Despite the heavy downpour, Zimbabweans on Tuesday gave opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai an emotional burial next to his first wife in his rural home of Buhera.
Some of the mourners climbed onto tree tops and bus carriers just to catch a glimpse of the final farewell to the politician.
Tsvangirai, a former trade union leader who rose to prominence by posing the biggest – many said the most daring – challenge to ex-president Robert Mugabe, died of colon cancer on Feb. 14 aged 65.
In his home village of Buhera, 250 km (156 miles) southeast of the capital Harare, Tsvangirai was known by his clan name Save, originating from a once mighty river that flows from southern Zimbabwe to Mozambique.
Thousands of opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporters jammed the usually sleepy village with some mourners walking long distances to bid farewell to Tsvangirai, who was prime minister in a 2009-13 unity government with Mugabe.
Tsvangirai was buried next to his first wife Susan, who died in a car crash in 2009.
Political foes and allies alike described Tsvangirai as a brave politician who challenged the status quo when few could dare stand up to Mugabe, who was swept aside last November following a de facto military coup.
Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga said he was a personal friend to Tsvangirai and that their political experiences were similar. He said just like him in 2007, Tsvangirai was cheated of victory in presidential elections a year later.
“I have come to mourn a dear brother and a friend, a great African and Zimbabwean. Zimbabwe and Africa have lost a torchbearer of the second liberation of Africa,” Odinga said.
Oppah Muchinguri, a cabinet minister and national chairperson of the ruling ZANU-PF said she had known Tsvangirai since his days as union leader and worked with him during the “difficult times” of the unity government.
“Tsvangirai’s work speaks for itself. He valued others before he thought of himself. He was a unifier for the children of Zimbabwe,” said Muchinguri, who was initially booed by the MDC crowd.
But before his body was even lowered into the grave, there were visible signs of the deep divisions that will confront a post-Tsvangirai MDC, less than six months before presidential, parliamentary and council elections.
Party youths mobbed and threatened to beat up MDC vice president Thokozani Khupe and secretary general Douglas Mwonzora as they arrived for the burial, but quick intervention by the party’s acting president, Nelson Chamisa, calmed the situation.
The election of 40-year-old Chamisa as acting president last week is being challenged by a faction of the party led by Khupe, Mwonzora and another vice president Elias Mudzuri.
While the MDC is consumed by internal squabbles, under new Zimbabwean president Emmerson Mnangagwa, political analysts say ZANU-PF looks relatively stronger and more cohesive with the help of the military.
Army generals now occupy strategic posts in government and ZANU-PF, which has access to state financial resources is already campaigning in rural Zimbabwe, where the majority of voters reside.