Sunday 20 June 2021

Strange case of the dead burying the living

Closing the accounts before year-end

I believe it is customary for media organisations to have draft obituaries or prepared documentaries for prominent society figures such that at the demise of such people, only cosmetic changes are required to the drafts and that is out to press.

A case in point was the recent passing of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the long and glowing obituaries were out within the hour of the announcement, the BBC literally had hours after hours of rolling commentary and documentaries about him, it all had to have been pre-planned and produced in readiness for his death.

On the 17th of June 2021, Kenneth Kaunda, the 1st President of Zambia died at the age of 97 and soon after the Guardian had published a 2,000+ obituary written by Guy Arnold, a British explorer, travel writer, political writer and specialist in north-south relations, according to his Wikipedia page. [The Guardian: Kenneth Kaunda Obituary]

When the dead speak

I learnt much about Kenneth Kaunda in secondary school because his political autobiography titled Zambia Shall Be Free was one of our required literature texts in my second form. When I travel to South Africa, place names that appear on the navigator maps look quite familiar, Kitwe and Livingstone, seem to have that déjà vu quality and now I realise why.

Anyway, back to the original point of canned obituaries. It is one thing for the living to read of their obituaries to which Mark Twain on reading his own obituary sent a cable from London with the message, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” It is quite necessary to have a good sense of humour at the premise of death. [ Mark Twain]

However, it becomes a bit disconcerting if certain words ascribed to Jesus Christ in Luke 9:60 begin to fetch true. “Let the dead bury the dead.” For indeed, we have a strange case of the dead writing obituaries of the dead. As it transpires, Guy Arnold who penned the obituary of Kenneth Kaunda, died on the 4th of January 2020, a good 530 days before the person he eulogised. I would expect the estate and survivors of Guy Arnold will receive payment for this publication.

Just the way it is

It is very likely Guy Arnold had written the obituary many years ago when there was some anticipation of Kenneth Kaunda’s death as he passed the 3-score-and-10 threshold into his 80s and 90s, with a few edits and updates depending on the news.

Guy Arnold himself was no youth, he was just 8 years younger than Kenneth Kaunda when he died at 87. The Guardian might have done some editing prior to publication, but the bulk of the copy had been completed by the dead.

Strange one, but should not be allowed to go unnoticed.

Guardian obituary of Kenneth Kaunda authored by someone who died 530 days before.

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