Zimbabwe’s former longtime president Robert Mugabe received a 21-gun military salute at his state burial, Saturday, in the presence of his family, fellow country men and women, and foreign dignitaries that included current and former heads of state from around the continent.
Zimbabwe president Emmerson Mnangagwa who took over from Mugabe in 2017, first with the help of the military in 2017, followed by an election in 2018 that was disputed and challenged in court by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, poured praises on his former boss.
“…A giant tree of Africa has fallen … Indeed, the bold, steadfast, revolutionary, Comrade Robert Gabriel Mugabe is no more. Today, Zimbabwe is mourning the demise of a great son of the soil, a visionary and champion of our empowerment.”
Former First Lady Grace Mugabe who was in the audience, accompanied by her children, did not address the gathering.
However, an impassioned spokesperson of the Mugabe family, Walter Chidhakwa, spoke of the late leader’s qualities as a man of principle and a unifier, and lauded Mugabe’s land reform program which he said was carried out to its “final and logical conclusion.” While thanking the government and fellow citizens for the show of support for the late leader, Chidhakwa said Mugabe died a very sad man.
“I spent lots of time with him toward the end of his life. He was a sad man. Sad, sad, sad man. He recalled the journey that he had walked, a profound journey, a hard excruciating journey, and thus must he live.”
Foreign dignitaries in the crowd included several heads of state from the continent: South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta; Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, as well as former presidents and peers of the late Mugabe: Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda, South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki and Festus Mogae, former president of Botswana.
President Ramaphosa, whose speech was interrupted by boos from the audience protesting the xenophobic attacks in his country, apologized, while paying tribute to the late Mugabe. The audience responded with laud applause.
“I stand before you as a fellow Africans to express my regret and to apologize for what has happened in my country.”
He said contrary to appearance, South Africans are not xenophobic and that he was working hard to instill the culture of unity and love shown by Mugabe, former South African president Nelson Mandela, and also former president of the African National Congress party, Oliver Tambo.
“What has happened in South Africa goes against the principle of the unity of African people that President Mugabe and President Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and the great leaders of our continent stood for.”
Reactions about Mugabe’s legacy continue to be mixed with many crediting him for liberating the country, but others blaming him for the poor state of the economy.
A Mugabe supporter, who attended the state burial but did not give his name, described Mugabe as an icon.
“He was an icon. He was a mentor. He was…I’m in deep sorrow. We lost a figure, a pan-Africanist. He was a liberator, a father. He was a good man.”
However, secretary general Nixon Nyikadzino of the Zimbabwe opposition MDC-T party led by Dr. Thokozani Khupe, said while Mugabe liberated the country, he failed on the economy.
“For having brought us to where we are, the suffering that the Zimbabwean people are faced with, it’s another shame on him. But be that as it may, he must be given the hero status and he must be laid where he created that shrine.”
As many continued to express grief at the passing of the former leader, nephew and family spokesperson, Leo Mugabe urged the nation to celebrate Mugabe’s life.
“We must stop mourning at some point and start celebrating his life. It’s like today, we must start celebrating and say, yes, God, you gave us this man for 95-years. This time you took him. It’s time to celebrate his life.”
Mugabe’s body will lie in state at his rural home in Kutama Village, in Zvimba, Mashonaland West province on Sunday. Burial is expected to take place at the Heroes Acre in Harare, following the construction of a special place for the late leader, requested by the family.
Independent political commentator Bekezela Maduma Fuzwayo said construction of the shrine was a waste of public funds.
"It boggles the mind that a nation that is struggling to revive the economy, operating without a proper currency and failing to provide drugs in state hospitals and properly pay doctors wants to build this shrine. This is a big disgrace."
While Mugabe’s legacy is a subject of ongoing debate, many from all walks of life attended the state burial to show their respect, including opposition MDC leader Nelson Chamisa, and other opposition members.
(Material supplied by Blessing Zulu and Thomas Chiripasi)