Filipe Nyusi
Filipe Nyusi

Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi set aside political differences to pay tribute to his rival Afonso Dhlakama and pledged to continue the fragile peace talks he had been holding with the former rebel supremo.

Nyusi joined thousands of mourners who flocked to the port city of Beira on Wednesday to pay their last respects to Dhlakama, a towering figure in the country’s political history who died last week.

"We’re here to genuinely pay homage to the man who I’ve been talking to in recent days in search of lasting peace," said Nyusi in his eulogy. "I will continue the walk we started together for peace. I’m available to do this," said Nyusi, urging co-operation from the new Renamo leadership. "We’ll be happy if we successfully continue the peace project we started together."

Ossufo Momade, Renamo’s interim leader, vowed to carry the baton from Dhlakama. "We will continue your struggle. You, father, taught us how to sacrifice ourselves to fight for the country. You did everything for this country. Now is our time to take forward your struggle," he said.

Dhlakama, 65, led Renamo for nearly 40 years before his sudden death. He played a central role in Mozambique after it gained independence from Portugal in 1975. He led Renamo, created in 1976, through a deadly civil war against the Marxist-inspired Frelimo government until the conflict ended in 1992.

Dhlakama then gradually transformed Renamo into an opposition party, which failed to take power from Frelimo in elections and again took up arms between 2013 and 2016.

In December 2016, he announced a surprise truce with the government, taking the major first step towards a formal peace deal. Dhlakama had recently held talks with Nyusi and he was seen as playing a key role in advancing the peace process. His death has cast a shadow over the negotiations, five months ahead of local government elections and 18 months to the next presidential polls.

In a fiery tribute, Dhlakama’s niece and the leader of Renamo parliamentarians Ivan Soares, lauded her uncle for not caving in to incessant attacks by the "system and this indigent regime".

Dhlakama "protected us from the tyranny, dictatorship, of those who abuse the wealth of country for their own benefit".

"He’s gone but we are here to continue his fight. We will continue the fight with bravery. Let us all be Dhlakamas."

Draped with the national flag, the casket bearing Dhlakama’s remains was carried into the square by soldiers wearing white gloves.

Dhlakama died of a suspected heart attack last Thursday at his hideout in the Gorongosa mountains. The memorial service was held in Beira, capital of his home province of Sofala.

"It is an irreparable loss. Afonso Dhlakama is the founder of democracy in Mozambique. His fight ended with the communist regime created just after independence," said Eufrasia Jordao, a mourner from the nearby Zambezia province.

There is "nothing more to do at this moment than to pay homage to the founder of democracy, which he deserves. It was Renamo who founded democracy," said Jose Chitula, a former Renamo member.

"The death of Afonso Dhlakama should not be an excuse to end democracy and return to a one-party regime," Chitula said.

Posters bearing images of Dhlakama were plastered around the square. Gospel music played as some mourners wept and others chanted "Viva Afonso Dhlakama". Dhlakama will be buried in Mangunde village on Thursday.