Tanzania: Tens of Thousands Honor Late President at Maskless Event, Prompting Stampede

TOPSHOT - Tanzanian President John Magufuli (C-R) attends a ceremony marking the country's 58th independence anniversary at CCM Kirumba stadium in Mwanza, nothern Tanzania, on December 9, 2019. (Photo by STRINGER / AFP) (Photo by STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images)
STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images

Tens of thousands of Tanzanians packed a stadium in Dar es Salaam to honor late Tanzanian President John Magufuli on Saturday.

Mourners lined the city’s streets on March 20 to watch as the late president’s casket was transferred via military vehicle from a Dar es Salaam church to Uhuru Stadium, where it lied in state over the weekend. Some Tanzanians laid clothing articles down on the road ahead of the motorcade procession, while others showered the casket in flower petals as it drove past. Once at the stadium, droves of Tanzanians visited Magufuli’s casket, pouring into the site to pay their respects to the late leader. Many people wept audibly as they walked past the coffin. Some were so overcome by emotion they fainted and military personnel carried them away on stretchers.

There was a stampede at Uhuru Stadium on Sunday as thousands of mourners rushed the site’s entryway for a chance to walk past the late president’s casket, according to the BBC, which reported the number of casualties from the incident was “not yet clear.”

Still images and video footage of the packed crowds at Uhuru Stadium over the weekend showed few people out of the tens of thousands wearing sanitary masks despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The lack of masking and social distancing was emblematic of Magufuli’s tenure as Tanzania’s president over the past year, during which he refused to lock Tanzanians down in quarantine or force citizens to wear masks in the face of the pandemic.

Magufuli’s lax attitude toward the Chinese coronavirus caused many Tanzanians and Africans to speculate that he had contracted the disease during his nearly three-week disappearance from public in the days preceding his death on March 17. The Tanzanian government’s initial refusal to comment on Magufuli’s uncharacteristic absence fanned rumors about the leader’s health status.

Tanzania’s new president — former Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan — announced Magufuli’s death, officially from a “heart illness,” last week, revealing he had been admitted to the Jakaya Kikwete Cardiac Institute in Dar es Salaam on March 6.

African heads of state gathered in the Tanzanian capital of Dodoma on Monday to pay their respects to Magufuli during the late president’s state funeral. Thousands of Tanzanians attended the ceremony inside a Dodoma stadium where masks and physical distancing were eschewed as they were in Dar es Salaam during Magufuli’s public viewing over the weekend.

The African continent is “saddened by the death of a revolutionary,” Democratic Republic of the Congo President Felix Tshisekedi told the crowd of mourners.

“He wasn’t just our leader, but also a guardian and parent to many … and an honest man,” Tanzanian President Hassan, sworn in on March 19, said at the funeral.

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