Thousands of Zimbabweans gathered yesterday to bid a final farewell to opposition veteran Morgan Tsvangirai.
Mr Tsvangirai was one of Africa’s most globally admired politicians and lived to see the fall of his political nemesis, Robert Mugabe.
Tsvangirai, the country’s fiercest opponent of former president Mugabe’s tyrannical 37-year rule, died last Wednesday aged 65 at a hospital in South Africa, where he had been undergoing treatment for colon cancer.
His body was flown to the burial ceremony aboard a military helicopter, accompanied by his mother, Mbuya Tsvangirai. Thousands of mourners gathered for the burial at Tsvangirai’s Buhera rural home, 220km (135 miles) south of Harare.
Many people in the crowd blew whistles and wore red shirts emblazoned with Tsvangirai’s portrait, some weeping openly.
Tsvangirai’s dreams of unseating Mugabe through the ballot box were dashed at several elections.
Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga, attending the event, condemned political oppression in Africa as he addressed backers of Tsvangirai whose electoral ambitions, like Raila’s, were thwarted at controversial polls.
“Africa is littered with elections which are rigged,” Raila told the crowds.
Tsvangirai beat Mugabe in the first round of presidential polls in 2008 but narrowly fell short of the total required to defeat Mugabe outright, according to the official vote count.
Tsvangirai pulled out of an election run-off following violence which, he said, claimed the lives of at least 200 of his supporters.
Raila insists he was the rightful winner of general elections in Kenya in August which extended President Uhuru Kenyatta’s rule.
“We need to have clear and proper transparent elections in Africa. Rigged elections will not help Africa,” Raila told mourners.
“Morgan’s election victory was stolen a year after mine was stolen in Kenya,” Raila said, referring to the 2007 elections which Raila alleges were rigged to ensure Kenyatta’s victory.
Tsvangirai was a tenacious opponent of ruling ZANU-PF party’s four-decade hold on power.
Following the 2008 election violence, he was forced into a power-sharing government with Mugabe, who was ousted last year following a military takeover.
“He agreed to sacrifice his victory in order to save Zimbabwe. He became one of the leading icons of the second liberation of Africa,” Raila said, describing Tsvangirai as ‘my dear brother’ and a ‘hero’.
Yesterday, Siaya Senator James Orengo and businessman Jimi Wanjigi finally flew to Zimbabwe after 18 hours of drama at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), where they had been blocked from travelling.
The two flew out of JKIA yesterday at 1.45pm after the Immigration Department returned their passports.
“We are on board, we are on the way. Harare here we come,” they said via video as their plane took off.
The two had booked tickets to fly to Harare to attend Tsvangirai’s burial when they were blocked at the airport on Monday night.
They had gone to the airport armed with a court order restoring their passports that had been suspended.
Director of Immigration Services Gordon Kihalangwa, who had suspended the travel documents, said he had not been served with the order to enable his officers to allow the two to leave.
He later tweeted saying he had been served yesterday at around 11am.
“We were served with court orders this morning as requested in regard to the travelling of Hon James Orengo and Mr Jimi Wanjigi. They have been cleared and allowed to travel.”
Orengo and Wanjigi later said they were to go to their residences for refreshments and return.
“We are not criminals. I am a State officer. If you can deal with me this way it means the authority of Parliament is emasculated,” said Orengo.
Zimbabwe is due to hold crucial general elections by July and the country’s new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has pledged they will be free, fair, and credible - in honour of Tsvangirai.
After being repeatedly beaten and jailed by the regime, Tsvangirai became a symbol of resistance to the ruling ZANU-PF’s authoritarianism, entrenched since Zimbabwe broke from its colonial master Britain in 1980.
“We want to thank Morgan Tsvangirai for fighting for our rights. He was a humble man - a man who was loved by people,” said Christopher Chikwati, a 70-year-old resident of Tsvangirai’s village. “We will remember him forever.”
Former opposition leader Arthur Mutambara, who served as Tsvangirai’s deputy in the power-sharing government, said Tsvangirai was Zimbabwe’s rightful president.
“We are here to mourn the president of Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai - a great Zimbabwean, a great African,” he said.
“He was arrested. He was beaten. The people of ZANU-PF are also here, they are the people who killed Morgan Tsvangirai.”