BUHERA (ZIMBABWE)-- Thousands of Zimbabweans gathered on Tuesday to bid a final farewell to opposition veteran Morgan Tsvangirai who was one of Africa's most admired politicians and lived to see the fall of his political nemesis Robert Mugabe.

"We are celebrating a hero," said the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party's acting president Nelson Chamisa.

Tsvangirai, the country's fiercest opponent of former president Mugabe's 37-year rule, died on Wednesday aged 65 at a hospital in South Africa where he had been undergoing treatment for colon cancer.

His body was flown to the burial ceremony aboard a military helicopter, accompanied by his mother Mbuya Tsvangirai.

Thousands of mourners, braving the rain, gathered for the burial at Tsvangirai's Buhera rural home, 220 kilometres south of Harare.

Zimbabwe's Vice President Oppah Muchinguri also attended along with US and European diplomats.

Mugabe, who turns 94 on Wednesday, and his wife Grace sent their condolences to Tsvangirai's family.

Zimbabwe is due to hold crucial general elections by July and the country's new president Emmerson Mnangagwa has pledged they will be free, fair and credible - in honour of Tsvangirai.

Tsvangirai's death has sparked a bitter succession struggle within the opposition MDC party which is threatening to divide the party to the benefit of ZANU-PF.

Those tensions were on display even before Tsvangirai was in the ground, with MDC deputy president Thokozani Khupe booed during the funeral.