HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — The party of Zimbabwe's president on Sunday buried with full honors a foremost critic it twice expelled from its ranks.
Edgar Tekere, a founding member of President Robert Mugabe's party who went from being Mugabe's staunch friend and ally to one of his harshest critics, died Tuesday at the age of 74. His family said he died of cancer.
Mugabe was attending a regional summit in South Africa on Sunday. For the first time since independence in 1980, Mugabe did not officiate at his party's shrine outside Harare for fallen guerrillas and political leaders.
Vice President John Nkomo said despite a "bad patch" in his political life, Tekere did not join other opponents in "going to bed with the enemy" — former Western colonial powers.
Mugabe's absence at a crucial summit on the Zimbabwe crisis spared him from praising the veteran guerrilla leader who enraged him by speaking out against corruption and misrule in the first decade after independence.
Tekere went on to form an opposition party, the Zimbabwe Unity Movement, and lost to Mugabe in presidential polls in 1990.
He was readmitted to Mugabe's ZANU-PF party in 2005 but was expelled again after publishing an autobiography in which he trashed Mugabe and most of his political contemporaries.
Nkomo said Tekere's recognition at the Heroes Acre shrine outside Harare on Sunday paid tribute to his "great heroic deeds in his younger days" as a youth activist and guerrilla leader fighting to end white rule.
He said Zimbabweans this week anxiously waited to see if Tekere — widely popular and known as "Two Boy" for being said to have had the energy and outspokenness of two people — would be honored.
"The nation breathed a deep sigh of relief when he was declared a national hero," Nkomo told mourners.
"Despite everything that might have gone wrong later in his life ... he never turned his back on political independence and majority rule," he said.
In a veiled reference to the former opposition party of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in a shaky two-year coalition with Mugabe and its Western links, Nkomo said Tekere showed "his patriotism by not selling out to former colonizers.
"There are others who have betrayed the nation and the liberation struggle by going to bed with the enemy," he said.
Mugabe routinely uses state burials of his loyalists to lambast Western policies toward Zimbabwe.
Tekere helped start Mugabe's party in 1964 and spent a decade in colonial-era jails, mostly alongside Mugabe. After their release the two men escaped together on foot across the mountainous border into neighboring Mozambique to lead a burgeoning guerrilla army that launched attacks from there.
Tekere served briefly as a minister in Mugabe's first government after independence but left the post after being charged with shooting dead a white farmer later in 1980. He was acquitted in a defense that the farmer resisted a security sweep by the new government at his property.
Tekere brought reggae icon Bob Marley to perform at independence celebrations marking the birth of Zimbabwe. Marley's song "Zimbabwe" had been an unofficial anthem of bush fighters, along with "Buffalo Soldier" and other black rights songs, Tekere said.
Tekere is survived by his wife and a daughter.