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Malawians pay tribute to vice-president killed in plane crash

Malawians pay tribute to vice-president killed in plane crash
Mr Saulos Chilima's coffin was brought into the stadium by a guard of honour

Tens of thousands of Malawians have taken part in a funeral service at the national stadium to pay tribute to the vice-president who was killed in a plane crash last week.

Saulos Chilima, 51, was considered a breath of fresh air in Malawian politics.

He was an eloquent public speaker and energetic campaigner who held huge sway among the youth who account for more than half of Malawians.

Saulos Chilima was planning to run for president next year

At the service, President Lazarus Chakwera promised a full investigation into the cause of the crash and said that he had asked foreign governments to help.

“I also have the same questions that Malawians have,” he said.

President Chakwera had previously said the military aircraft had crashed because of poor visibility caused by bad weather but Mr Chilima’s UTM party has called for a thorough and independent investigation.

The president said that the Malawian military would carry out an investigation but that another, independent, one was needed as well.

Mr Chakwera and other government officials were booed by some members of the crowd at the Bingu National Stadium. The 41,000-capacity stadium was full, with more people outside.

Calm was only restored after the intervention of Catholic priests.

Mr Chilima was a devout Catholic and the service included a full mass.

He will be buried in his home district of Ntcheu, 180km (112 miles) south of Lilongwe on Monday, which has been declared a public holiday.

His coffin, draped in Malawi’s red, green and black flag, was brought into the stadium by a guard of honour.

The service began with moving tributes from his family.

His son, Sean, recalled what a loving father he was, how he always had time for children and played games with them. He added that his father had been extremely competitive and always wanted to win.

“Dad was a hard worker who always made sure he got things done,” he said.

His brother, Ben, said the family was grateful to have been given the personal belongings he had on him at the time of the accident, including his watch and rosary.

His coffin was brought into the stadium by a guard of honour. Image Credit: BBC

Mr Chilima died last Monday as he was flying to the northern town of Nkhata Bay where he was to attend the funeral of a former cabinet minister.

The entire crew and other passengers on board, including former First Lady Shanil Dzimbiri, also perished.

Mr Chilima had a successful career working in the private sector where he held various senior, well-paid positions in business before taking what many thought was a risky decision, venturing into politics aged just 40.

He had been vice-president since 2014, initially under former President Peter Mutharika.

After falling out with Mr Mutharika, Mr Chilima formed his own party, the UTM.

He ran for president in the 2019 elections, coming third behind Mr Mutharika and Mr Chakwera, but the election results were nullified by the Malawi high court following complaints of fraud.

In the 2020 presidential election, Mr Chilima agreed to be Mr Chakwera’s running-mate, in an alliance of nine opposition parties.

In June 2022, he said that as part of that agreement, President Chakwera was to serve for only one term and he would then back Mr Chilima in the next elections in September 2025.

President Chakwera has not publicly disputed Mr Chilima’s claim, but in recent public pronouncements he started to hint that he might seek re-election next year.

In public appearances, Mr Chilima and Mr Chakwera looked to be on good terms but many thought a fall-out was inevitable particularly after senior leaders of their respective parties had started to openly endorse the candidatures of the two in next year’s elections.


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