HARARE: Robert Mugabe, the bush war guerrilla who led Zimbabwe to independence and crushed his foes during nearly four decades of rule as his country descended into poverty, hyperinflation and unrest, died on Friday (Sep 6). He was 95.
Declared a national hero within hours of his death by the long-serving aide who succeeded him as president, Mugabe was one of the most polarising figures in his continent's history - a giant of African liberation whose rule finally ended in ignominy when he was overthrown by his own army.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa said his predecessor had been declared a "national hero" and that Zimbabwe would mourn him until the burial.
"The late departed icon will be eternally remembered and honoured for the bold and historic land reform programme which he undertook," said Mnangagwa during a national address broadcast on television.
"On the backdrop and solid foundation of the first republic which he moulded as its leader, we today recover and grow."
Mugabe passed away at 1040am in Singapore, where he had been hospitalised in April, a Zimbabwean diplomat in South Africa told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In November, Mnangagwa said Mugabe was no longer able to walk when he had been admitted to a hospital in Singapore, without saying what treatment Mugabe had been undergoing.
Officials often said he was being treated for a cataract, denying frequent private media reports that he had prostate cancer.
Mugabe took power in 1980 after seven years of a liberation bush war, with a reputation as "the thinking man's guerrilla". He held seven degrees, three earned behind bars as a political prisoner of then-Rhodesia's white minority rulers.
Later, as he crushed his political enemies, he boasted of another qualification: "a degree in violence".
Nearly four decades later, many at home and abroad denounced him as a power-obsessed autocrat willing to unleash death squads against his political enemies, rig elections and trash the economy in the relentless pursuit of control.
As the economy imploded starting from 2000 and his health eroded, he found fewer people to trust as he seemingly smoothed a path to succession for his wife, four decades his junior and derided by critics as "Gucci Grace" for her luxury lifestyle.
Confined for the remaining years of his life between Singapore and his sprawling "Blue Roof" mansion in Harare, Mugabe stayed bitter to the end. Last year, before the first election without him, he said he would vote for the opposition.
David Coltart, an opposition senator and rights lawyer who opposed Mugabe, nevertheless paid tribute to the former leader.
"He was a colossus on the Zimbabwean stage and his enduring positive legacy will be his role in ending white minority rule & expanding a quality education to all Zimbabweans," Coltart said on Twitter.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang hailed Mugabe as an "outstanding national liberation movement leader and politician."
"Throughout his life, he firmly defended the sovereignty of his country, opposed foreign interference, and actively promoted China-Zimbabwe and China-Africa friendship and cooperation," he said at a press briefing in Beijing.
The South African government said in a tweet: "We send condolences to the Government and the people of the Zimbabwe following the passing on of their founding leader and former President Robert Mugabe ... (a) fearless pan-Africanist liberation fighter."
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta remembered Mugabe as "a man of courage who was never afraid to fight for what he believed in even when it was not popular".
"In this moment of sorrow, my thoughts and prayers go out to his family, his relatives and the people of Zimbabwe who, for many years, he served with commitment and dedication," he said in a statement.
"Words cannot convey the magnitude of the loss as former President Mugabe was an elder statesman, a freedom fighter and a Pan-Africanist who played a major role in shaping the interests of the African continent."
Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed Mugabe's "great personal contribution" to Zimbabwe's independence.
"Many important dates in Zimbabwe's modern history are tied to the name of Robert Mugabe. He made a great personal contribution to the battle for your country's independence, to the building of Zimbabwean state institutions," Putin said.
He also was a proponent of "friendly relations" with Russia, Putin added.
Zimbabwe was one of the few countries that supported Moscow over its annexation of Crimea, voting against a United Nations resolution affirming the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
Mugabe was forced to resign in November 2017 after an army coup designed to prevent his unpopular wife Grace succeeding her husband, who planned to step aside due to his age and failing health.
The military feared the rise of the uncompromising Grace to the presidency would ensure the opposition would win general elections and lead to curbs on their influence in politics and the economy.
Mugabe denounced his enforced resignation, which triggered wild celebrations across the country of 13 million, as an "unconstitutional and humiliating" act of betrayal by his party and people.
His departure failed to lift Zimbabwe's economy, however, which remains in its worst economic crisis in a decade.
Triple-digit inflation, rolling power cuts and shortages of US dollars and basic goods have revived memories of the hyperinflation that forced it to ditch its currency in 2009.