Tanzania’s COVID-denying president died this week, prompting an opposition leader to call his death amid the pandemic, “poetic justice.” 

President John Magufuli was 61.

“Our beloved president passed on,” the East African nation’s Vice President, Samia Suluhu Hassan, said on national television late Wednesday as she announced flags to be flown at half-mast for 14 days.

Suluhu insisted that the leader died of heart failure, saying that “the president has had this illness for the past 10 years.”

Right up until Magufuli’s death was announced, the authoritarian leader’s administration had insisted he was not sick — even though he had not been seen in public since the end of February.

Even before his death, rival politicians had insisted the president had COVID-19, a disease that Magufuli claimed to have eradicated through three days of national prayer.

“They are telling us he had heart disease. It is corona,” opposition leader Tundu Lissu told the Kenya Television Network from Belgium, where he has been in exile since 2017, when he was shot 16 times in an attack he blamed on government agents.

“It’s poetic justice,” Lissu said said of the death, saying “President Magufuli defied the world on the struggle against COVID-19.”

A man reacts as he sees newspapers with headlines announcing the death of Tanzania's President
A man reacts as he sees newspapers with headlines announcing the death of Tanzania’s President John Pombe Magufuli.
AFP via Getty Images

“He defied science. He refused to take the basic precautions that people all over the world are being told to take in the fight against COVID-19,” he said.

“He placed his faith in faith healers and herbal concoctions of dubious medical value … And what has happened? He went down with COVID-19,” Lissu insisted.

Magufuli, the son of a farmer, was first elected to the presidency in 2015, and was serving a second five-year term won in 2020 elections that the opposition and some rights groups said were neither free nor fair.

When COVID-19 first hit Tanzania in March 2020, Magufuli urged people to go to churches and mosques to pray, saying that because “coronavirus is a devil” it “cannot sit in the body of Christ.” 

He spoke against social distancing and masks, and questioned vaccines — instead promoting herbs and exercise as remedies.

COVID-19 patients receive medical care at Martini Hospital in Mogadishu, capital of Somalia
COVID-19 patients receive medical care at Martini Hospital in Mogadishu.
Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images

Magufuli then announced in June that COVID-19 had been eradicated from Tanzania by three days of national prayer. 

The nation has not reported tallies of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths to African health authorities since April 2020, with insiders saying victims are buried at night to hide the numbers of deaths. 

Health officials who reported problems related to COVID-19 were fired, The Associated Press said.

Tanzania’s constitution calls for the vice president to succeed a president who dies in office, which would make Hassan the nation’s first female president.

However, as of Thursday afternoon officials had yet to announce plans to swear Hassan in, Reuters said.

With Post Wires

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