Zimbabwe’s president on Thursday declared the late Oliver Mtukudzi, one Africa’s most iconic musicians, a national hero — an award historically reserved only for the ruling party elite.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa spoke as the country facing bitter political divisions united in grief after the singer’s death on Wednesday at age 66. The president, who visited Mtukudzi’s home, has called the singer a patriot who has “given us comfort during difficult times.”

Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa also visited Mtukudzi’s home and expressed his wish to meet with Mnangagwa at the funeral and mourn together.

Mtukudzi’s career stretched from white minority-ruled Rhodesia to majority-ruled Zimbabwe, producing a string of hits that spread his fame to an international audience.

Politicians from across the political divide, local musicians and other prominent personalities gathered at his home, praising the singer and his legacy.

“Some think that holding a gun makes them heroes. It is about deeds,” said Thomas Mapfumo, a well-known singer and government critic who once lived in exile in the United States because of his protest music during the long reign of Robert Mugabe.

They spoke as a government crackdown continued on protests against sharp fuel price increases, with human rights lawyers, NGOs, witnesses and the opposition reporting abuses by the military, police and ruling party youth gangs.


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