There was an outpouring of grief on social media networks on Wednesday September 19, 2012, following news of the death of former Zambian First Lady, Betty Kaunda. She was the wife of Zambia’s first president Dr Kenneth Kaunda, who ruled from 1964 to 1991, when his ruling United National Independent Party (UNIP) lost to the Movement for Multiparty Democracy.
Mama Kaunda’s death was particularly shocking because less than three weeks before her death, she and her husband, Dr Kaunda, celebrated their 66th wedding anniversary. She had been wheelchair-bound since suffering a stroke in 1991.
Writing on the Facebook group, Zambian People’s Parliament (ZAPP), one netizen, Aquino Mutale, put out a brief obituary for the former First Lady, who was fondly known as Mama Betty Kaunda both during her stay in State House and after:
Mr Speaker she was born on November, 17, 1928 at Mpika to Kaweche Banda and Milika Sakala Banda.
Sir, the then Betty Banda went to school at Mbereshi Girls and also did training at the Mindolo Ecumenical Foundation’s Women’s programme and worked as a teacher in Mufulira.
Mr Speaker! Kenneth Kaunda the first President of Zambia married married Betty Banda in 1946. Mama Betty, was Zambia’s first lady from October 1964 to November 1991. She preferred to contribute quietly, mostly behind the scenes, to greatly support her family and nation and had been matron of many organisations and projects.
Sir – mama Betty Kaunda was considered the mother of the nation. MHSRIP
Writing on another thread on the ZAPP, Waziona Nkhwekwe Chirwa stated:
Mr Speaker, it is with great sorrow and sadness that I received the news that Mama Betty Kaunda has died and now belongs to the ages. Mama Betty Kaunda Contributed to our independence, by the support she rendered to Dr Kaunda and his comrades during the struggle. The history of Zambia will never be complete without the mention of her name. M[a]y her soul rest in peace.
Commenting on the story of the former First Lady’s death, Lion wrote:
All future First Ladies of Zambia must take a leaf from the humility of this woman. She never tried to hog the limelight and act as if she was a government official. She knew her place in society and carried herself with great dignity.
Lion’s comment stems from the fact that almost all of Zambia’s subsequent First Ladies have been actively involved in community activities. The late President Frederick Chiluba’s wife, Vera Chiluba Tembo, runs an NGO she called HOPE Foundation and the wife of the third President, the late Levy Mwanawasa, Maureen, runs the Maureen Mwanawasa Community Initiative.
The wife of immediate past President Rupiah Banda, Thandiwe, was active in supporting her husband’s political activities, whilst incumbent President Michael Sata’s wife, Christine – a medical doctor – is active in health-related matters such as the fight against cancer.
On Twitter, the hashtag #RIPBettyKaunda was started to pay tribute to Mama Kaunda:
@malama_mukonde: Awwwww MaMa Betty… May your beautiful soul rest in peace and thank you for being such an inspiration. God be with you. RIPBettyKaunda
@ErasmusMweene: Rest in eternal peace Mama Betty Kaunda! I know you are in a better place. What a race you have run…RIPBettyKaunda
Although at some point it was thought that the news was a hoax:
@lwangamwilu: RT GNdhlovu: “: @lwangamwilu: why are they saying it's a hoax?” It isn't, Panji [Mama Betty’s first born son] just confirmed in a Whatsapp message. RIPBettyKaunda.
Mama Betty Kaunda maybe gone, but her memory, at least to those who lived in the time her husband was the country’s president, will live on.