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People follow the proceedings during the state memorial service of former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda in Lusaka on July 2, 2021.-/AFP/Getty Images

African leaders have gathered with ordinary Zambians to attend a memorial service Friday for Kenneth Kaunda, the nation’s founding president and champion of African nationalism.

The presidents of Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe flew into Lusaka, the capital, to honour Kaunda, who died last month at 97.

Kaunda is remembered for leading Zambia to independence from British colonial rule in 1964 and backing nationalist movements that fought to bring majority rule to the southern African states of Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Zambian President Edgar Lungu presided over the service at the National Heroes’ Stadium where Kaunda’s casket, draped in Zambia’s flag, was brought in by a military guard.

As Zambia is battling a surge of COVID-19, those attending wore masks and kept a distance apart, preventing the stadium from filling to its capacity of 60,000.

Zambia, with a population of 18 million, has reported a cumulative total of 157,832 cases of COVID-19, including 2,271 deaths. Zambia’s 7-day rolling average of daily deaths has doubled over the past two weeks from 0.15 deaths per 100,000 people on June 17 to 0.32 deaths per 100,000 people on July 1.

Since Kaunda’s death on June 17 of pneumonia, Zambia’s military has flown his body to the country’s 10 provinces so that people from all areas of the country could pay their respects.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Friday signed the official condolence book for Kaunda.

Kaunda is to be buried on July 7.

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