Former president Thabo Mbeki (centre) attends the memorial service for late Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe at the National Sports Stadium in Harare, September 14 2019. Picture: TONY KARUMBA / AFP
Former president Thabo Mbeki (centre) attends the memorial service for late Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe at the National Sports Stadium in Harare, September 14 2019. Picture: TONY KARUMBA / AFP

Former president Thabo Mbeki has described late Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe as a tried-and-tested compatriot and a great pan-African who defended his beliefs.

Mbeki was speaking at a memorial service for Mugabe at the Durban City Hall on Tuesday.

“The message is very clear: one of the cadres and comrades we should always value as one of the combaters for the liberation of SA is president Robert Mugabe,” said Mbeki.

Mbeki elaborated on the historical relationship between SA and Zimbabwe, before and after the country gained its independence under the leadership of Mugabe.

Speaking in front of hundreds of ANC members, as well as a delegation from Zimbabwe that included one of Mugabe’s nephews, Mbeki paid homage to Mugabe’s life. He labelled the Zimbabwean leader as a great political actor who had an interest in the countries of southern Africa.

“As we began negotiations here in SA in 1990, the 10-year period of the constitution of Zimbabwe came to an end. Zimbabwe had to redo its constitution. The then secretary-general of the Commonwealth approached Mugabe to plead with him not to make changes to the Lancaster House Agreement, which spoke directly to land reform,” he said.

Mbeki said the ANC was worried that if amendments were made to that agreement, it would have scared the white population in SA and weakened SA’s negotiations. “And that was agreed upon. The land reform process was delayed in Zimbabwe for at least a decade. It was done in order for us to complete our negotiations,” he said.

KwaZulu-Natal premier Sihle Zikalala said Mugabe spearheaded the agenda of the African community.

“For those who ask why we celebrate Mugabe, we want to make it clear that Mugabe was what he was because of the enemies of his revolution,” said Zikalala.

ANC provincial secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli said at least four memorial services for Mugabe had been planned in KwaZulu-Natal.

“Following the departure of the president of Zimbabwe, it was important for us as the ANC to celebrate the life and times of comrade Mugabe. We believe we have an obligation as the current leadership of the ANC to honuor those who came before us,” said Ntuli.

Mugabe, who ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years until he was ousted by his own army in November 2017, died in a Singapore hospital on September 6, aged 95.

On Friday, family spokesman Leo Mugabe said the late president would be buried at the National Heroes Acre monument in Harare in “around 30 days’ time”.