HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — The body of Zimbabwe’s longtime ruler Robert Mugabe is being flown to the capital, Harare, on Wednesday where it will be displayed at historic locations for several days before burial at a location still undecided because of friction between the ex-leader’s family and the government.
Mugabe, who died at 95 in a Singapore hospital on Friday, was a guerrilla leader who led the fight to end white-minority rule in what was then Rhodesia, and ruled Zimbabwe from its independence in 1980 until he was deposed in 2017. During his 37-year authoritarian leadership Zimbabwe descended from prosperity to economic crisis marked by hyperinflation, unemployment and a drastic drop in living conditions for its 16 million people.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was Mugabe’s closest ally and vice president before ousting him with the military, is expected to meet the plane when it lands in Harare carrying Mugabe’s body, his widow Grace and other family members.
The Mugabe family publicly invited all Zimbabweans to go to the Harare airport to welcome the former leader’s remains, according to an announcement on state media but so far about 100 gathered at the airport, singing songs praising Mugabe. Elsewhere Harare is bustling as a normal weekday, with vehicles lined up for scarce fuel, vendors selling vegetables and currency dealers selling cash.
About 500 mourners gathered in Zvimba, Mugabe’s birthplace, 85 kilometers (53 miles) northwest of Harare, where his body will lie in state overnight. It will then be taken to Rufaro stadium in the capital’s poor Mbare neighborhood for viewing for two days before it is moved Saturday to the National Sports Stadium, where African heads of state, dignitaries and the public will attend a service, according to a government statement.
Where and when the former strongman will be buried has not been announced, as a result of a disagreement between the government and Mugabe’s wife and other family members.
It had long been expected that Mugabe would be buried at Heroes’ Acre, a monumental burial place reserved for top officials of Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party who contributed to ending white colonial rule. Mugabe enlisted North Korea’s help in building Heroes’ Acre atop a prominent hill and featuring a grandiose towering sculpture of guerrilla fighters. Mugabe’s first wife, Sally, is buried there next to a gravesite long reserved for the leader.
But now his second wife, Grace, and other family members are resisting his burial at the state monument, saying that according to Zimbabwean tradition he should be interred at his birthplace in Zvimba. The disagreement highlights the tensions between Mnangagwa and the Mugabe family, who remain angry that the aging autocrat was deposed by his former allies.
Family spokesman Leo Mugabe, a nephew of the former president, told reporters last week that Mugabe had died “a very bitter man” because he felt betrayed by Mnangagwa and army generals who were his allies for close to four decades before they put him under house arrest and forced him to resign.