Zimbabwe’s ex-president Robert Mugabe’s family and the government squabbled over his burial on Thursday, with the place – and even its date – still unclear after relatives snubbed a plan for him to be entombed at a national monument.
Mugabe died in Singapore last week aged 95, leaving Zimbabweans torn over the legacy of a leader once lauded as a colonial-era liberation hero, but whose autocratic 37-year rule ended in a coup in 2017.
MUGABE’S FINAL WISHES
Tensions erupted after President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government proposed a burial at the National Heroes Acre in Harare, while the family said he would be buried at a private ceremony, possibly in his homestead of Kutama, northwest of the capital.
“His body will lie in state at Kutama on Sunday night… followed by a private burial – either Monday or Tuesday – no National Heroes Acre. That’s the decision of the whole family,” his nephew Leo Mugabe said.
In a statement, the family accused Mnangagwa’s government of trying to strong-arm them against Mugabe’s final wishes.
Some relatives are still bitter over Mugabe’s ouster and the role played by Mnangagwa, a long-time ally who turned against him.
Mugabe fired Mnangagwa as first vice president in 2017 – a move many perceived as an attempt to position his wife, Grace to succeed him after nearly four decades of iron-fisted rule.
Soon after, Mugabe was toppled by protesters and the army in what was seen as part of a power struggle within the ruling Zanu-PF party between pro-Mnangagwa factions and Mugabe loyalists siding with Grace.
Mnangagwa, who praised Mugabe as a national hero after his death, sought to downplay tensions on Thursday, saying he was still in talks with Grace.
“We said we will bury him on Sunday, but how, it will be decided,” Mnangagwa said, addressing mourners at Mugabe’s Blue Roof residence.
“The family will have the final say.”
Leo Mugabe said later there was no feud, claiming the burial would be private. But he said there was no plan for the ceremony on Sunday and the date was still not set.
“The obvious situation we are having here is there’s only one Robert Mugabe,” he told reporters.
“They (family) don’t want you to know where he is going to be buried.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping, Cuban former leader Raul Castro and a dozen African presidents, including South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, are among those expected to attend Mugabe’s state funeral on Saturday in Harare.
The former leader had been travelling to Singapore regularly for medical treatment, but allies say his health deteriorated rapidly after his ouster.
Mugabe’s remains arrived from Singapore on Wednesday at Harare airport.
Several thousand people gathered in the 35,000-seat Rufaro stadium in Harare on Thursday to file past Mugabe’s open coffin under a white tent in the centre of the sports field.
A brief stampede broke out and several people were slightly injured as supporters rushed to see the coffin where the former leader’s body lay in a blue suit, white shirt and blue tie, an AFP correspondent said.
“Mugabe is the only president I had known all my life until 2017 so I had to pay my last respects,” said Viola Musviba, 44, a hairdresser, wearing a faded yellow Mugabe T-shirt.
Jonas Nekati, a truck driver, paid to get to the stadium.
“I have no money, but it was worth it because the man was a good man. Of course he made mistakes on the way but we are all human,” he said.
Mugabe took his oath of office in the same stadium when colonial Rhodesia handed over the reins of the country. He hoisted the new Zimbabwe flag and lit the independence flame on April 18, 1980 – bringing hope for a new era.
But Zimbabweans have been split over the death of a man once hailed for ending white-minority rule and bringing more access to health and education to the poor black majority.
Many Zimbabweans remember his tyrannical leadership and economic mismanagement that forced millions to escape a country crippled by hyper-inflation and shortages of food, drugs and fuel.
Mugabe’s legacy is also marked by a crackdown known as Gukurahundi, which took the lives of an estimated 20,000 alleged “dissidents”.
Later his seizure of white-owned farms helped ravage the economy, sent foreign investors fleeing and turned Mugabe into an international pariah – even if his liberation hero status still resonates in Africa.
Zimbabweans still struggle to survive with the economy mired in crisis.
Mnangagwa himself is under pressure after promising more investment and jobs in a post-Mugabe era, with little success.
A fuel price hike this year sparked nationwide protests which led to a crackdown on opposition and clashes in which at least 17 people were killed after soldiers opened fire.