The mortal remains of veteran opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai were returned to Zimbabwe from South Africa where he died last week of colon cancer at a Johannesburg hospital.

A memorial attended by thousands of Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporters all clad in red, the party’s colors, thronged Robert Mugabe Square in Harare, prior to the late prime minister’s departure for Buhera, his home village, where he will be interred.

“A Mountain Has Fallen” was the headline in the privately-owned daily The Daily News.

“The nation has lost an icon. We have lost our father,” Lilian Timveos, an MDC senator told the AFP French news service, while battling to hold back tears.

Tsvangirai, 65, founded the MDC in 1999. He was among the most prominent critics of Robert Mugabe, the long-time controversial leader who was ousted from power in November.

Zimbabwe’s new President Emmerson Mnangagwa praised his party’s arch-rival as “a strong trade unionist and opposition leader.

“We remember him for his insistence on free, fair and peaceful elections which we must validate in the forthcoming” elections “in tribute to him and to our democracy,” said Mnangagwa.

But barely hours after his demise, a fierce struggle for succession in the party ws underway, with his three deputies all seemingly at loggerheads and each attacking the other.

An editorial in the local NewsDay of Zimbabwe wrote: “This is unnecessary and uncalled for, as it is tantamount to desecrating his legacy.

“What the MDC-T need to do now is smoke the peace pipe, bury their leader first and then seek to address the succession question.”

The paper scolded: “MDC-T deputy presidents, Nelson Chamisa, Thokozani Khupe and Elias Mudzuri ought to see the bigger picture and realize there is a party and a country that needs leadership, that they cannot all be presidents of their organization and more importantly, that life needs to go on after Tsvangirai’s death.”

Meanwhile, the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC) has predicted violent elections this year after the former chief of staff for the National Army and national commissar of Zanu-PF, Engelbert Rugeje, recently warned that the country will slide into mayhem if people do not vote for the ruling party.

Elections are scheduled to take place in “four to five” months while former President Mugabe has kept a “conspicuous silence” over his long time rival’s death.