Malawi’s former President Bakili Muluzi on Friday bade an emotional goodbye to his political buddy-turned-enemy late President Bingu wa Mutharika at Sanjika Palace in Blantyre.
The body of late Mutharika is lying in state at the presidential palace to afford Malawians in Southern and Eastern regions to pay their last respects before his burial next Monday at Ndata Farm in his home district, Thyolo.
Thousands of residents from Blantyre and the surrounding districts flocked to the Palace to say good bye to Malawi’s much touted “economic engineer” born in 1934 at Kamoto village in Thyolo District.
As was the case at the New State House and the New Parliament Building in Lilongwe where Malawians had an opportunity to pay homage to the departed leader, President Joyce Banda and the First Gentleman retired Chief Justice Richard Banda, also led Malawians in viewing the former head of state’s body at Sanjika Palace.
In quite a somber mood, the first couple led the way from 09:30am after prayers which were offered by representatives of various denominations and was slowly followed by the Vice President Khumbo Kachali and his wife before Muluzi took his turn to bid his farewell.
The vice president and his wife also represented President Banda and the First Gentleman in Northern Region where they led thousands of people in viewing Mutharika’s body which lied in state at Mzuzu State Lodge for two days before being airlifted to Blantyre.
After a bow marking his “goodbye Bingu”, Muluzi walked straight to condole Mutharika’s widow and former first lady, Callista. He briefly had a word with her before assuming his seat, his eyes downcast.
Among those who immediately followed Muluzi to pay their homage, one by one, included former Vice President and UDF legislator Cassim Chilumpha, Callista Mutharika and late Mutharika’s brother, Peter.
Others were Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo, Speaker of National Assembly, Henry Chimunthu Banda and his wife, Chief Secretary to the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) Bright Msaka, Mutharika’s children and relations and then another former first lady Patricia Shanil, Muluzi’s divorced wife.
Thousands of people are expected to pass through the gates of Sanjika Palace where the body will lye in state until Sunday when it will be taken to Ndata Farm for another viewing prior to burial on Monday.
The late Mutharika first became Malawi’s President in 2004 under the banner of the United Democratic Front (UDF) after he was handpicked by Muluzi, then Malawi president and leader of the party, who afterwards went on to heartily campaign for him until he won the heavily contested and controversial polls.
However, barely few months the late Mutharika ditched UDF, briefly ruled the country without being attached to any political party, before forming his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) early 2005.
Since then late Mutharika and Muluzi, Malawi’s first democratic president, have been greatest political enemies, a situation perhaps Malawians never anticipated.
Muluzi, who ruled the country between 1994 and 2004, has been facing persecution from late Mutharika administration having been arrested, grilled by the law enforcers and put under house arrest for alleged fraud and corruption and treason offences.
The former president, widely hailed for ending the one-party rule of President Kamuzu Banda and his Malawi Congress Party (MCP), has been in South Africa for some months receiving medical treatment.
He flew home last month following the arrest by government of his son, Atupele, who is also UDF presidential aspirant for the 2014 polls.
The aging Muluzi was expected to return to South Africa on April 11 but he deferred his trip in order to pay his last respect to Mutharika and attend his burial.
“Despite his shortfalls, Bingu was a good man,” said Muluzi,
“Let us burry him with dignity as President Mrs Joyce Banda has appealed,” former President said.
Thousands of people queued to pay their last respects as Mutharika body lay in state at Sanjika.
President Banda’s office has since declared April 23 a public holiday “to give the former president a dignified and honourable state funeral and many Malawians an opportunity to attend the funeral ceremony”, with seven African heads of state expected to attend.
Presidents from Benin, Mozambique, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Zimbabwe are expected.
Mutharika d ied of a heart attack on April 5 and his body was flown to South Africa for embalming.
The 78-year-old death was met with mixed reactions, as many people in the impoverished southern African state accuse him of poor economic policies and suppression of basic freedoms.