He must take a leaf from South African hero, Nelson Mandela, who gracefully withdrew from active politics to a peaceful retirement and a vaunted legacy.
Some Zambians still hold Dr. Kaunda in high esteem, but his recent partisan comments on national matters have opened up old wounds.
Most notably was Kaunda’s recent praising singing of President Michael Sata for repossessing parastatals that were privatised by the MMD government, commenting that he was pleased that Sata was taking back “my” companies. It was a reminder that sometimes our leaders feel as though they personally own the country instead of the citizens, bringing back memories of the brutality of the one-party state – a model of governance that many people believe Sata is driving towards.
Dr Kaunda’s recent comments have disappointed millions of Zambians who thought of Dr Kaunda as an elder statesman who was above partisan politics. In his advanced age, Dr. Kaunda is prone to make misleading statements that have the potential to divide Zambia and even potentially ignite conflict.
Zambians expect Dr Kaunda to exhibit a more unifying role as a grandfather of the nation, unlike now when he receives critical reactions to anything that he utters.
This is a sure sign that there is something wrong.
Dr Kaunda has been active in politics since 1964. Has he not had enough? Has he lost the zeal to pursue other socio-economic matters closer to his heart, such as the anti-AIDs crusade he keeps talking about?
Hitherto, Dr Kaunda is bothered by the scores of accolades that world leaders attribute to Mandela and not him, although Dr Kaunda and Mandela arguably come from the same school of anti-colonialism and anti-apartheid.
This is because Mandela has reserved his self worth and dignity befitting a man of his stature. He does not go about embarrassing himself by uttering low statements.
Mabiba, as Mandela is fondly referred at home, is a more reserved and respectful character who does not jump at every little opportunity to steal the media limelight.
Mandela is not a populist and overzealous like Dr Kaunda. He has turned down press interviews that have the potential to jeopardize his standing in both society and the successive Presidents of South Africa. The opposite is the truth about Dr Kaunda.
Mandela has gone in the background of the South African Society not because he has lost his head, but because of his old age.
This author vividly recalls how challenging it was to attend and cover a media event for Mandela in South Africa where journalists were highly restricted and photographers had a strict code on not using flash photography within a prescribed radius near Madiba.
In Zambia, Dr Kaunda jogs towards cameras in his effort to be in the limelight.
Dr Kaunda was well respected, feared and revered among Zambians during his reign. Now, he is more of a souvenir than a statesman.
“At his age, he may say things that may come out wrongly, I mean the man is old and it would be to the benefit of his family to ask him to adopt a low profile. These many trips around the country and abroad are totally unnecessary. Let the old man enjoy his last days with his wife and great grandchildren,” Zambia Rainbow Coalition president Cephas Phiri said.
Dr Kaunda has forgotten so soon that he criticized Michael Sata in 2001 during political campaigns. He sung praises for the late Levy Mwanawasa and condemned Sata urging the voters to ignore him as a common clown who had no veins to rule Zambia.
During the 2008 campaigns, Dr Kaunda again uttered the similar vernom against Sata. Zambians remember vividly at the event former president Rupiah Banda was handing over a newly built mansion to Dr Kaunda as part of his pension where Dr Kaunda said Michael Sata had no capacity to rule Zambia.
“Michael Sata was a governor in my government. I know him too well and I am asking Zambians not to vote for him because he cant make a good President,” Dr Kaunda said.
Therefore, what has changed now for Dr Kaunda to start revering Michael Sata?
Dr Kaunda must not mislead the current government. He is not a reliable man. He has show us that his position is not stable since he keeps changing his stance on important national matters.
Dr Kaunda is supporting Michael Sata for repossessing the Railway Systems of Zambia. He has also praised Sata for ‘recapitalising’ the Nitrogen Chemicals of Zambia.
Dr Kaunda left these institutions dead. It was better for the MMD to privatise them. No amount of recapitalization can bring revitalize the firms since the government has no money for such ventures.
Any way, that aside. Dr Kaunda must not flip-flop on these trivialities. He has a much more important question and explanation to make over the Barotse Agreement of 1964 where he was the one who sealed the deal and appended his signature on the document.
Dr Kaunda literally sprints from reporters each time he is asked questions regarding the Barotse Agreement of 1964. He holds the key to the impasse.
There is more wisdom in Dr Kaunda recoiling from public appearances. We are aware that he has opinions to make on national matters, but from the look of things, his sentiments are divisive and perceived to be politically inclined.