oa African Yearbook of Rhetoric - Kenneth Kaunda : the dignity of labour

Volume 2, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 2220-2188
  • E-ISSN: 2305-7785



When one considers the efforts made by Kenneth Kaunda (b. 1924) to attain Zambia's independence, one is able to understand the value that he attributed to work in this May Day speech (1972). In 1953 - as a member of the Zambian ANC - as well as in 1961, Kenneth Kaunda not only sought to dismantle colonialism in his country but also to formulate a new framework for growth. This entailed harnessing rhetorical means which served two purposes, the one ethical, the other political. One could argue that his praise for the ethical and political dimensions of work bear the marks of his Church of Scotland education and of the British Labour tradition of oratory. It is the sort of fiery, expansive rhetoric he displayed during the liberation phase, and formalised as a tool of government afterwards. This May Day speech conjoins two levels of argumentation: judicial as well as deliberative. The judicial elements of the speech are evident through the presence of an accusation, as he indicts obliquely Zambians who do not see work as a dignified, liberatory force so as to, "[enhance] their personal worth and dignity"; he "points a condemning finger" to Zambians who do not emulate by working the ethos of fellow Zambians who were involved in the liberation movement. The deliberative elements in the speech are apparent through the fact that Kaunda indirectly advocates for a work ethic, which will benefit the people as it will lead to the economic growth of Zambia. Although the speech appears to be endorsing a particular work ethic as well as praising the dignity of labour in general it actually functions as a tool through which Kaunda wishes to rally support for policies. In the year the speech was made, the Zambian government formed different economic structures that led to the national ownership of organisations previously owned predominantly by the British, while, in the face of political opposition Kaunda imposed one party rule and had his main rival jailed. Some parties had already been banned in 1964. In essence the speech seeks to capture the moral high ground upon which Kaunda could legitimise both an ethical calling (the dignity of labour) and a tactical political move.

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