State funeral pays tribute to Zimbabwe’s founding father

(UPI) -- African leaders paid tribute Saturday to Zimbabwe's founding father Robert Mugabe, who was ousted from nearly four decades of leadership two years ago, at a state funeral.

The coffin of late former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is brought to the National Sports Stadium during a state funeral service, in Harare, Zimbabwe, Saturday. Photo by Aaron Ufumeli/EPA-EFE
Thousands mourned Mugabe at his official funeral in the capital Harare. Family members, along with ruling Zanu-PF party officials and foreign dignitaries from across Africa led a military brass band on a short parade across the grass of the national stadium in front of the coffin draped in a national flag.

Mugabe died at age 95 last week in a Singapore hospital where he resided since April for an unspecified illness.

He came to power after Zimbabwe’s fight for independence from Britain in 1980. He clung to his seat as the country’s first prime minister then president until being ousted in a 2017 coup for dismissing then vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa to help his wife, Grace Mugabe, become president.

Leaders hailed Mugabe as a liberation hero, but the 60,000 capacity stadium was only a quarter full.

“Our motherland is in tears,” now President Mnangagwa said, adding that Mugabe was a visionary.

Mugabe ended the country’s white-minority rule and improved access to education and health services for the country’s poor black majority, but later resorted to fear and repression as an autocrat.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa attended the ceremony, along with other current and former heads of state, but he was booed with many Zimbabweans critical of how he handled xenophobic violence in South Africa.

Walter Chidakwa, a former minister of mining development and relative of Mugabe spoke first.

Chidakwa said the former guerrilla leader turned autocrat had loved his people.

Still, many Zimbabweans shunned the ceremony since they blame him for repression and economic mismanagement, as the country still struggles with inflation, and food and fuel shortages.

However, Daydream Goba, 27, said things have gotten worse since Mugabe was ousted from power.

“Prices of basics were lower,” Goba said. “Now, we can barely manage.”

The service followed an announcement by his family and Mnangagwa that his burial won’t take place for at least a month, until his mausoleum has been built at the National Heroes Acre monument.

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