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
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
people
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West found himself at the centre of a critical storm over the weekend after he apparently claimed to be “the next Mandela” during a radio interview
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
News
i100
News
Perry says: 'Psychiatrists give help because they need help. You would not be working in mental health if you didn't have a curiosity about how the mind works.'
people
Life and Style
Stepping back in time: The Robshaws endured the privations of the 1950s
food + drinkNew BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain
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: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?