Thousands attend Zambian president’s funeral

Southern African leaders gathered in Zambia on Wednesday at the funeral of President Levy Mwanawasa, who turned Africa’s biggest copper producer into a rare African success story.

Thousands of Zambians attended the funeral and were seated in tents erected at the parliamentary complex in the capital, Lusaka. National flags flew at half-mast.

Mwanawasa (59) died in a French military hospital last month after suffering a stroke in June. He had led Zambia since 2001 and was re-elected in 2006.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, Botswana leader Seretse Khama Ian Khama and the presidents of Namibia, Mozambique and Malawi also attended the funeral.

Mwanawasa’s copper-plated coffin was placed about 5m from the dais where leaders and officials were sitting.

Mwanawasa set himself apart from other regional leaders by speaking out about the political and economic crisis in neighbouring Zimbabwe, and was one of the fiercest critics of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe — who attended the funeral.

His tough stance against corruption in Zambia endeared him to donor countries and he was credited with turning the nation into one of Africa’s economic success stories.

Mwanawasa’s economic policies helped produce strong growth, averaging 5% annually over the last six years, though many Zambians still live in poverty.

Vice-President Rupiah Banda is acting president, and a presidential election is expected in November.

The ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) will choose its presidential candidate on Friday.

Meanwhile, the crowd of mourners at the funeral jeered and heckled Mwanawasa’s widow, Maureen, when she spoke of her husband.

”Mr president, you were a jewel for Africa. Your enemies have now become my enemies,” she said.

The controversial first lady caused uproar inside the ruling MMD recently by declaring that Finance Minister Mandu Magandi should succeed her husband rather than current Vice-President Banda.

Some members of the ruling party have called on the first lady, widely seen as a power behind the throne, to consider standing for election herself.

On Wednesday, Mugabe and his rival opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, put aside their differences to attend Mwanawasa’s funeral with more than a dozen African heads of state as well as envoys from the United States and Britain.

Upon arrival in Lusaka, Mugabe paid tribute to the late Zambian president — who once referred to Zimbabwe’s economy as a ”sinking Titanic” — calling him a frank and courageous leader. — Reuters, AFP

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