Opposition leaders demand government should break silence after virus figures are not released since April 29.
Zanzibar’s 77-year-old First Vice President Seif Sharif Hamad, who had been undergoing treatment for COVID-19 in hospital, has died.
“Hamad died this morning at Muhimbili National Hospital in Dar-es-Salaam where he was hospitalised,” Husein Mwinyi, president of the semi-autonomous island region of Tanzania, East Africa, said in a speech broadcast by state-run ZBC television on Wednesday.
“The nation has really lost a patriotic leader. I also declare seven days of mourning and the national flag will fly at half-mast.”
Tanzania’s President John Magufuli also expressed his condolences in a message on Twitter.
Neither leader mentioned the cause of death.
Tanzania and its semi-autonomous island Zanzibar have played down the threat of the coronavirus, which President Magufuli claims has been fended off by prayer.
However, in January, Hamad’s ACT-Wazalendo party announced he had been hospitalised with the coronavirus.
Hamad was born on the island of Pemba, part of the Zanzibar archipelago.
He was a member of Tanzania’s sole governing party, the CCM, and served as Zanzibar’s chief minister until he was expelled and imprisoned for two years in 1989.
In 1992, when Tanzania adopted a multiparty system, Hamad formed the Civic United Front (CUF) party, the main opposition on Zanzibar.
He would go on to face off against CCM candidates in six elections on the volatile island where sectarian and political tensions have always been more marked than on the mainland.
Hamad alleged that every election was stolen from him, and many foreign observers have agreed.
Zanzibar’s elections have often ended in bloodshed.
In 2020, Hamad quit the CUF and ran under the banner of the ACT-Wazalendo opposition party, in an election which saw a brutal crackdown on the islands.
Hamad was arrested twice during the election and his party spokesman Ismail Jussa mercilessly beaten by security forces.