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Wednesday, December 3, 1997 Published at 08:08 GMT

image: [ BBC Correspondent: Ian Mills ]Ian Mills

Only two foreign dignitaries presidents Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Ketumile Masire of Botswana, are expected to attend the state funeral in Malawi today of the country's former president, Dr Hastings Banda, who died last week in a Johannesburg clinic at the age of 99. Ian Mills reports from the Zimbabwean capital, Harare:

Mr Mugabe and Mr Masire will spend only a day in Malawi for Dr Banda's state funeral. It's expected that Zimbabwe's Vice President, Joshua Nkomo, will also attend, having been a close ally of Banda during the early days of the black nationalist struggle against colonial rule.

Controversial and autocratic, Dr Banda ruled Malawi with an iron fist for 30 years, crushing all opposition soon after Malawi became independent in 1964. He was ousted in free elections three years ago.

Despite his fiery nationalist politics, he preferred to dress more like his former colonial masters, making his public appearances in a dark three-piece suit, shirt and tie and black homberg hat. Educated in the United States and Britain, he obtained his medical doctorate from Edinburgh.

A firm supporter of the British public school system, he established a college in Malawi modelled on Eton and staffed by expatriate teachers. Throughout his rule, Dr Banda remained isolated and aloof from other African leaders, rarely attending international conferences or meetings.

Dr Banda's body has been lying in state at the $100m palace he built in the capital Lilongwe, where thousands have filed past to pay their last respects to the man who ruled them with flair, if not exactly fairness.

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