Findings of the Commission of Inquiry into circumstances leading to the death of Malawi’s former president Bingu wa Mutharika show that he died on April 5 2012 on the way to Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) in Lilongwe.
These findings put to rest the debate on the exact date when the former president died. The authorities placed it on April 7 and later changed it to April 6 2012.
President Joyce Banda appointed the commission on June 1 2012. It was chaired by retired Judge Elton Singini and its members were retired inspector general of Police Joseph Aironi, Dr Tiwonge Loga, Dr Elizabeth Sibale, Father Joseph Mpinganjira, Brian Nyasulu, Esther Chioko, lawyer Jabbar Alide and pathologist Dr Charles Dzamalala.
The report, presented to the President in Lilongwe on Wednesday, reveals that the late Mutharika was already dead when government flew him out of the country to a South African hospital on the night of April 5 after his collapse at the official residence, New State House (now called Kamuzu Palace), before he was taken to KCH.
But Singini said the commission failed to get hold of a post-mortem report by the South African hospital.
Detailing events leading to the late president’s sudden death, Singini said the late Mutharika collapsed at the State House in the presidential audience room at around 11.10 am and was rushed to KCH in an ambulance.
Said Singini: “He died on the way to the hospital and that was within minutes of his collapse before the ambulance reached hospital. The ambulance arrived at the hospital at about 11:25 am and the president was brought in dead.”
He said the findings revealed that medical personnel at KCH made attempts to resuscitate him, but that was already too late.
Added Singini: “At around 2:30pm, doctors at the hospital pronounced him dead and informed the authorities of that fact. The cause of death of [then] president Bingu wa Mutharika was irregular beating of his heart at that moment of his collapse, called cardiac arrhythmia, which resulted in him suffering a cardiac arrest.”
He said the late Mutharika had a history of heart attack having suffered a minor one in 2009.
But Singini said his commission failed to establish the actual cause of death since it did not have a chance to look at the post-mortem report.
He said as of January 31 2013, the commission was told that the report had not been issued by the South African doctors. He said interventions from the President yielded nothing.
Singini said despite earlier arrangements that the report be handed to the Malawi Government, through the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC), the South African doctor who brought the report into the country directly gave it to one of the late Mutharika’s children.
He said the commission chased for the post-mortem report until the inquiry report was finalised and printed and later resolved that they could go ahead presenting the report based on the testimony received and the ‘Notice of Death’ by the doctors in South Africa.
In an interview soon after the report was presented to the President, Peter Mutharika, the late Mutharika’s brother, said he would only comment after personally seeing a copy of the report.
He said: “I think it’s a bit too early for me to comment, but I would say that as a family, we still stand by our earlier position as released in the statement soon after the commission was established.”
Despite the commission being mandated to inquire into the issues of transition of power, Singini, in his statement, did not say much about those issues that led some top government officials being accused of withholding official announcement of the death to allegedly wrest power from the then estranged Vice-President Joyce Banda.
He said he did not want to draw the President’s and the public’s attention to particular parts or contents.
Singini said the inquiry started its work on July 9 2012 and interviewed 123 witnesses. He said the scope of the commission’s work included following the events as they had occurred on April 5 up to the date of burial on April 23 2012.