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Friday, June 5, 1998 Published at 02:32 GMT 03:32 UK

World: Africa

A grand old man of African politics

Mr Kaunda smuggled out a video of himself in detention: he sang hymns to keep up his spirits

Kenneth Kaunda, father of Zambian independence and one of the grand old men of African politics, wept as he announced his intention to retire from political life.

Dabbing his eyes with his trademark white hankerchief, he said he would hand over leadership of his UNIP party, but wanted to continue making a contribution to national life.

"I feel that I need to share my experiences with Zambians from whatever backround or affiliation for the good of the nation and all its people," Mr Kaunda said.

If he indeed pursues this path, he will be following the example of another of independent Africa's founding fathers, Tanzania's Julius Nyerere, who quit office in 1985 but continues to wield power in his role as the country's "Father of the Nation".

Another of Mr Kaunda's closest friends, Ketumile Masire of Botswana, also recently bowed gracefully out of politics, and Nelson Mandela, also a friend, has similarly announced he is to retire.

[ image: Mr Kaunda as President]
Mr Kaunda as President
Mr Kaunda ruled Zambia in autocratic fashion for 27 years and was widely blamed for bankrupting the country with his inflexible socialist policies.

He was replaced by Frederick Chiluba in a peaceful handover of power after the country's first democratic elections in 1991.

He gradually regained international respectability as he fought President Chiluba's manoeuvres to keep him from running again in 1996, denouncing Mr Chiluba's administration as thieves and liars.

[ image: In prison]
In prison
He was detained by police in Lusaka on Christmas Day, then charged with knowing about preparations for an attempted coup in October 1997. He was in South Africa at the time and denied any involvement.

There followed more than five months in detention or under house arrest.

When he went to court to challenge his detention, he was reminded that he had detained hundreds of people without trail during his years in power.

There was intense international and domestic pressure for his release. Britain, the United States, South Africa, Botswana, Libya and the Organisation for African Unity all appealed on his behalf.

When the charges against Mr Kaunda were dropped this week, South African President Nelson Mandela denied he had intervened to secure a deal.

But he publicly encouraged Mr Kaunda to step down: "I take it that new developments in Zambia, which are good and which we welcome, may make it unnecessary for [Kaunda] to continue in politics," he said.

In bowing out gracefully, Mr Kaunda looks as though he has taken the advice.

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