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Former Zambian Dictator Transforms Himself into AIDS Fighter

July 6, 2001

Kenneth Kaunda, once Zambia's unchallenged ruler and the leader of its fight for independence from Britain, spearheaded the international fight against apartheid. Today, 15 years later and a decade after losing office, Kaunda 77, is marshalling his power to fight a greater foe -- the continent's mortal battle with AIDS. "Unless we do something about this, we are going to lose not only the whole nation, but the whole continent," he said in Lusaka. "It is eating us up one by one."

Kaunda and his wife lost their son Masuzyo to AIDS in 1986. "We know, we had been told, there was nothing any doctor could do at the time. So we accepted it. It was very painful," Kaunda said. Kaunda's personal history is interwoven in Zambia's. He began as a schoolteacher and led the former Northern Rhodesia to independence in 1964. He ruled Zambia for 27 years and called for democratic elections in 1991. Retiring from politics in 1997, he set up the Kenneth Kaunda Children of Africa Foundation. When Masuzyo, the fifth of Kaunda's nine children, fell ill, Kaunda called a press conference to announce that his son had the disease. "I had not even heard of it until this boy went down," Kaunda said. "I came to realize there was a lot of silence about this." No top South African official went to the funeral last month of 12-year-old South African AIDS activist Nkosi Johnson -- but Kaunda was there.

More than 1 million of Zambia's 9 million people are estimated to be infected. Kaunda is afraid that AIDS will crush the legacy he tried to leave Zambia. "You think of AIDS, brilliant young men, brilliant young women, all gone, all gone," he said. "We must do something."

Back to other CDC news for July 6, 2001

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Adapted from:
Associated Press
07.06.01; Ravi Nessman

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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