African leaders, former presidents and thousands of Zimbabweans joined at a state funeral for Zimbabwe's founding president, Robert Mugabe.

Robert Mugabe Jnr, pays his last respects to his father, Robert Mugabe as his body lies in state at the at Rufaro stadium, in Mbare, Harare, Zimbabwe, September 13, 2019.
Robert Mugabe Jnr, pays his last respects to his father, Robert Mugabe as his body lies in state at the at Rufaro stadium, in Mbare, Harare, Zimbabwe, September 13, 2019. (Reuters)

African heads of state joined thousands of Zimbabweans at a state funeral Saturday for Zimbabwe's founding president, Robert Mugabe, whose burial has been delayed for at least a month until a special mausoleum can be built for his remains.

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. The crowd filling about 30% of the 60,000 capacity of the Chinese-built stadium. Most of those attending were supporters of Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party.

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa drew boos from the crowd, as a result of the recent attacks in Johannesburg on foreigners, including Zimbabweans. An official pleaded with the stadium crowd to let him speak. Ramaphosa apologised for the attacks.

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 that burial will be postponed until the building of a new resting place at the nation al 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."

He praised Mugabe for seizing land from white farmers. "To him, this was the grievance of all grievances of our people," Mnangagwa said. "The land has now been reunited with the people and the people have been reunited with the land."

He also called on Western countries to remove sanctions imposed during Mugabe's era.

"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.

The body of former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe arrives at the 'Blue Roof', his residence in Borrowdale, Harare, Zimbabwe, September 11, 2019.
The body of former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe arrives at the 'Blue Roof', his residence in Borrowdale, Harare, Zimbabwe, September 11, 2019. (Reuters)

Bitter legacy

As a former anti-colonial rebel, Mugabe is credited with helping to end white-minority rule in Zimbabwe.

But his nearly four-decade rule was marked by repression, the brutal silencing of dissent and violent seizure of white-owned farms, making him an international pariah.

Though still lauded as an African icon, at home many Zimbabweans will remember Mugabe more for the increasingly tyrannical rule and economic mismanagement that forced millions to flee the country.

Many are struggling to survive despite Mnangagwa's vows of more investment and jobs in the post-Mugabe era.

"The fruits of his tenure are the shortages. That is what we remember him for," said Steven, a consultant shopping near the stadium.

"He has made sure there is no opposition and he succeeded. There is no reason to go to his funeral."

The casket carrying the body of former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is carried to the military chopper after lying in state at the Rufaro stadium, in Mbare, Harare, Zimbabwe, September 13, 2019.
The casket carrying the body of former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is carried to the military chopper after lying in state at the Rufaro stadium, in Mbare, Harare, Zimbabwe, September 13, 2019. (Reuters)

Friends and enemies

A young Mugabe was once jailed in the former British colony Rhodesia for his nationalist ideas. But he swept to power in the 1980 elections after a guerrilla war and sanctions forced the Rhodesian government to the negotiating table.

In office, he initially won international praise for promoting racial reconciliation and for extending improved education and health services to the black majority.

"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."

Always divisive in life, Mugabe's funeral arrangements were also caught up in a dispute between Mnangagwa and the family over where and when the former leader should be buried.

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 over the date and place of the ceremony.

His family are still bitter over the role Mnangagwa played in his ouster and had pushed for Mugabe to be buried in his homestead of Zvimba, northwest of Harare.

A former guerrilla who fought alongside Mugabe against colonial forces, Mnangagwa was fired as first vice president by Mugabe in 2017. Mugabe had branded him a "traitor".

The mourning period for Mugabe's death has been marked by the ongoing drama over where, when and how the ex-strongman will be buried. The new resting place will be built near the stadium at Heroes' Acre, a national burial site for top officials of Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party who contributed to ending white colonial rule.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies