Despite this, his ruling Zanu-PF party has now declared him a “national hero”.
Internationally, the former independence guerrilla fighter had the reputation of a dictator, as his militias attacked political opponents and he forcibly seized land from white minority farmers to boost his popularity among voters.
His legacy has a been the subject of much debate since he died.
He remained popular among many voters even into his later years. He was removed from office only when he fired his deputy in favour of his wife, with many fearing he was preparing for a family succession rather than elections.
His former deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa became president, and has lauded Mr Mugabe since the first news of his death.
Mr Mnangagwa said the ruling Zanu-PF party had “accorded him the national hero status that he richly deserved”.
No timeline has been announced for the burial, as authorities in Singapore work with the Zimbabwean embassy to fly Mr Mugabe’s body home.
He had been receiving medical care in the city since April.
He was born on 21 February 1924 in what was then Rhodesia – a British colony, run by its white minority.
After criticising the government of Rhodesia in 1964 he was imprisoned for more than a decade without trial.
In 1973, while still in prison, he was chosen as president of the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu), of which he was a founding member.
Once released, he headed to Mozambique, from where he directed guerrilla raids into Rhodesia but he was also seen as a skilled negotiator.
Political agreements to end the crisis resulted in the new independent Republic of Zimbabwe.
With his high profile in the independence movement, Mr Mugabe secured an overwhelming victory in the republic’s first election in 1980.
But over his decades in power, international perceptions soured. Mr Mugabe assumed the reputation of a “strongman” leader – all-powerful, ruling by threats and violence but with a strong base of support. An increasing number of critics labelled him a dictator.
In 2000, he seized land from white owners, and in 2008, used violent militias to silence his political opponents during an election.
He famously declared that only God could remove him from office.
He was forced into sharing power in 2009 amid economic collapse, installing rival Morgan Tsvangirai as prime minister.
But in 2017, amid concerns that he was grooming his wife Grace as his successor, the army – his long-time ally – turned against the president and forced him to step down.