PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe says he wants Zimbabweans to be tolerant of each other's views to allow for a free vote in general elections proposed for next March.
Mugabe, officiating Monday at the state burial of Higher Education Minister Stan Mudenge, said political differences must be private and "not expressed in actions" that lead to violence.
He called on Zimbabweans to follow the "virtues and discipline" of academic and veteran diplomat Stan Mudenge, who died October 4 of heart failure at age 71.
Mugabe, speaking in a mixture of English and Shona, told thousands of mourners gathered at the National Heroes’ Acre: "Let the people vote for whoever they want to vote. Nyangwe akada kurasa vote yake muroad, ndezvake (If someone elects to dump their vote in the road, let them).
“We must recognise that everyone is entitled to make their own political choices. We might disagree, but you don’t need to express it in action, if you do that you will be starting violence.
“VeMDC vanofanira kuziva kuti ndiri Zanu PF izere, ivowo vanoda kuti ini ndizivewo kuti maMDC azerewo. It has to be two way [MDC supporters must know that I’m Zanu PF through and through, and they also want me to know that their beliefs are unshakeable. It has to be two way].”
President Mugabe described the late Mudenge as an astute diplomat and educationist who worked tirelessly in building the country's foreign relations and the education sector.
"This is a sad loss to us all. He remained a humble servant, friend, colleague, father and husband despite his education. He died on duty. He died in a typical style,” Mugabe said.
“He championed the idea of having state universities in every province as well as students’ welfare through both the grant and cadetship schemes. On the foreign affairs side, he ensured the country was a member of the UN,” Mugabe said at the burial attended by senior MDC-T officials including Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khuphe and party spokesman, Douglas Mwonzora.
Mugabe said while Mudenge’s health problems were no longer a secret, his death came as a shock as he appeared to be on the road to recovery.
Mudenge was hospitalised for several weeks in March after being attacked by a bull on his farm in Masvingo. Since the incident, Mudenge never fully recovered and he subsequently missed dozens of cabinet meetings, Mugabe said.
Sombre mood ... DPM Mutambara, VP Mujuru and President Mugabe at Heroes Acre
Reactions to Mudenge’s death and Mugabe’s graveside eulogy were mixed.
Pride Mukono, president of the Zimbabwe National Students’ Union, said Mudenge had presided over the collapse of institutions of higher learning resulting in a lowering of standards and thousands of student either failing to attend classes or having their degrees withheld over the non-payment of fees.
“While it is unAfrican to celebrate the death of an individual, we as students feel the Minister failed to run the ministry and was in most cases operating from a hospital bed. All the institutions of higher learning are suffering as a result of neglect and poor policies by the Minister during his tenure of office,” he said.
But Mugabe insisted that “although Mudenge was weak, he still performed his programmes”.
MDC-T spokesman Douglas Mwonzora, like his leader Morgan Tsvangirai, questioned the sincerity of Mugabe’s peace calls.
"As usual, he denounces violence but that has always fallen on deaf eyes. The president must go further, there must be a clear message that those who commit acts of violence will be arrested,” Mwonzora said, speaking moments after Mugabe finished his speech.
“That message is lacking and until the leadership drives home that point, his calls will be mere rhetoric. We want the police to arrest perpetrators of violence regardless of political affiliation.”
Over the weekend, Tsvangirai accused Mugabe of "preaching peace by day" while his loyalists attacked opponents at night.
Three-times married Mudenge is survived by his wife, Mildred, three children and two grandchildren. His first wife, Kgogo, died in 2001 and his second wife, Eunice, followed in 2004.