Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia‘s founding father, has died at age 97, according to Reuters. Kaunda led Zambia for 27 years following the struggle for freedom from white minority rule and the country’s independence from Britain.

He devoted six decades of his life to being a champion of African independence, fighting against apartheid, and serving as an inspiration for other independence movements across the continent.

Kaunda played a key role in the independence talks of Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Namibia, and was considered the last of a generation of African liberation leaders that also included Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

After losing his son Masuzyo to AIDS in 1986, Kaunda also became a champion fighting against the disease through the Kenneth Kaunda Children of Africa Foundation.

Kaunda was known for his public display of emotion. He was not ashamed to sing or cry in public. In fact, the white handkerchief he used to wipe his teary eyes became his trademark. Zambians would wave their own white handkerchiefs in support of Kaunda.

Affectionately known as “KK,” Kaunda had been undergoing treatment for pneumonia at Lusaka’s Maina Soko Medical Centre.

In a Facebook post Thursday, current Zambian President Edgar Chagwa Lungu, said, “I learnt of your passing this afternoon with great sadness. On behalf of the entire nation and on my own behalf I pray that the entire Kaunda family is comforted as we mourn our First President and true African icon.”

In honor of their fallen leader, the Zambian government has declared 21 days of national mourning with flags flying at half mast. All forms of entertainment have been suspended during this time as the nation mourns together.

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