The coffin of President Michael Sata, draped in Zambia’s flag, was placed on a red carpet at the center of a stadium holding more than 50,000 mourners and several African leaders attending the head of state’s funeral on Tuesday.
Sata, 77, served as president of the southern African nation since 2011. He died in a London hospital on Oct. 28 after a long illness.
Sata’s funeral was held in a stadium in the country’s capital, Lusaka, which was filled to capacity with hundreds more waiting outside the gates. The funeral was broadcast live on Zambian public television with large screens erected around the country for the public to watch.
Many of the mourners were tearful as Sata’s widow and son paid tribute to him. Christine Kaseba-Sata described her late husband as her “fallen hero” while Sata’s son Mulenga Sata, who is also mayor of Lusaka, said “He was not only my father, but also my political father.”
Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta were in attendance, along with heads of state from Namibia and Madagascar and vice presidents from Malawi (Saulos Chilima), South Africa, Tanzania and Swaziland. Zambia’s independence leader and first president, Kenneth Kaunda, also attended the funeral.
“We are proud to have rubbed shoulders with this African giant,” said Mugabe, who has been in power in neighboring Zimbabwe for more than 30 years.
According to the country’s constitution, Zambia must elect a new president within 90 days of Sata’s death. Vice President, Guy Scott, is interim president but cannot become president because his parents were not Zambian or of Zambian descent. A date for the presidential election has not yet been set. The ruling Patriotic Front party is expected to announce their candidate later this week.
Riots broke out last week when Scott fired defense minister and party secretary general Edgar Lungu in an attempt to defuse political tensions over the presidential succession. The riots stopped when Lungu was reinstated.
“The Patriotic Front is not for sale to the highest bidder,” Lungu said at the funeral, adding Sata would never be forgotten.