HARARE (AFP) – Zimbabwe’s former dictator Robert Mugabe will be buried in a private ceremony in his home village early next week, his family have said.
Mugabe, who died last Friday at the age of 95, has proved troublesome even in death with his family and his successor Emmerson Mnangagwa seemingly at loggerheads about the plans for his funeral.
Mnangagwa wants to bury him at the Heroes Acre memorial in Harare, where a grave is waiting for him and where his first wife Sally is buried.
However, Mugabe’s family say he wanted to be buried in his home village and did not want Mnangagwa, who helped to depose him in 2017, presiding over his funeral.
Today the family appears to have won that battle, his nephew Leo Mugabe saying that the Heroes Acre ceremony was out.
In the meantime, mourners will pay their respects to Mugabe’s coffin at a stadium in Harare today.
Though his rule was marked by violence and economic crisis, Mugabe remains popular with some Zimbabweans – especially with Mnangagwa struggling to revitalise the country.
‘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,’ Leo Mugabe said.
The row is highly political as Mnangagwa is close to the military generals who ended Mugabe’s 37-year rule in late 2017.
They did so partly to stop the presidential ambitions of Mugabe’s second wife, Grace, who had bitterly denounced Mnangagwa before her husband’s downfall.
The family have also said that traditional chiefs in his homestead in the Zvimba region should decide where he should be buried.
Yesterday Mnangagwa and Grace Mugabe stood next to each other as the former President’s body arrived back in the country from Singapore, where he died.
There was no show of antagonism during the short ceremony.
Mnangagwa, who described Mr Mugabe as a ‘a great teacher and mentor’, has declared him a national hero, the highest posthumous award in the country.
He wants to bury Mugabe at the North Korean-built Heroes Acre, a shrine reserved exclusively for Zimbabweans who made sacrifices during the war against white-minority rule.
The bizarre centrepiece of Heroes Acre is a monument representing two AK-47 assault rifles, with the graves arranged to form magazines.
A grave is already waiting there for Mugabe but it is now set to be left empty, although a state funeral is expected to take place on Saturday.
His first wife Sally is already buried there and there is another vacant plot for Grace Mugabe.
According to Zimbabwean media Mugabe did not want Mnangagwa and his allies to ‘hold forth and pontificate over his dead body’ and make political capital out of his death.
‘He was very bitter and it dented his legacy, … it was not an easy thing for him,” Mugabe’s nephew said on Saturday.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, former Cuban leader Raul Castro and a dozen African presidents, including South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, are among those expected to attend the state funeral on Saturday.
A source close to the family said that Mugabe was flown to Singapore five months ago where his health quickly deteriorated.
In what appear to have been the last photos of Mugabe, the former dictator was seen looking frail and weak alongside his favourite son in June.
Robert Jr, who spent much of his time with his father in his final months, shared photos of Mugabe looking slumped and shrivelled in a tracksuit, baseball cap and white beard.
Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe for 40 years, during which time there was widespread bloodshed, persecution of political opponents and vote-rigging on a large scale
Mugabe’s visible ailments were often shrouded in mystery. Officials often said he was being treated for a cataract, denying frequent private media reports that he had prostate cancer.
Yesterday the body was taken to Mugabe’s palatial home in the capital, known as Blue Roof, after an earlier detour to an army barracks for prayers by the military.
Hundreds of well-wishers sat in a marquee on a lawn in front of the house, waiting to pay their respects.
The opposition MDC said on Wednesday it had postponed its 20th anniversary rally because of Mugabe’s funeral.
‘Notwithstanding our legendary differences with Mr Mugabe, we have no reason to exhibit barbarity by hosting a national festivity during his funeral,’ it said in a statement.
Mugabe came to power in 1980 as the founding leader of Zimbabwe, initially hailed as a liberator after the country became fully independent from British rule.
But his own reign was marked by murder, bloodshed, torture, persecution of political opponents, intimidation and vote-rigging on a grand scale.
The economy of a mineral-rich country descended into chaos with thousands of people reduced to grinding poverty.
Mugabe also became a pariah in the West after controversial land reforms which boosted Mugabe’s personal wealth.
Since coming to power, Mnangagwa promised reforms that would lift economic growth and create jobs but he has made little progress.