by Staff Reporter
PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai have attended the burial of former Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika at a family mausoleum dubbed the 'Taj Mahal’.
Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, Armando Guebuza of Mozambique, Hipikefunye Pohamba of Namibia and Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania were among the heads of state at Monday’s Catholic service in Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial capital. President Mutharika, who died on April 5 aged 78, was buried later at his nearby Ndata Farm in a white mausoleum he had built for his first wife, Ethel, who died in 2007.
Mutharika called the mausoleum “Maphumulo wa Bata,” which means “Peaceful Rest” in the country's main language, Chichewa. But other Malawians, critical of the money he spent on his farm retreat soon after first being elected in 2004, dubbed the mausoleum the Taj Mahal after the white Marble mausoleum located in Agra, India built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
New Malawian President Joyce Banda, a fierce rival of Mutharika, had declared Monday a public holiday in Malawi.
Thousands of Malawians flocked by foot, on bicycles and in vehicles to attend the burial.
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.
[Translation: he supported Zimbabwe and of course, he was reviled for going against World Bank policy and showing their policy prescriptions to be garbage. For which 40% of Malawi's budget was withheld. Another reason why African countries must find a way to rely on taxation of the raw materials industries, not 'Donor Aid'. - MrK]
"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.
Mutharika was 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.
Enelesi Kabichi, 56, was curious about the "big house" which was splashed on the front page of the local newspaper, the 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.
The funeral will cost 242 million Malawian kwacha (about US$1.5 million), Malawi's Sunday Times reported, including 20 million kwacha for decorations and 21 million on funeral cloth handed to Malawians for free.
Mutharika 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 said.
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 US$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.
Banda, who led the mourners, evoked her predecessor's favourite mantra: "Malawi is not a poor country but Malawians are poor."
"President Bingu wa Mutharika taught me and all Malawians to dream, he taught us not only to dream but also to dream in colour," she said.
Following his wife’s death in 2007, Mutharika married Callista Chapola-Chimombo, a former tourism minister in 2010.
Alongside Mutharika's brother Peter, Chapola-Chimombo led the visiting African leaders as they paid their respects at the open casket of the former president, who was a church-going Catholic.
Peter Mutharika, the country's foreign minister, was anointed as heir-apparent for his Democratic Progressive Party in the 2014 elections when his brother was due to retire.