Accompanied by a military gun salute, Mozambique laid to rest rebel supremo and opposition leader Afonso Dhlakama in his remote birth village Thursday after his unexpected death threw the country’s peace process into uncertainty.
Thousands of mourners attended the funeral in the country’s central Sofala province, a heartland of support for the Renamo group that he led for nearly 40 years.
Dhlakama, who died of a suspected heart attack last week aged 65, was buried in a private family cemetery in the village of Magunde.
During his decades as leader, Renamo evolved from rebels fighting in the bloody 1977-1992 civil war to an opposition party with lawmakers in parliament while also maintaining an armed guerilla force.
After a renewed bout of unrest, Dhlakama declared a truce in 2016 and had recently pursued peace talks with President Filipe Nyusi, leader of the ruling Frelimo party.
“We are burying the body, but we are not burying the ideas,” his brother Elias Dhlakama said after the casket was lowered into the ground.
Some people perched on trees to watch the burial in the place Dhlakama was born on New Year’s Day 1953.
“We’re here not only to honour our father but also to thank him,” said Dhlakama’s niece Teresa Marceta.
Hundreds of vehicles took mourners to the family homestead where mud and reed huts have no electricity and water supplies.
Backed by apartheid South Africa, Renamo launched a bitter war against the Soviet-backed Frelimo government and fought for control of its strongholds in the north and centre of the country.
Dhlakama later then transformed Renamo into a political party which has participated in elections since the first multi-party democratic vote in October 1994.
He later retreated to his wartime bush camp in central Mozambique’s Gorongosa mountains, claiming the government had reneged on a 1992 peace agreement.
Renamo appointed former party deputy Ossufo Momade as its interim leader until the party’s next congress.