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Malawians trek to funeral of Mutharika

23 April 2012, 12:23

Ndata - Thousands of Malawians flocked on Monday by foot, on bicycles and in vehicles to the burial of controversial leader Bingu wa Mutharika at a family mausoleum dubbed the 'Taj Mahal'.

Fackson Moya, 48, walked 10km to witness the last journey of the man praised for early polices that ended a devastating famine but died in office blamed for pushing one of the world's poorest nations deeper into crisis.

"It is worth it for me to walk this distance to come and say bye to our hero who ended hunger in Malawi," Moya told AFP ahead of the funeral Monday which was being attended by several African leaders, including Malawi's new President Joyce Banda.

The government declared the day a national holiday to allow people to attend the funeral after tens of thousands had filed past the body as it lay in state in the capital and three cities across the country.

The late leader was to be buried alongside his wife Ethel on his sprawling family farm in the southern district of Thyolo.

He will be laid to rest in the white marble edifice he had built during his eight years in charge of one of the world's most impoverished nations.

The former World Bank economist designed the building himself and called it 'Mpumulo wa Bata', which means 'peaceful rest' in the country's main language Chichewa. But the country's media has dubbed it the 'Taj Mahal'.

Enelesi Kabichi, 56, was curious about the "big house" which was splashed on the front page of the local newspaper Daily Times on Monday.

"I wanted to come and see this white building where the president will be laid to rest. This is something new in our culture that a house can be built for a dead person," she said.

Mixed reactions

The funeral will cost 242 million Malawian kwacha ($1.5m), Malawi's Sunday Times reported, including 20 million kwacha for decorations and 21 million on funeral cloth handed to Malawians for free.

Mutharika, who died aged 78 of a heart attack on 05 April amid demands for him to step down, had said he wanted his mausoleum to be a "national monument to be visited by Malawians as part of a national heritage".

"He created space for himself at the mausoleum," local government minister Henry Mussa told AFP.

Mussa said the mausoleum, "built like a house, has two tombs... one for the wife and one for Mutharika. The mausoleum will be a museum at the end of the day".

The late president also built a marble-and-granite mausoleum costing $600 000 for Malawi's founding president Hastings Kamuzu Banda, who died in 1997.

Mutharika came to power in 2004 as the country's third president.

He was the first to die in office and Joyce Banda, his former foe and vice president, was sworn in as the country's new leader hours after his death was officially confirmed two days later.

His death has met with mixed reactions, as many people in the impoverished southern African state accused him of poor economic policies and suppression of basic freedoms in his second term which lead to major clashes with donors.



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