LUSAKA, September 3 – African leaders bade a final farewell on Wednesday to late Zambian president Levy Mwanawasa at a state funeral in Lusaka at which his widow was heckled and jeered by mourners.
South African President Thabo Mbeki, who took over from Mwanawasa as chairman of the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC), praised Mwanawasa’s achievements in a speech to the 5,000 mourners.
"He was a true African who believed in an African solution to various challenges the continent is facing," Mbeki said.
Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, who also holds the presidency of the African Union, also paid tribute to Mwanawasa as a "visionary leader (who) worked tirelessly to promote human rights and democracy in Africa.
"He always spoke his mind," Kikwete told the packed funeral service at a Baptist church in Lusaka.
But the crowd of mourners at the state 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 Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) recently by declaring that Finance Minister Mandu Magandi should succeed her husband rather than current vice-president Rupiah Banda.
Banda is acting president ahead of presidential elections expected in November to chose Mwanawasa’s successor.
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.
Mwanawasa won praise as one of the first African leaders to publicly criticize Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe for his country’s spiralling political crisis and worsening economic meltdown.
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.
Among the other African leaders present were Presidents Mwai Kibaki, Ian Khama of Botswana, Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo and John Kufour of Ghana.
Former colonial power Britain sent a delegation led by Foreign Office minister of state, Lord Malloch Brown, who has responsibility for African affairs. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer represented the United States.
Praised for keeping a lid on Zambia’s inflation prone economy, Mwanawasa never recovered from a stroke in June, his second in little over two years and died in a Paris hospital on August 19.
He was laid to rest at Embassy Park near the presidential offices following the service.