LUSAKA (BERNAMA) – Zambians formed long lines to pay last respects to their late president, Michael Sata, who died in London last week aged 77 while undergoing treatment for an undisclosed illness.
Sata’s body, which was repatriated on Saturday, is to lie in state for a week in the capital Lusaka until a Nov 11 funeral.
Sata will be buried at Embassy Park cemetery, near government offices in Lusaka’s Long Acres suburb.
The graveyard is reserved for heads of state and two of Zambia’s former leaders – Frederick Chiluba and Levy Mwanawasa – are buried there.
Sata’s widow Christine, along with other family members and officials, were among the first to view his body in the Mulungushi International Conference Centre. The doors were then opened to the public.
The public will be allowed to view the body until Nov 9, and parliament will host a thanksgiving ceremony on Nov 10.
Books of condolences have been opened at government offices in the capital, in the provinces and at Zambian embassies abroad.
Vice President Guy Scott has taken over as acting president until an election is held within 90 days. Scott – born of Scottish parents and Africa’s first white leader since South Africa’s apartheid era – cannot run because Zambia’s constitution bars candidates of direct foreign lineage.
Sata, a former trade union leader nicknamed ‘King Cobra’ for his acerbic broadsides, had denied persistent rumours in the last few months of his reign that he was gravely ill.
Mourners, some carrying pictures of Sata, gathered at the main Lusaka airport before the arrival of the plane on Saturday. Two former Zambian presidents, Kenneth Kaunda and Rupiah Banda, also attended.
For months, officials in the southern African nation repeatedly denied that Sata was sick, despite several trips abroad for medical help.