Tanzania’s President John Magufuli has died aged 61, the country’s Vice-President Samia Suluhu Hassan has announced.
John Magufuli died on March 17 from heart complications at a hospital in Dar es Salaam, the vice-president said in an address on state TV.
He had not been seen in public for more than two weeks, and rumors had been circulating about his health.
Opposition politicians said last week that John Magufuli had contracted Covid-19, but this has not been confirmed.
President Magufuli was one of Africa’s most prominent coronavirus skeptics, and called for prayers and herbal-infused steam therapy to counter the virus.
“It is with deep regret that I inform you that today… we lost our brave leader, the president of the Republic of Tanzania, John Pombe Magufuli,” Vice-President Hassan said in the announcement.
She said there would be 14 days of national mourning and flags would fly at half mast.
According to Tanzania’s constitution, VP Hassan will be sworn in as the new president within 24 hours and should serve the remainder of John Magufuli’s five-year term which he began last year.
John Magufuli was last seen in public on February 27, but PM Kassim Majaliwa insisted last week that the president was “healthy and working hard”.
The prime-minister blamed the rumors of the president’s ill-health on “hateful” Tanzanians living abroad.
When Covid-19 arrived in Tanzania, President Magufuli called on people to go to churches and mosques to pray.
“Coronavirus, which is a devil, cannot survive in the body of Christ… It will burn instantly,” the president said.
John Magufuli declared Tanzania “Covid-19 free” in June 2020, saying the virus had been eradicated by three days of national prayer.
He also mocked the efficacy of masks, expressed doubts about testing, and teased neighboring countries which imposed health measures to curb the virus.
“Countries in Africa will be coming here to buy food in the years to come… they will be suffering because of shutting down their economy,” President Magufuli said, according to the Associated Press.
Tanzania has not published details of its coronavirus cases since May 2020, and the government has refused to purchase vaccines.