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Zambia First Lady Says Opposition Leader Not Welcome At Late President's Funeral


The body of the late Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa continues its journey throughout the country's provinces ahead of the September third state burial. President Mwanawasa died last Tuesday in a Paris hospital, where he was being treated for a stroke suffered in June.

Meanwhile, some Zambians are expressing disappointment with the decision of Mwanawasa's widow to stop Zambia's main opposition leader from attending a funeral gathering for her husband. First Lady Maureen Mwanawasa reportedly ordered Michael Sata to be removed from the funeral procession Monday in the eastern city of Chipata.

Sata and the late Mwanawasa had a longstanding bitter rivalry, but the two had reconciled in May.

Zambian journalist Chibaula Silwamba told VOA some Zambians believe the former first lady's behavior went contrary to the African tradition of honoring the dead.

"What happened is that Monday morning, when the plane carrying the body of the late Zambian president, Levy Patrick Mwanawasa, arrived at the Chipata Airport and the former first lady was on the same aircraft. When she disembarked and went to the tent where the other dignitaries were, Mr. Sata kneeled before her to greet her. But she told him she did not want to politicize the funeral. She therefore asked him to leave the procession. When Mr. Sata tried to explain why he was there, the former first lady interjected and said that she did not want to talk to him," he said.

Silwamba said some senior members of Zambia's ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) supported Mrs. Mwanawasa's treatment of the opposition leader.

"In fact the national chairman of the governing Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), Mr. Michael Mabenga was there and also demanded that Mr. Sata should be removed immediately. And he asked the Minister of Science and Technology to ensure that he mobilize the police to send Mr. Sata off," Silwamba said.

He said many Zambians believe the former first lady's behavior went bit contrary to the African tradition of honoring the dead.

"In the African tradition that should not be the case because in fact you do not even need an invitation card to attend a funeral procession. This was a bit awkward," Silwamba said.

Sata and the late Mwanawasa had a longstanding bitter rivalry, but the two had reconciled in May. Silwamba said the former first lady even acknowledged the reconciliation, but she said it was between the late president and Sata and not her family.

"The first lady acknowledged this but in her statement she even told Mr. Sata that you reconciled with President Mwanawasa but you did not reconcile with me and the family, and the family does not want your reconciliation," he said.

Silwamba said the former first lady and the opposition leader have also had their own differences.

"There was a time when Mr. Sata accused the first lady of being disrespectful and advised that a marriage counselor should counsel her to teach her how to respect other people. Recently when the president was in Paris in hospital, Mr. Sata called on a medical team to go and ascertain his capability of continuing as president. That shows the differences that have been there between him and the first lady. Perhaps the first lady has been harboring that grudge against Mr. Sata," Silwamba said.


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