Tanzanian President John Magufuli died Wednesday aged 61 from a heart condition, his vice president said, after more than five years of divisive, authoritarian rule capped by his refusal to take Covid-19 seriously.
Magufuli, popularly nicknamed the “Bulldozer”, had been missing from public view for almost three weeks, fuelling wild rumours of his ill health, with opposition leaders claiming he had contracted the virus.
“It is with deep regret that I inform you that today on the 17th of March, 2021 at 6:00 pm we lost our brave leader, the President of the Republic of Tanzania, John Pombe Magufuli,” said vice-president Samia Suluhu Hassan.
She said Magufuli had died of a “heart condition” known as chronic atrial fibrillation characterised by an abnormal heartbeat, which he had suffered from for a decade, at a hospital in Dar es Salaam.
He had first been briefly admitted to the Jakaya Kikwete Cardiac Institute on March 6, but was subsequently discharged, Hassan said.
But Magufuli had again felt unwell and was on March 14 rushed to hospital, this time to the Emilio Mzena Memorial Hospital in Dar es Salaam.
Hassan announced a 14-day mourning period.
Magufuli last appeared in public on February 27, and the fervent Catholic had missed three Sunday services, sparking concern.
Opposition leader Tundu Lissu cited sources saying that the president had caught Covid-19 which had exacerbated his existing health conditions, which could not be independently verified.
Meanwhile demands grew for information on his whereabouts and rumours took off that Magufuli was seeking treatment outside the country.
The president’s supporters mourned his death, and the uncertain political road ahead.
“I am saddened personally. I’ve lost hope because I relied on him as my leader, he was a leader of the poor and now we are wondering how things will be now that our leader has died,” said 24-year-old Lewis, in Dar es Salaam.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted he was “sorry to hear” of Magufuli’s death.
Meanwhile the United States State Department expressed condolences, adding: “we hope that Tanzania can move forward on a democratic and prosperous path.”