Tanzanian opposition leader insists John Magufuli died of COVID-19

The late John Magufuli. Image credit: Flickr/Paul Kagame

Tanzanian opposition leader Tundu Lissu has insisted that the late President John Magufuli succumbed to COVID-19, contrary to what the government officially announced.

The country’s Vice-President Samia Suluhu announced late on Wednesday (March 17) that Magufuli, 61, had died of “heart complications,” saying he had battled a heart condition for 10 years.

Government is ‘lying’

However, in an interview with Kenyan TV news channel KTN News on Thursday, Lissu accused the government of lying, insisting that his “sources” had informed him that Magufuli had in fact passed away on Wednesday last week.

“The news today, to me, has not come as a surprise at all. The only thing that surprises me is the fact that they continue to lie up to now. His government continues to lie. Magufuli died of corona,” he maintained. His claim has however not been independently verified.

Prior to his passing, Magufuli had not been seen in public for almost three weeks, sparking frenzied speculation about his health and whereabouts.

The government kept mum for several days, before later claiming Magufuli was in good health. In a series of tweets on March 7, however, Lissu alleged that the late President had contracted COVID-19.

Magufuli’s COVID-19 ‘denialism’

Magufuli famously downplayed the potential impact of COVID-19 in Tanzania. He scoffed at measures adopted widely to combat the virus, such as wearing of face masks, and advocated for alternative medicines and prayer.

Tanzania stopped publishing COVID-19 statistics in April last year when the country had recorded more than 500 cases and 16 deaths. Magufuli also expressed reservations about COVID-19 vaccines.

Lissu, who lost to Magufuli in last year’s disputed presidential election, called the late President’s passing “poetic justice.” He claimed, “President Magufuli did not wear a face mask. He actually denigrated anyone who wore face masks. He did not believe in vaccines; he did not believe in science.

“He placed his faith in faith healers and herbal concoctions of dubious medical value. And what has happened, happened. He went down with corona.”

Lissu is currently in Belgium on self-imposed exile. In 2017, he was shot multiple times in Tanzania in what he claimed was a politically motivated assassination attempt.

Tanzania will now go through a 14-day mourning period as announced by Vice-President Suluhu, who also said burial arrangements will be announced in due course.

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