Tanzania President John Pombe Magufuli dies at 61

Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli gestures while arriving at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria, South Africa, in this file photo taken on May 25, 2019. MICHELE SPATARI / AFP

Tanzania President John Pombe Magufuli is dead.

In a televised address on Thursday night, Tanzania vice-president Samia Suluhu Hassan said that Magufuli had died of heart complications.

Hassan said that Magufuli was hospitalised on March 6 at the Jakaya Kikwete Cardiac Institute.

Magufuli, 61, has not been seen in public since February 27 and has not spoken since the emergence of rumors on social networks announcing him to be seriously affected by Covid-19.

But on Friday, Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa said President Magufuli was in the country and working hard in his office, squashing rumours that he had contracted coronavirus.

“I want to assure the Tanzanians that their president is fit and working hard as usual,” Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa said in a video recorded during Friday prayers in the Njombe (South) region.

“I even spoke with him this morning about my trip to Njombe and he told me to greet you for him. I spoke to him by phone in Dar es Salaam while I was in Dodoma,” he said.

The speech is the first to directly contradict the rumours.

Tanzania’s minister of constitutional and legal affairs had threatened to prosecute anyone who relayed “inane” rumors about the president’s health, but stopped short of answering questions about his condition.

The main opposition party, Chadema, again demanded information on Magufuli’s whereabouts on Friday.

“We are forced to ask this given that the president appeared in public two weeks ago and no official statement has been released after the reports of his hospitalisation,” said Chadema secretary-general John Mnyika.

Magufuli’s main opponent in the October 2020 presidential election, Tundu Lissu, said on Twitter earlier this week the president had been evacuated to India for health reasons. Africanews could not verify his claims.

Magufuli has been playing down the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, claiming Tanzania had freed itself from the Covid” through prayer.

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He also rejected any lockdowns or measures such as mask-wearing.

But he later admitted what he called a “respiratory disease” was still circulating.

Many Tanzanian officials have died in recent weeks, often without the cause of their death being specified.

Among them, the first vice-president of the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar, Seif Sharif Hamad, who died in mid-February. His party said he had contracted Covid-19.

Tanzania has not published data on coronavirus since April 2020.