Zimbabwe gave former leader Robert Mugabe a state funeral on Saturday with African leaders paying tribute to a man lauded as a liberation hero but whose 37-year rule was defined by repression and economic turmoil.
Mugabe died in Singapore last week aged 95 on a medical trip almost two years after former army loyalists forced him out in 2017, following a power struggle over what was widely perceived as his bid to position his wife Grace to succeed him.
Former and current African leaders, including South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa and Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, arrived to crowds chanting and drumming liberation songs at the 60,000-capacity national stadium in Harare for Saturday’s ceremony. Nigeria is being represented by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
Mugabe’s casket draped in the green, black, gold and red Zimbabwe flag was marched slowly into the stadium, accompanied by a military band and an escort of officers. His wife Grace, in a black veil, and family followed behind.
“Let us put aside our differences and come together as we remember the past and look to the future as one proud, independent and free nation,” Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa said in a tweet.
Mugabe’s body was returned from Singapore on Wednesday to a country he helped found as an anti-colonial guerrilla and pan-African leader who ended white-minority rule and helped bring more education and healthcare to the poor black majority.
Later, Mugabe turned to repression and fear to crush dissidents and rule for nearly four decades during which he become an international pariah for his takeover of white-owned farms.
“You can’t talk about Zimbabwe without Bob. Zimbabwe is Bob. It took a man like Bob, his bravery, to get independence,” said Norman Gombera, 57, a school principal in Harare. “Bob did his best under the circumstances. There is no country without a problem.”
His final burial at a national monument will only happen after a new mausoleum is built in about 30 days. That decision was taken after his family ended a dispute with Mnangagwa, a former ally who turned against his rule in 2017.
Though lauded as an African icon, at home many Zimbabweans will remember Mugabe more for the economic mismanagement that forced millions to flee the country during decades of crisis.