0812 GMT October 17, 2019
More than 10 African leaders and several former presidents attended the service and viewing of the body of Mugabe, who died last week in Singapore at age 95, at the National Sports Stadium in the capital Harare.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta described Mugabe as “a great icon of African liberation” and “a visionary leader and relentless champion of African dignity.”
The announcement Friday evening that the burial will be postponed until the building of a new resting place at the national Heroes’ Acre Monument is the latest turn in a dramatic wrangle between Mugabe’s family and President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a once-trusted deputy who helped oust Mugabe from power.
Mnangagwa presided over Saturday’s ceremony, attended by Mugabe’s widow Grace, who wore a black veil.
“A giant tree of Africa has fallen,” said Mnangagwa, who hailed Mugabe as “a bold, steadfast revolutionary.”
“Go Well Our Revolutionary Icon” and “Farewell Gallant Son of the Soil” were among the banners praising Mugabe, who led the bitter guerrilla war to end white-minority rule in the country then known as Rhodesia. Mugabe was Zimbabwe’s first leader and ruled the country from 1980 for 37 years, from years of prosperity to economic ruin and repression.
He was deposed in 2017 by the military and Mnangagwa in a bloodless coup that was marked by more than 100,000 people demonstrating in Harare’s streets to demand that he step down. Following Mugabe’s resignation, Mnangagwa took power and won elections the next year on campaign promises he would improve the collapsed economy and create jobs. But Zimbabwe’s economy has lurched from crunch to crisis and some in the crowd expressed the view that life was better under Mugabe’s rule.
Some in the stadium sang an impromptu farewell to Mugabe, “When you left bread was a dollar,” lyrics that implicitly criticized Mnangagwa, whose nearly two-year rule has been marked by rising prices, with inflation currently more than 175%.
The visiting leaders viewed Mugabe’s partially open casket, followed by a 21-gun salute, a fly-past by Zimbabwean air force jets and the release of 95 doves, to mark Mugabe’s 95 years.
Mugabe’s body is to be viewed in his birthplace, Zvimba, on Sunday and then will be held in preservation until the new mausoleum is ready.