Former President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe was honored as an icon, principled leader and African intellectual giant at a state funeral on Saturday, following a week of controversies over his burial place and ceremony.
Mugabe died on September 6 aged 95 thousands of miles away from home in Singapore. He had been hospitalized since early April this year.
He was ousted from power in November 2017 by his own army generals after leading Zimbabweans for 37 years. He was at that point viewed by many at home and abroad as a power-obsessed autocrat, who unleashed death squads, rigged elections and ruined the economy to keep control.
His remains will be interred in a mausoleum at the National Heroes Acre in the capital Harare in about 30 days, his nephew said on Friday, contradicting earlier comments that a burial would be held on Sunday.
Emersson Mnangagwa and the ruling ZANU-PF party wanted Mugabe buried at the national shrine to heroes of the 15-year liberation war against white minority rule. But some relatives, expressing bitterness at the way former comrades ousted Mugabe, had pushed for him to be buried in his home village.
On Saturday, President Mnangagwa walked behind the casket carrying Mugabe’s body as it was wheeled into the center of Harare’s National Sports Stadium and placed on a podium decorated with flowers so that heads of state could say their farewells. Senior army generals and Mugabe’s wife and children followed, as a brass band played.
Many people kept away as the 60,000 capacity stadium was only half-filled.
In a tribute to his predecessor, Mnangagwa said Mugabe stood in defense of Africans. He urged the West to remove sanctions that were imposed during Mugabe’s rule.
“We who remain shall continue to hear his rich, brave, defiant and inspiring voice … encouraging and warning us to be vigilant and astute,” Mnangagwa said in a speech.
Walter Chidhakwa, who spoke on behalf of Mugabe’s family, said Mugabe was an icon who was determined and unflinching in pursuing policies like land reform and later the black economic empowerment program.
The fallen leader however left behind a country wrecked by hyperinflation, dollarization and deeply entrenched corruption.
But many Zimbabweans also remember Mugabe as their country’s liberator from white minority rule and for broadening people’s access to education and land.
African leaders who were present include South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta.
Other heads of state who attended Saturday’s funeral included long-ruling leaders from Equatorial Guinea and Congo.
Prominent officials from Western countries, which were critical of Mugabe’s rule, did not feature in the official funeral program.