THE late Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika was a “great son” of Africa, President Robert Mugabe said on Saturday, hours after his death was confirmed following two days of denial or silence.
Mugabe said Mutharika, who died of a heart attack after collapsing on Thursday, had “dedicated his professional and political career to the cause of Africa, all the time searching for innovative ways and strategies for improving the condition of its deprived and marginalised peoples.”
“It is telling that the late departed who was also the outgoing chairman of the African Union, was due to host the continental body later this year in July, in spite of Malawi’s economic challenges. Africa will miss its great son,” Mugabe said in a statement.
Mutharika visited Zimbabwe on February 2 this year, and Mugabe said the two men “explored ways of defending our economies and countries against illegal sanctions imposed on us by the West.”
Malawi's government on Saturday confirmed the president's death at the age of 78.
Vice President Joyce Banda was immediately sworn-in as the new President in line with the country's constitution.
Malawian officials said wa Mutharika suffered a heart attack at State House at 11:15 am Thursday, and was pronounced dead upon arrival at a military hospital in South Africa the same day.
South African President Jacob Zuma urged Malawian people to “remain calm”.
"We are confident that Malawi's democratic institutions will ensure a peaceful and orderly transition," Zuma said in a statement.
"As the government and the people of South Africa, we reach out in our thoughts and prayers to the people of Malawi during this difficult time of mourning the death of President Mutharika."
Madam President ... Vice President Joyce Banda takes over from wa Mutharika
South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance said Mutharika would be remembered for bringing development to his country.
"The president will be remembered for his guiding role in bringing economic growth and development to Malawi, for his leadership in the African Union, and for his commitment to a prosperous future for Africa," DA leader Helen Zille's chief of staff Geordin Hill-Lewis said in a statement.
"His ethos and vision for the continent are best summed up in his own call for ‘Africa to develop Africa’.”
Banda, 62, becomes the first female president in the SADC region.
The brief swearing-in ceremony in Lilongwe, the capital, ended more than a day of uncertainty which led to speculation politicians were squabbling over succession.
Banda had held on to her post of vice president despite falling out with Mutharika.
She will have to contend with powerful enemies at home as she tries to lead her country out of economic crisis and repair relations with international donors with whom Mutharika had clashed.
Under the constitution, Ms Banda will serve out Mutharika's term, which ends in early 2014. Mutharika first won office in 2004 and was re-elected in 2009.
The late president's party named his brother as its president on Friday.
Banda takes over a country in which shortages of sugar, fuel and other commodities have created long, restive lines at shops and service stations.
Mutharika, a former World Bank official once heralded for his economic stewardship, had in recent years been accused of mismanagement and of trampling on human rights. Anti-government demonstrations across Malawi last year were met with an unprecedented security crackdown that resulted in at least 19 deaths.