“The late departed icon will be eternally remembered and honoured for the bold and historic land reform programme which he undertook,” Mnangagwa said on Friday, in a televised address to the nation.
Mugabe, 95, passed away on Friday morning in Singapore, where he was seeking treatment.
Speaking at the State House in capital Harare hours after officially announcing Mugabe’s death, Mnangagwa called the late former president a “comrade, liberator, founder and leader”.
Mnangagwa said the ruling ZANU-PF party had decided to give the controversial former ruler a “national hero status”, the country’s highest posthumous honour.
He also declared a period of national mourning until Mugabe’s body is buried, but did not specify when the funeral would be held.
Mnangagwa cut short a trip to South Africa where he was attending the World Economic Forum summit.
In his address, Mnangagwa praised Mugabe, seen by some as a freedom-fighter who railed against colonial rule and others as an autocrat who clung to power at all costs, as a sculptor of the country who never abandoned his “characteristic defiance”.
“On the backdrop and solid foundation of the first republic which he moulded as its leader, we today recover and grow our economy, brick by brick, until his lifelong vision of an empowered peoples is realised,” Mnangagwa said.
Mnangagwa hailed Mugabe’s policies during his 37 years in power as “transformations in the areas of rights, education, social services for the marginalised black Zimbabweans”.
He particularly praised Mugabe’s controversial land reform programme, in which land owned by the minority white farmers was redistributed to black Zimbabweans, resulting in international sanctions.
“Through this programme, indigenous Zimbabweans gained their long denied land rights to complete their sovereignty. For that, he was especially vilified, shunned and punished by those who stood to lose from an end to colonial rights,” Mnangagwa said.
Critics blamed the policy for tanking Zimbabwe’s formerly robust agricultural sector, while Mugabe blamed it on international sanctions.
Mugabe also faced accusations of corruption and once famously said he planned to rule his country until he turned 100.
The allegations, buoyed by the political ambitions of his wife Grace, caused him to fall out of favour with the ruling party in recent years.
But on Friday, Mnangagwa offered no criticism of the man he replaced. Instead, he thanked Grace Mugabe for being a “wife who stood by her husband to the very end”.
“For that we deeply thank her as we join her in the grief of loss and bereavement,” he said.