Visiting dignitaries were given gifts of his portrait, and rightfully so: To many Zimbabweans, Robert Mugabe, the strongman who ruled the South African nation for 30 years until he was ousted in a bloodless coup two years ago, was a complex figure. He was a symbol of liberation and hope - a leader of the quasi-Communist ZANU-PF who helped free his country from oppressive British rule, according to the NYT.
Mugabe was 95 at the time of his death.
Later, when food stocks started to run low, Mugabe's true nature became apparent. He authorized oppressive crackdowns and indefinite detentions of suspected political opponents. Some suspected him of torture and unspeakable treatment of suspected political opponents.
But Mugabe wasn't alone in this. Many in his generation of African revolutionary political leaders believed that, since they had freed the country from colonial rule, it was theirs to govern - as Mugabe put it - "until God says 'come.'"
And he almost made it. In November 2017, army officers, fearing that Mugabe would anoint his second wife, Grace Mugabe (some 40 years his junior), as his political heir, moved against him. Within a dramatic few days he was placed under house arrest and forced by his political party, ZANU-PF, to step down.
Yet remarkably for a Continent where strongmen leaders are typically shown little, if any, mercy, Mugabe and his wife were treated well by his successor and the party he had formerly led. The military insisted that Mugabe's ouster wasn't tantamount to a coup.
Mugabe's overthrow was seen as long overdue by many foreign analysts. During the latter years of his tenure in office, Mugabe's policies led to an all-out collapse of Zimbabwe's currency, erasing the savings of most ordinary Zimbabweans.
Mugabe's death was announced by his successor, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who issued the following statement on Twitter, praising Mugabe as a competent, compassionate leader who was one of the country's founding fathers.
It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing on of Zimbabwe's founding father and former President, Cde Robert Mugabe (1/2)— President of Zimbabwe (@edmnangagwa) September 6, 2019
Cde Mugabe was an icon of liberation, a pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people. His contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten. May his soul rest in eternal peace (2/2)— President of Zimbabwe (@edmnangagwa) September 6, 2019
"It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing on of Zimbabwe’s founding father and former President, Cde Robert Mugabe,” he wrote on Twitter on Friday, using the abbreviation for comrade. "Mugabe was an icon of liberation, a pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people. His contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten."
Last month, Zimbabwe's government had disclosed that Mugabe had spent several months in Singapore undergoing treatment for an undisclosed illness. Mnangagwa was a longtime aide to Mugabe, and even after the coup, only spoke kindly of Mugabe - at least when he was in public.
At his presidential inauguration in November 2017, Mnangagwa described his erstwhile mentor as "one of the founding fathers and leaders of our nation."
"To me personally, he remains a father, mentor, comrade in arms and my leader," Mnangagwa said of the man he had helped to depose.