Zimbabwe honors Robert Mugabe, amid uncertainty over burial

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HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Prominent Zimbabweans are paying their respects Thursday to former president Robert Mugabe at his sprawling home outside Harare amid continuing controversy over where he will be buried.

His casket will later be taken to a stadium in the capital and then to his birthplace.

Mugabe died last week at 95 in a hospital in Singapore and his body was flown back to Zimbabwe, the southern African country which he fought to free from white-minority rule and then ruled from its independence in 1980 until 2017 when he was deposed by the military and current President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Mnangagwa visited Mugabe’s mansion Thursday, viewing the casket and paying respects to the former president’s widow, Grace.

Mnangagwa hailed Mugabe as “the man who created our nation,” when he welcomed Mugabe’s body at a short ceremony at the airport Wednesday.

The body of the former guerrilla leader is to be on view at several historic sites in the next few days but where and when he will be buried has not been announced, indicating friction between the Mugabe family and Mnangagwa.

There have been conflicting statements about Mugabe’s burial but family spokesman Leo Mugabe, the ex-president’s nephew, is expected to give a definitive statement about the issue Thursday.

At Blue Roof, Mugabe’s 25-bedroom mansion in Harare’s posh Borrowdale suburb, Zimbabwe’s opposition leader paid his respects to the man who had been his bitter political foe.

“I am here to do the African thing that is expected … to pay honor,” said Nelson Chamisa, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, the main opposition party.

“In politics we have had many differences but we are here to reflect on his contribution. … We are here to pay condolences to the Mugabe family, all Zimbabweans and indeed the whole of Africa. It is only fair and necessary to see that we unite to see that he is given a decent burial and a peaceful send off. Today is a day of mourning.”

As mourners sang songs of bereavement in front of the Mugabe mansion, leaders of Zimbabwe’s military arrived to pay their respects to Mugabe and his widow, Grace

Later Thursday the casket is to be taken to Rufaro Stadium in Harare’s poor Mbare neighborhood and then to Zvimba, Mugabe’s birthplace 85 kilometers (55 miles) northwest of the capital, where it is expected to stay overnight. Grace Mugabe is expected to stay beside the casket the entire time.

The ongoing uncertainty over where Mugabe will be buried has sparked speculation of a disagreement between the government and Mugabe’s wife and other family members. The government had earlier stated that Mugabe would be buried at the Heroes’ Acre state monument, a burial place reserved for top officials of Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party who contributed to ending white colonial rule. But some family members said he should be buried at his birthplace, according to Zimbabwean tradition.

It had long been expected that Mugabe would be buried at Heroes’ Acre, a monumental burial location atop a prominent hill featuring a grandiose towering sculpture of guerrilla fighters that Mugabe built with help from North Korea. Mugabe’s first wife, Sally, is buried there next to a gravesite long reserved for the ex-leader.

Shortly after Mugabe’s death, nephew Leo Mugabe said the former strongman died “a very bitter man” because he felt betrayed by Mnangagwa and the army generals who were his allies for close to four decades before they put him under house arrest and forced him to resign.

However on Wednesday Leo Mugabe told The Associated Press on Wednesday that relations are good between the family and Mnangagwa.