Harare (New Ziana) – Thousands of people, including several African Heads of State and Government, braved scorching summer heat to attend a funeral service for the late former President Robert Mugabe on Saturday in a sports stadium in the capital, Harare.
The funeral service, celebrating the life of Zimbabwe’s founding father, was grand and unique in many ways, clearly showing the former leader was held in higher esteem in the country than anyone else.
Among the unique aspects of the funeral service was the grand entry the cortege made into the stadium, escorted by none other than the sitting Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, accompanied by the Mugabe family, service chiefs and two star generals.
Upon entry, loud cheers engulfed the stadium as the cortege made its way onto the pitch where it lay in state for the proceedings.
A prayer from a catholic priest, Mugabe’s church, kicked off proceedings, followed by eulogies led by the Mugabe family.
Walter Chidhakwa, a relative of former President Mugabe, spoke on behalf of the family, and thanked government, Zimbabweans and visiting dignitaries for their support.
A visibly distraught Chidhakwa said his family’s burden and grief had been made easier by the support.
“Allow me on behalf of the family, first and foremost to express our sincere, profound and heartfelt gratitude to the government and people of Zimbabwe, Your Excellency to your colleagues who have come to mourn with you, to mourn with us,” he said.
“When the remains of the former President arrived in the country, the crowds that gathered to welcome him into the country were indeed of unprecedented proportions. I called it a genuine overflow of kindness, when President Mnangagwa announced the number of Heads of State and former Heads of State that were destined for Zimbabwe I knew; we knew that our father was a revered and loved person.”
He added: “He worked well with you Heads of State and governments.”
Chidhakwa said the late Mugabe was a man of principle, who was very particular about the virtues of honesty and integrity.
He said the former leader also valued consistency and never wanted anything done below standard.
Above all, he said, Mugabe wanted to unite his people and empower them economically.
“The language of unity and togetherness was his language, he detested tribalism, he wanted a nation that was united. He always recalled the fact that the struggle had been won because of the unity of the oppressed masses of Zimbabwe not only because of one tribe or another.
“I have confidence that as we remember him, as we go through his memory we recall his voice calling us to unity, we recall his voice bringing us together as a nation. I know our family will preserve that education we were given.”
“He loved his people, he wanted them to have land to have resources so that they would look after themselves. He knew that in the process of doing so he would anger certain sections of our society and yet the burden of looking after his people told him that it was better for those other sections of the society to be angry while the greater generality of Zimbabweans benefited from the land reform programme,” he said.
“We miss him already, we want to be with him, the mind knows that at 95 at some point he must go and yet the heart says no we would have wanted to have him and this is why we mourn him,” Chidhakwa said, struggling to hold back tears.
Immediately after, Mugabe’s personal friend, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea paid a glowing tribute to the man he cherished as a dear comrade and friend.
“Its with profound sorrow and consternation that we express our condolence here today and that of the people of Equatorial Guinea to you all for the death of a great leader Cde Robert Gabriel Mugabe,” he said through a translator.
He said Mugabe was a true African icon who played an immense role in the liberation of the African continent and in the fight against neo-colonialism.
Nguema said his friend was a strong defender of the sovereign rights of the people of Zimbabwe while his great Pan-Africanist ideas placed him among a long list of other great African leaders including South Africa’s Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and Mozambique’s Samora Machel.
“Indeed the whole of the African continent in general and particularly the people of Zimbabwe have just lost a contemporary leader of this millennium, a true defender of freedom and independence of human dignity all over the world,” he said.
“We also express our complete support and solidarity to the people and government of Zimbabwe and the Zanu PF political party for this great recognition which is being rendered here today which expresses and will give a lasting sense of immortality to the leadership status and policies of President Mugabe whose ideas should be preserved by the entire African continent.”
As a sign of their close relationship, Nguema visited former President Mugabe in Singapore en-route home from Japan only a few days before he died.
Kenyan leader Uhuru Kenyatta said he had made the journey to Harare to bid farewell and to celebrate the life of an African liberation icon.
He described Mugabe as the embodiment of the Pan-African spirit, an intellectual giant who was firm and steadfast on issues regarding Africa’s quest to economically emancipate herself.
“He was a visionary leader, and relentless champion of African dignity, the late president Mugabe has left an indelible mark in the history of Zimbabwe and the African continent at large through his political astuteness and zeal for the economic and political liberation of Africa,” Kenyatta said.
“The onus is now on us to keep the hope alive, and deliver on the dream of a truly free and prosperous Africa, that is the most befitting tribute we can pay to the departed African statesman.”
Speaker after speaker spoke glowingly of Mugabe’s rich legacy and extolled him for the leadership he provided in Africa’s quest to liberate itself from colonial rule.
“He was a committed Pan-Africanist unwavering in his belief and destiny and fortune for Africa above all, we are all clear he was an African hero,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said.
“We would like to thank President Mugabe and the people of Zimbabwe for the contribution they made to our struggle, we remember that with respect.”
Former Namibian President Sam Nujoma said: “There was an oppressor, Ian Smith who pledged at one point that there would be no independence in Zimbabwe not even in his lifetime but comrade Mugabe and the Zanu PF combatants engaged this man and defeated him in the battle field today we are all happy.”
At the end, body viewing was conducted led by the former first family, followed by President Mnangagwa and his wife, Auxilia before visiting dignitaries followed suit.
The crowd witnessed a touching moment when former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda stood over Mugabe’s casket visibly distraught while saying inaudible words to his departed comrade.
Kaunda and Mugabe were the last two remaining leaders of their generation.
Thereafter, a 21 gun salute, the highest honour accorded a former commander-in-chief upon death, reverberated through the stadium as the Zimbabwe National Army paid its last honour and respect to the former leader.
A fly past was also conducted by the Airforce of Zimbabwe in honour of the departed leader, itself another unique aspect to the funeral service.
In another unique twist, 95 doves were released in honour of the late farmer President who died aged 95.