Chiluba will be sadly missed, says Banda
Lusaka – Zambian President Rupiah Banda formally announced the death of Zambia’s former leader Frederick Chiluba on Saturday, saying he would be missed across the world.
"It is with deep sorrow and sadness that I formally announce the passing of our dear former president Frederick Chiluba who died earlier this morning," Banda said in a statement.
"He will be sadly missed by all Zambians and human rights activists across the world," said Banda.
Chiluba, 68, credited with turning the page on the autocratic rule of founding father Kenneth Kaunda but later accused of plundering state coffers, died Saturday.
Chiluba, who came to office in 1991 after 27 years of single party socialist rule, died at his home shortly after midnight after suffering a seizure, his spokesperson Emmanuel Mwamba said.
Weeping mourners gathered outside his house in the suburb of Kabulonga east of the capital Lusaka, as politicians and relatives arrived to pay their respects.
Mwamba said the diminutive leader - only 1.5m tall - had felt unwell on Friday afternoon. "He had a seizure, the doctor tried to resuscitate him for 10 minutes, but realised he was dead."
The leader had been suffering from acute heart and kidney problems, often visiting South Africa for medical care.
Politicians who served in his cabinet have hailed him for his role in strengthening multi-party democracy in the southern African country.
"Chiluba was a magnanimous figure, whenever we are talk about the history of Zambia, we will always talk about him and Kaunda," said Godfrey Miyanda who served as his vice president.
"He saved the country from becoming a one party state," he added.
Chiluba led the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy, a coalition of unions, civic and church groups as well as former Kaunda loyalists who had grown disillusioned with the founding father's autocratic style.
Initially welcomed by the West which had struggled to get on with the leftist Kaunda, Chiluba won praise for his emphasis on democracy, human rights and governmental transparency.
But his image was tainted by a lengthy corruption trial, stemming from abuse of authority and theft of public funds amounting to $500 000 while in office from 1991 to 2001.
In 2007 the Zambian government imposed a travel ban on him after his two co-defendants, including former intelligence chief Xavier Chungu, fled the country.
Chiluba consistently denied any wrongdoing, accusing his hand-picked successor president Levy Mwanawasa of trying to destroy his legacy through an anti-corruption crusade.
Last year a judge in Zambia dismissed a 2007 ruling by a British court that found him and his associates guilty of stealing $46m in public funds during his presidency.
A Zambian court in 2009 acquitted him of charges that he embezzled $500 000 in public funds.
Chiluba's exact date of birth was never confirmed, but he is believed to have been born in 1942 in what is now Zambia's northern neighbour, the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In his teenage years, Chiluba worked as a bus conductor and sisal cutter in neighbouring Tanzania before making his way to the newly independent Zambia where he first came to prominence as chairperson of the once powerful Zambia Congress of Trade Unions which he headed for 17 years.
He is not known to have had any formal education.
Chiluba is survived by his widow Regina, ex-wife Vera Tembo and nine children.
Funeral arrangements have not been announced.