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Mugabe Mourns 'Selfless' Mandela in Message to Zuma

Former South African President Nelson Mandela waves to the crowd at Soccer City stadium during the closing ceremony for the 2010 World Cup in Johannesburg July 11, 2010. Credit: Reuters/Michael Kooren/Files
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe on Saturday paid tribute to the late first black South African President Nelson Mandela, describing the liberation icon as "a champion of the oppressed".

The 89 year old Mr. Mugabe said Mandela was also a humble and compassionate leader who showed ‘selfless dedication to the service of his people’.

"Mandela's renowned political life will forever remain a beacon of excellence," Mr. Mugabe said in a message sent to President Jacob Zuma of South Africa and also published by the state-controlled Herald newspaper.

Mr. Mandela died late Thursday aged 95.

"The late Nelson Mandela will forever remain in our minds as an unflinching fighter for justice," said Mugabe, who early this year criticised Mandela for being too soft on whites after the end of apartheid.

“Mr Nelson Mandela’s renowned and illustrious political life will forever remain a beacon of excellence. Not only was he a great champion of the emancipation of the oppressed, but he also was a humble and compassionate leader who showed selfless dedication to the service of his people.

“We join the rest of the nation in mourning his departure. The late Nelson Mandela will forever remain in our minds as an unflinching fighter for justice.”

“Please accept, Your Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration,” he added.

Mr. Mugabe in a documentary aired in May said Mr. Mandela went "a bit too far in doing good to the non-black communities, really in some cases at the expense of (blacks)."

"That's being too saintly, too good, too much of a saint," he said.

Mandela's death evoked an outpouring of grief and tributes from world leaders and admirers across the globe.

State and private radio stations Zimbabwe played music in honour of the anti-apartheid hero while listeners phoned in with condolence messages.

Ties between Zimbabwe and South Africa run "long and deep" and after independence in 1980, Zimbabwe hosted South African liberation fighters and supported its struggle against apartheid.

Meanwhile, preparations for Mr. Mandela's funeral continue in South Africa.

Scores of world leaders and celebrities are expected for the funeral and memorial services of South Africa's first black president. Every living U.S. president is also expected to attend the funeral, health permitting.

The state funeral will be held December 15 and Mr. Mandela will be buried in his ancestral village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape province.

Sunday, December 8 has been declared a national day of prayer and reflection. President Zuma has called for South Africans to gather in "halls, churches, mosques, temples, synagogues and in their homes" for prayer and meditation to reflect on the life of Mr. Mandela and his contribution to South Africa and the world.

The official memorial service will be held on December 10 at Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium - the site of the 2010 World Cup final.

From December 11 - 13, Mr. Mandela's remains will lie in state at the Union Building in Pretoria and official memorial services will also be held in all provinces and regions.

Thousands of mourners continued to flock to sites around the country Saturday to pay homage to the beloved freedom fighter.

In Johannesburg, mourners sang liberation songs outside Mr. Mandela's house and people expressed their sympathies in a book of condolences in Mandela Square.

Mr. Mandela spent 27 years in prison for his role in fighting to end white minority rule and official discrimination against blacks in South Africa.

After his release, he became a symbol of peace and reconciliation and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. The following year, he became South Africa's first black president.