In a chaotic world, Kenneth became an immensely popular president at home and abroad. At times he used to be everywhere opening doors that were closed to others. Throughout he spoke in a language of unity. Sometimes he spoke in the language of forgiveness and love. Of course there were times he erred. Many times. But is it fair to say he was God given; that although his ninety-six years have been punctuated by brilliant flickers, bedazzling delights, and heart breaking sorrows, his legacy and old age are worth living for. Was he a God? Of course not. Was he a saint? No. Was he like no other? Without any doubt. Is he human? You bet.


Author is a US-based Zambian multicultural scholar practitioner and author. He holds a Doctor of Education degree from Northeastern University, Boston Massachusetts, U.S.


  1. Just one thing. Though my hero, the announcement that accompanied suspension of KK’s commemorations was I must say in bad taste. Why should the old man’s office suggest that KK still needs gifts and that those giving them should leave them at the gate of his residence?

    At age 96, KK hardly needs any gifts other than just well wishes. If at all KK has any properties in this world, its time to start giving those things away to those who need them more than he does. That should apply to any person his age bane …

  2. Happy birthday KK. If only he had a bit more education, he would hv been an even better president of Zambia. But his father died whn he was a young boy and the colonial govt didn’t care about the education of African pupils. I’m wondering why the Methodist church did not take care of KK’s education expenses considering wht his father did for the church. Anyway, the Methodists were not like Catholics. They were and still are a poor church in terms of resources.

  3. “1964 – Zambia, formerly the British colony of Northern Rhodesia, holds its first election. Kenneth Kaunda wins presidency and his United National Independence Party (UNIP) wins parliamentary election. In October, Zambia gains independence from Britain.
    1972 – Kaunda turns Zambia into one-party state.”

    “1990 – Kaunda signs law allowing other political parties.”

    Happy birthday, sir!

  4. He had his weaknesses but Zambia benefited more under his selfless leadership, I wish him happy birth day. Zambia shall be great again under the able servant president HH.

  5. Happy Birthday KK! Tribute to a great man. He laid the foundation of peace and love that still endures in our country. One Zambia, One Nation.

  6. Kk has seen it all.. from the struggle for independence, hh losing over 4 elections to pf winning in 2011 and bringing about massive development. Happy birthday sir and that you for freeing us from British rule. It is sad that even after that we have diasporans who despise their birth country. Even the VPN I use, selects a United kingdom IP address, this in itself tells you how skewed the world is. But we endeavour as proud zambians

  7. Happy birthday KK, we take pride in your commitment of service to others. May God bless you with many more happy days ahead your life.

  8. Unlike today, we have people abusing Zambians such as Ba KZ, so you are based in UK and writing as Kaizer Zulu in Zambia. You are a traitor, writing negative views about Zambians in diaspora, you are a betrayer like Judas Iscariot to Zambians at home mocking at their suffering under PF regime while you parade yourself (enjoying) – Shameful and disgraceful writing about high number of deaths in UK due to Covid 19, a country you reside in and find all the comfort transposing as in Zambia.
    Very shameful, small wonder you are a PF cadre despising Zambians in diaspora when they contribute so much to Zambia. Shame on you.

  9. KK was a true patriot who loved his people, he also appointed men of integrity, not this current leadership of ECL where thugs like Kaizer Zulu are appointed politcal advisors, but make no mistake KAIZER ZULU is still a very powerful man, dont make the mistake of slapping him in Chicagos because you will be dealt with severly.

  10. Happy Birthday KK…..Only if the leaders that came after you had emulated even 30% of your selflessness, Zambia by now would have been at another level. All the strategies of empowering Zambians were abandoned and replaced with empowerment of foreigners and grand corruption of unbeleivable proportions. Only if FTJ had not destroyed the industries that were existing and not sold the mines, only if LPM had not sold KCM for a song, only if RB had not taken to socializing and family enrichment, only if MCS had not appointed Chikwanda and left us with ECL….

  11. @ munadehka whatever, I am not as dull as you to use my real IP address when I know there are 100s of you angry diasporans wanting to hack my systems and even wishing me dead. Please follow the UK IP address generated by my VPN ,I bet it leads you to yourself. I have the capability to do so. You think someone as high as me in government would risk using my real IP address and put at risk government data? I have nothing against the UK Infact I own some assets there and houses. However, I am stationed and will always be based in the country I love, Zambia. Kz

  12. KK set the benchmark, not this nonsense being imposed on us.
    Being and then acting from his true self without masks or personas, being real or true to himself, gifts, talents, values and vision is what has “vibrated” into his family.
    He paid the price to live up to his highest values and visions, and not follow the path of least resistance. He stood out from the crowd. He was comfortable with, and confident about himself. He pointed to the truth in every situation.
    He took a stand on unpopular issues, speaking with energy, emotion and enthusiasm about the things he cared about and was willing to have it cost him personally and professionally.
    Long live Kenneth David Buchizya Kaunda!

  13. Happy birthday KK, we are proud to have you as our founding leader. Without the free education which was available to all, who knows where we would be today?

    Thank you and
    May the Lord bless you richly

  14. He was a real leader who developed led the country with a sense of purpose founded on honest and dedication to his own people and other Africans. It’s so shameful that today we have a very incompetent thieving charlatan. In the entire world today, its obvious the only people more incompetent than Chagwa are the ragtag team of kleptomaniac and tribally bigoted sycophants he has surrounded himself with. Here I have in mind the likes of Kainyo Zulu, Nkandu Lunyoko etc.

  15. Robert Mugabe Junior, the son of the late veteran politician and former President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, has claimed that his father sacrificed his life for the people of Zimbabwe.
    Mugabe who was forced to relinquish power by his long time aide, Emmerson Mnangagwa, in a military led revolt under the code name Operation Restore Legacy in 2017, was a seasoned politician who used “guerrilla tactics” to outfox his foes.
    During his reign of terror, as they say, Mugabe used the dreaded Central Intelligence Organisation to suppress dissenting voices.
    In his Independence Day message, Robert Mugabe Junior, quoted by Mbare Times, said :
    “Zim@40: my father was a servant of Zimbabweans, he sacrificed his life for you”.
    Commenting on Robert Mugabe Junior’s remarks, Masvingo based political…

  16. Continue
    …, Masvingo based political analyst, Batsiranai Ngugama said in a statement :
    Mugabe wronged us. There are a number of things he certainly did which were wrong.
    We are in this mess because of him. Gukurahundi issue, corruption, human rights abuse, graft, unplanned land seizures…
    During his tenure we lost very competent people.
    He adopted stupid polices, invited Chinese into our country. He distorted history, recycled dead wood rejected by the people.
    With Jonso he literally destroyed media plurality and diversity.
    However, we must remember that he also made some positive contributions to the development of the education system, healthcare and emancipation of the majority.

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