Former Malawi president H. Kamuzu Banda, 99, an autocrat with a streak of brutality who led the former British colony to statehood, died of respiratory failure Nov. 23 at a Johannesburg clinic. He had been in a coma and had pneumonia.

After Malawi, a small, impoverished land of 8 million people bordered by Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia, became independent in 1964, Mr. Banda ruled for three decades as one of Africa's most brutal dictators. He was ousted as "life president" three years ago, when the country held its first democratic elections.

Over the years, major resources had been siphoned off into a state business empire Mr. Banda controlled, and Malawi languished as one of the world's least-developed nations.

During his regime, thousands of political opponents were killed, tortured, jailed without trial or hounded into exile. He used red-shirted thugs called the Young Pioneers as his private militia.

He was known for peculiar dictates that banned long hair on men, short skirts on women and even the Simon and Garfunkel song "Cecilia." The ban on the song was in deference to his longtime companion, Cecilia Kadzamira, who had worked in a clinic that Mr. Banda, a former physician, once owned. She was one of the country's most powerful figures and held the title of "official hostess."

Mr. Banda was Africa's longest-ruling leader. His portrait adorned every office and shop. His face was on the currency, and his birthday was a national holiday. Highways, schools, an airport and a stadium all bore his name.

He decorated his seven palaces with a mix of animal skins, tartans and Scottish baronial insignia, reflecting his early education by Scottish missionaries and time spent working in Great Britain.

Mr. Banda's rule began unraveling in 1992 after a series of street protests and a suspension of foreign aid by Western donors, which pressured Mr. Banda to abandon repressive policies as post-Cold War reforms swept across Africa.

As a prelude to the elections, Mr. Banda was forced to hold a non-binding referendum in which Malawians voted overwhelmingly to end the country's one-party system.

During an eight-month trial in 1995, Mr. Banda, Kadzamira and some top aides were cleared of the 1983 slayings of four dissident politicians. Because of his frail condition, Mr. Banda didn't attend the trial.

President Bakili Muluzi's government said it had charged Mr. Banda and his aides as a first step toward cleansing the nation's bloody past.

The former president, whose full name was Hastings Kamuzu Banda, was known in his country as the Ngwazi, which means "chief of chiefs" or "conqueror" in the Chewa language. He was always seen in public in an austere dark suit and black homburg hat, waving a fly whisk made from a lion's tail.

He forbade the introduction of television, which he considered a corrupting influence, although he regularly watched foreign programs from satellite broadcasts.

For most of his quirky rule, men were not permitted to wear bell-bottom trousers, and women were not allowed to wear pants or skirts above the knee. Restrictions were extended to foreign tourists. Male visitors with long hair were denied entry unless they were shorn by airport barbers.

Throughout his presidency, Mr. Banda controlled extensive private business interests. He often hired foreigners to run his companies and also favored foreign managers in key posts in state-owned enterprises, the national airline and the central bank.

As a young man, Mr. Banda had worked as a hospital orderly before he left his country to seek advancement. He walked 1,000 miles to South Africa to look for work in that country's busy gold mines and traveled on to the United States. He attended schools in Indiana and Illinois before graduating from the Meharry Medical College in Nashville in 1937.

While working as a doctor in Britain, Mr. Banda's London practice became a meeting place for African intellectuals and independence leaders, including Jomo Kenyatta, who became founding president of Kenya, and Kwame Nkrumah, who went on to lead Ghana to independence.

Mr. Banda was given a hero's welcome when he returned home in 1958 to campaign for independence. He was jailed for inciting violence against British colonial authorities but later was freed to negotiate for independence in London.

A few months after he took over leadership of his country, he jailed 400 opponents on the grounds that they were planning an armed rebellion. Others fled into exile as he vowed to crush dissent.

He was a founder of the early pan-Africanist movement and the Organization of African Unity, but he stayed away from its meetings as his isolation grew. Under his rule, Malawi was the only independent African nation to maintain open, formal ties with apartheid-ruled South Africa and Israel.

A spokesman for Muluzi, who defeated Mr. Banda in the 1994 election, announced that a state funeral for the former president will be held with full military honors Dec. 3 in Malawi's capital, Lilongwe.

"As head of state and the greatest son of Malawi, he deserves a state funeral," said Agriculture Minister Aleke Banda, who is no relation to the former president and once was jailed by him.

"Kamuzu, despite his human rights abuses, played a great role in liberating Malawi from colonial rule," he said. "Death transcends all differences. Banda was a great man in many aspects."

South African President Nelson Mandela paid tribute to Mr. Banda, saying that despite a reputation as an uncaring dictator, he had supported liberation movements in southern Africa and had sent Mandela money "without me asking for any support."

"Notwithstanding his public image, he was a man who did many things people did not know about," Mandela said. CAPTION: H. KAMUZU BANDA