President Peter Mutharika and his estranged Vice-President Saulos Chilima, political allies-turned-foes, are set to meet face-to-face at the funeral service of Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe at Bolero in Rumphi today.
This will be the first time the two will make a public appearance at the same function together since June this year when Chilima announced his ambition to challenge Mutharika in the presidential race in the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections.
On Monday, the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) issued two statements announcing the funeral programme for the fallen Tumbuka Paramount Chief who died on Thursday at Mzuzu Central Hospital after succumbing to low blood pressure.
In the initial statement signed by Principal Secretary (Administration) in the OPC, Cliff Chiunda, the office said Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Kondwani Nankhumwa would represent the President at the funeral service at Chilongozgi Village in Bolero, Rumphi.
The statement added that Mutharika had directed that the late Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe, born Walter John Hardy Gondwe, “be accorded a burial with military honours”.
In the second statement issued last evening classified as ‘Revised’ and signed by Chief Secretary to the Government Lloyd Muhara, OPC said the funeral service would start at 1pm and that the President would attend.
“The late Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe will be buried with military honours and His Excellency the President, Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika, will be in attendance.”reads the statement.
On the other hand, the Office of the Vice-President last evening also confirmed that Chilima would attend the funeral ceremony.
“Yes, it’s true that the Vice-President is set to attend the funeral service of the late Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe in Rumphi tomorrow today,” said an official in the Office of the Vice-President.
Besides, providing an opportunity for the country’s First and Second citizens to meet face-to-face, the funeral ceremony could be a potential political posturing arena, a fear that prompted CCAP Livingstonia Synod general secretary the Reverend Levi Nyondo yesterday to warn politicians against donning party colours.
During a church service in Mzuzu to see off the chief’s body, he said: “Wearing of political colours brings confusion. We will not allow any person to bring political colours. Anyone who dares will be chased away.”
Nyondo’s sentiments come against a background of political posturing at recent Gonapamuhanya cultural festivals where rival political parties have clashed.