Reports of Zambian President's death prove to be exaggerated

The South African President had the unusual duty yesterday of mourning the death of the President of Zambia with a minute's silence, then hours later wising him a speedy recovery.

President Levy Patrick Mwanawasa would have been an embarrassing corpse. The Zambian leader, who chairs a bloc of southern African nations, collapsed with a stroke on Sunday and was rushed to hospital in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh just as he prepared to confront Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe at an African summit. Mr Mugabe's most vocal opponent on the continent was transferred to a Paris military hospital for further treatment after reportedly suffering a brain haemorrhage. Egyptian doctors said he was in a "semi-coma".

Yesterday morning, a South African radio station reported that the 59-year-old Zambian President had died in Paris, setting radio and television stations buzzing around the world. One Johannesburg newspaper ran the front page headline, "Stroke kills Zambian president".

There was talk of a state funeral being organised within five days. Zambian senior cabinet ministers were reported to be closeted in urgent meetings with army chiefs. Then the South African President, Thabo Mbeki, announced that he had been informed by the executive secretary of the Southern African Development Community that Mr Mwanawasa had passed away. He interrupted a remembrance ceremony held to honour Zimbabwean migrants killed by racist attacks in South Africa to hold a minute's silence. South Africa's main opposition party sent condolences.

But about an hour later, the Zambian Vice-President, Rupiah Banda, already being tipped as the President's successor in the South African media, said rumours of the President's death were greatly exaggerated. "The President had [a] satisfactory night at the Percy military hospital in France. The news reports ... are not true."

The information minister, Mike Mulongoti, his voice shaking with emotion, went on Zambian radio to announce: "We spoke with the people at Mwanawasa's bedside a few minutes ago, including his wife, Maureen, who said [he] was still alive and breathing." Mr Banda said the President was in a "stable" condition in intensive care receiving treatment for hypertension. "The doctors attending are happy with progress he has made so far and his condition remains stable," Mr Banda added.

Mr Mulongoti, the government spokesman, urged the South African media, which had been the source of the global false alarm, to exercise restraint, and condemned the "false and malicious rumours". He added: "The stories are coming from South Africa and have now spread to the rest of the world. I am appealing to the South African press to restrain themselves as they are causing anguish and pain to the Zambian people."

Mr Mbeki's office retracted his earlier statement and "regretted the "misunderstanding". The Foreign Ministry said: "On behalf of the government and on his own behalf, [Mr Mbeki] wishes President Mwanawasa a speedy recovery."

Victims of the premature obituary

Mark Twain

It is generally believed that Twain's remark that "the report of my death was an exaggeration", was made after reading his own obituary. But it was actually in response to a journalist who, in 1897, got the writer mixed up with his cousin. Twain's passing was prematurely announced a second time, when in 1907 The New York Times published a piece speculating that a yacht he was sailing on may have been lost at sea.

Jimmy Savile and Michael Heseltine

The satirist Chris Morris has never been a stranger to controversy. But on Radio 1 in 1994 he announced (as a joke) the death of the TV personality Sir Jimmy Savile, as well as suggesting that the Tory politician Michael Heseltine had died after a heart attack. Jerry Hayes, an MP at the time, was duped into paying his tributes on-air. Needless to say, Morris was swiftly suspended by the BBC.

Ernest Hemingway

The American writer was on safari in Africa in 1954 when a plane carrying him and his wife crashed in the bush. A plane sent to rescue them crashed on take-off after picking them up. Hemingway suffered severe injuries but survived. Obituaries were printed in several newspapers across the world – obituaries which Hemingway reportedly read on a terrace in a Venice café a few days later.

Toby Green

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Parker says: 'I once had a taster use the phrase 'smells like the sex glands of a lemming'. Who in the world can relate to that?'
food + drinkRobert Parker's 100-point scale is a benchmark of achievement for wine-makers everywhere
News
i100
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing