End of an era: Bingu buried
At exactly 4.30 pm on Monday, the body of former Malawi president Bingu wa Mutharika was lowered into a grave, built side by side with that of his late wife Ethel at his Ndata Farm in Thyolo.
It was a very solemn and moving occasion, witnessed by a sea of people, including foreign Heads of State and dignitaries as well as millions of Malawians who followed the ceremony on State television. The grave is at Mpumulo wa Bata Mausoleum.
As the Last Post wailed and a 21-gun salute boomed in the background, some family members and other mourners were seen shedding their final tears for a man who carved yet another special chapter in Malawi’s history.
It was a tearful goodbye from the former first lady Callista Mutharika and the children who shed tears as the casket disappeared into the grave, marking the end of a life and an era.
In her eulogy that preceded a requiem mass celebrated by Archbishop Tarcizius Ziyaye of the Catholic Archdiocese of Blantyre, President Joyce Banda said she was happy that the former president had been given a befitting and dignified burial which was possible with the help from other countries.
Banda extended appreciation to South African president Jacob Zuma for his government’s provision of the casket and two aircraft that transported the body of Mutharika and his family. She thanked Zambian President Michael Sata for his country’s fuel donation. Banda also acknowledged Mozambique for providing fuel and assorted food stuffs.
The President said she will never forget Mutharika whom she described as her father and mentor for teaching her self-determination. She pledged to carry on with the late president’s vision and development agenda.
Said the President: “Every human being makes mistakes, but let us all close our ears on the bad things that happened and only remember the good things our father did. Let us look ahead with hope. Let us move forward in unity.”
In their speeches, Dean of Diplomatic Corps in Malawi representing all foreign missions, Zimbabwe’s High Commissioner Thandiwe Dumbutchena; the President of Mozambique Armando Emilio Guebuza representing the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) and his Benin counterpart Dr Thomas Yayi Boni who is African Union chairperson and Swaziland Deputy Prime Minister Themba Nhlanganiso Masuku, said Malawi has lost a visionary leader in Mutharika.
The foreign dignitaries praised the late Mutharika, saying his development agenda has not only helped Malawi, but also other countries—notably his food basket for Africa concept.
However, the eulogies were not without drama as people booed and jeered some speakers while Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Youth Cadets showed their arrogance by singing controversial songs despite director of ceremonies Lieutenant Frank Kayanula pleading with them to respect the solemn occasion.
First to be booed was Traditional Authority Chimaliro. He was jeered at after he had told the gathering that the late Mutharika distributed development evenly across the country.
And when Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister Professor Peter Mutharika took to the podium to speak on behalf of the bereaved family, the DPP Youth Cadets started singing: “Tiyeni tinene za Bingu ngakhale ena sanena, tiyeni tinene za Bingu”, a thing which evidently irked some people.
People jeered more when in his salutations, Peter Mutharika thanked the DPP Youth Cadets, which was viewed as an apparent acknowledgement of what they had just done.
Mutharika said he knows his late brother made some mistakes which were a result of misjudgement and not evil intention. He said he remembers him as “my brother, my friend and my hero and I will miss you very much.”
The Foreign Affairs Minister, who has already been made president of DPP, said the party will continue.
Said Mutharika: “I will not leave you, the party will continue, no matter what happens, no matter how difficult it maybe. Peter Mutharika will not leave. I will not go anywhere.”
He also took a swipe at the media for informing the public that his late brother built a 54-bedroom house at Ndata Farm, saying the house—called Villa Casa Blanca—only has five bedrooms.
The family did not hide its frustrations at how some Malawians welcomed the news of the president’s death. Mutharika’s nephew Charles Namondwe said it was sad that some people held parties to celebrate the death.
Namondwe said as a God-fearing family, they have forgiven but warned that “you will only know the depth of a well when it is dry”. He did not elaborate.
Taking a contrary position from Peter Mutharika’s, DPP secretary general Elias Wakuda Kamanga was apologetic to the President for the treatment she got at the hands of the party.
Kamanga, who thanked Banda for giving Mutharika a deserving and respected burial, pleaded with the President not to desert them at this time when they have lost a leader, saying they were her children who have nowhere to go now.
Said Kamanga: “When everything was fine with us, we said things that hurt you; we did things that did not please you. I want to ask you Madam President to forgive us. We know that we did a lot of bad things to you; I want to ask that as Bingu’s casket is being interred today, let all those things go in the same grave.”
Other leaders that paid their last respects and attended the burial ceremony were Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai; Kenyan leader Mwai Kibaki; Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete; Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba; South African and Zambian vice-presidents Kgalema Motlanthe and Guy Scott, respectively.
Malawian dignitaries included Vice-President Khumbo Kachali, former president Bakili Muluzi, former vice-presidents Dr. Justin Malewezi and Dr. Cassim Chilumpha, leader of opposition John Tembo and leaders of various political parties and Cabinet ministers.