Harare: Zimbabwe`s President Robert Mugabe paid tribute to Nelson Mandela on Saturday, describing the South African liberation icon as "a champion of the oppressed".
"Mr Mandela`s renowned political life will forever remain a beacon of excellence," Mugabe, Africa`s oldest ruler at 89, said in his first official reaction, carried by the state-run newspaper The Herald.
Mandela, the founding father of modern South Africa and its first black leader, died late Thursday aged 95.
"Not only was he a great champion of the emancipation of the oppressed, but he was also a humble and compassionate leader who showed selfless dedication to the service of his people," Mugabe said.
"The late Nelson Mandela will forever remain in our minds as an unflinching fighter for justice," said Mugabe, who early this year criticised Mandela for being too soft on whites after the end of apartheid.
In a documentary in May, Mugabe said Mandela went "a bit too far in doing good to the non-black communities, really in some cases at the expense of (blacks)."
"That`s being too saintly, too good, too much of a saint," he said.
Mandela`s death evoked an outpouring of grief and tributes from world leaders and admirers across the globe.
In Zimbabwe, state and private radio stations played music in honour of the anti-apartheid hero while listeners phoned in with condolence messages.
Mandela will be buried on December 15 at his childhood rural home of Qunu in South Africa`s Eastern Cape province.