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Gloria Sleep described the late president as a great human being and a constant lighthouse to the people of Zambia and beyond.
In her tribute Ms Sleep writes “He was a huge part of my life, and I will always hold a special place in my heart as I mourn with his family and all Zambians. While we mourn let us celebrate the life and achievements of this remarkable man.
I did not apply for the position as Secretary to President Kaunda. I had been Secretary to the outgoing Minister of Native Affairs in the Northern Rhodesian government but was on leave out of the country for some months until January 1964 when President Kaunda became Prime Minister. On my return I duly reported to the Establishment Officer in the Secretariat to be told that my new position would be Secretary to the Prime Minister. This was a senior position usually occupied by single ladies without family responsibilities, so I was rather surprised. When I first walked into his office, I was impressed by this man full of charm who radiated energy and enthusiasm which brushed off on all who met him.
It was an exciting time to be part of this team of his very loyal staff. We all had the utmost respect for him, and this was reciprocated in the way he treated us as his family with care and compassion. On one occasion at State House, I found the Private Secretary squatting on his knees with the telephone in his hand. When I asked him what he was doing he said he could never speak to the ‘old man’ without this token of respect even although he could not be seen. I feared his knees would wear out as he was responsible for calls throughout the day and night.
The President had a great capacity for work and would work long hours to get the job done if he had a speech to work on or any project or problem to be settled. He would often call on a staff member to do some research at any hour of the day when required and this would be done willingly and without complaint.
When we visited the UK on a State visit in 1983 at the banquet, he hosted in honour of the Queen he delighted all the guests with Tiyende Pamodzi. The Queen who was about to make a speech just threw up her hands and said, ‘How do I follow that?’
We spent some very happy days in Luangwa on working holidays. He wrote most of his major Party speeches there. No computers then. I typed everything on a manual typewriter under the trees with all the wildlife in view.
He was very loyal to all his old friends and even travelled to the UK to attend Reverend Merfyn Temple’s funeral where he entertained the local village people singing hymns and playing the piano before the service.
Recently one of the hymns in the service at my Church was ‘What a Friend we have in Jesus’. This hymn always brings a smile to my face as I remember KK sang this regularly as he walked into my office. Somebody who was involved in helping with agricultural programs all over the world paid tribute to him and wrote ‘I have encountered in my whole life only one Head of State who truly seeks to live as a Christian. He is an African, President Kaunda’.
I did not leave Zambia through my own choice, but I did continue with my work for him here in the UK. It was a privilege and honour to serve him. Some years ago, a speaker on BBC’s Thought for the day described how just a few people stand out as lighthouses. Philip Brownrigg, an old friend, then said ‘Such a one is Kenneth Kaunda, a great human being and a constant lighthouse to the people of Zambia and beyond”.
This is contained in a statement by First Secretary, Press and Public Relations Abigail Chaponda in the office of the Zambia High Commission in the United Kingdom.