THYOLO--Thousands of Malawians, travelling by trucks, foot, bicycles and cars, early Monday trekked to the sprawling Ndata farm of the late President Bingu wa Mutharika, who was buried at the majestic family mausoleum called the ‘Taj Mahal’ by the local media.
The original white marbled Taj Mahal was built by Mungal emperor in memory of his third wife Muntaz Mahal.
But at the Malawi cite, the thousands of Malawians, led by Pres Joyce Banda, were joined by several African presidents from Tanzania, Kenya, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
The President said before he died that he had personally designed the mausoleum, had wished to be buried there. The mausoleum houses a library and a basement where his body was laid to rest.
Mutharika called the white and marbled edifice 'Mpumulo wa Bata', loosely translated as peaceful rest.
"He created space for himself at the mausoleum," local government minister Henry Mussa told local media.
Mutharika, who built a mausoleum for founder president and dictator Kamuzu Banda 10 years after he died out of office in 1997, said he wanted his mausoleum to be a “national monument to be visited by Malawians as part of a national heritage.”
Mussa said the mausoleum, “built like a house, has two tombs...one for the wife and one for Mutharika. The mausoleum will be a museum at the end of the day.”
Mutharika, who came to power in 2004 as the country's third president since independence in 1964, died on April 5 from sudden cardiac arrest.
He was the first president to die in office and his former political foe and vice president Joyce Banda was sworn in as president two days later.
His being buried at his personal farm in the southern district of Thyolo leaves the first president Banda, not related to the new president, the only occupant of the Heroes’ Acre in Lilongwe.
Mutharika, who styled himself after Banda, had built the two-storey, US$600 000 marble-and-granite building after retired president Bakili Muluzi had failed to do so during his 10-year rule from 1994 to 2004, citing financial constraints.
Banda, popularly known as "Ngwazi" or great one, died in 1997 at the age of 99 after a career as one of Africa's most controversial leaders with a poor human rights record.
Trained as a medical doctor in the United States, Dr. Banda led the country to independence from British colonial in 1964 and for the next three decades ruled ruthlessly. He was defeated by Muluzi in the country's first multi-party elections in 1994.
"We Malawians have finally given our first head of state the respect that he deserves...it is befitting that we do so and honourable to remember him in this way," Mutharika said when he unveiled the building, located at the heart of the administrative capital Lilongwe.
He took a shot at his predecessor, Muluzi, saying there had been efforts to "obliterate the name of Kamuzu Banda from the minds of Malawians and history."
He went on to say "I disagreed with this policy. My government will continue to honour this true Malawian hero."
Ironically, Mutharika was also criticised for rights abuses. The death of 19 people at the hands of Malawi police during last year's anti-government demonstrations left an indelible mark on Mutharika's legacy.
The demonstrations had been staged to protest against Mutharika's mishandling of the economy and fears that he was taking the country back to the dark days of dictatorship after he started bringing back laws Dr. Banda used to consolidate his grip on power.
While Mutharika's successor, Muluzi, said a lack of funds prevented the Heroes' Acre from being built, observers said as a critic of Kumuzu's "legacy of brutality, torture and gross abuse of human rights," the former president had no incentive to build one.
Muluzi, like Mutharika, has also indicated that he doesn't want to be buried at Heroes' Acre when he dies, preferring to be laid to rest at his home village of Kapoloma in the southern district of Machinga.
At the 'Taj' in Thyolo, Mutharika has been buried alongside his first wife Ethel who died in 2007.
----©2012 The Maravi Post. Reproduction authorised, with usual acknowledgment