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‘A giant tree of Africa has fallen’: Mnangagwa pays tribute to Mugabe

He addressed mourners at the Zimbabwe National Sports Stadium, where Mugabe’s funeral service got under way on Saturday.

The casket containing the body of Zimbabwe's late former President Robert Mugabe is hoisted by soldiers in ceremonial uniform after it arrived on 12 September 2019 at the historic Rufaro Stadium in the capital, Harare, where his body will lie in state for members of the public file past. Picture: AFP

JOHANNESBURG - Zimbabwe’s president Emmerson Mnangagwa has paid tribute to his predecessor Robert Mugabe, hailing him as a “true son of the soil” and a “great visionary leader”.

He addressed mourners at the Zimbabwe National Sports Stadium, where Mugabe’s funeral service got under way on Saturday.

The former statesman died in a clinic in Singapore last week at the age 95.

Mnangagwa described Mugabe as a giant tree of Africa.

“A giant tree of Africa has fallen. Indeed, the bold, steadfast and revolutionary comrade Robert Mugabe is no more. He fought hard to free us.”

WATCH: Robert Mugabe's funeral service

Mugabe led Zimbabwe for 37 years, from independence until he was ousted by the army in November 2017.

His remains will be interred in a mausoleum at the National Heroes Acre in the capital Harare in about 30 days, his nephew said on Friday, contradicting earlier comments that a burial would be held on Sunday.

Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s former deputy who conspired to topple him, said late on Friday that building the mausoleum would delay the burial of the man who was once his mentor.

On Saturday, Mnangagwa walked behind the casket carrying Mugabe’s body. Senior army generals and Mugabe’s wife and children followed, as a brass band played.

“Today, 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,” the president wrote on Twitter.

Mnangagwa and the ruling Zanu-PF party wanted Mugabe buried at the national shrine to heroes of the 15-year liberation war against white minority rule. But some relatives, expressing bitterness at the way former comrades ousted Mugabe, had pushed for him to be buried in his home village.

Additional reporting by Reuters.

(Edited by Shimoney Regter)

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