The Zambian government insisted today that President Levy Mwanawasa was alive – denying media reports he had died in a Paris hospital – and described South African President Thabo Mbeki’s minute of silence in respect of his counterpart at a rally in Pretoria as “erroneous”.
The South African radio station, Radio 702, first reported that Mwanawasa had died, after he had suffered a stroke on the eve of the African Union summit in Egypt on 29 June and had been taken to the French capital on 2 July for further treatment.
A frenzy of media reports followed, after government sources confirmed his death, and Mbeki asked people gathered at a rally to mourn the scores of foreign nationals killed in xenophobic attacks, to pay their respects for the passing of Mwanawasa, who is also the current chairman of the 14-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) of regional states.
“The executive secretary of SADC called me to say the president of Zambia, Levy Mwanawasa, had passed away this morning,” Mbeki said in Pretoria, according to local reports.
This was later corrected by a Foreign Affairs statement: “The South African government has been informed that President Mwanawasa has not passed on.”
At a briefing called by the Zambian government, Mike Mulongoti, the information and broadcasting services minister, reiterated an earlier statement made on Zambian national television.
“As government, we are happy with the progress made so far on the health of Dr Levy Patrick Mwanawasa … President of the Republic of Zambia. He is still in hospital and his condition is stable. He has continued receiving treatment for hypertension from the Intensive Care Unit of Percy Military Hospital, and there are no new developments. He had a satisfactory night at Percy Military Hospital in Paris, France.”
According to the current constitution, which is under review, should a president die in office, elections should be held within 90 days.
Meanwhile, reports from France 2 (the French national Television) and RFI (Radio France Internationale) indicate that the French foreign ministry has refused to comment on the issue stating in a press communiqué that “it is the duty of the government of Zambia to talk about his [President Levy Mwanawasa] state of health”.
Hôpital militaire Percy de Clamart, in the Parisian suburbs, has not issued any official statement about the Zambian president’s state of health.