Zimbabwean ex-president Robert Mugabe will be buried next week in his village, his family said on Thursday, delivering an apparent snub to government plans to bury him at a national monument.
Mugabe died in Singapore last week aged 95, leaving Zimbabweans divided over the legacy of a leader once lauded as a liberation hero but whose autocratic 37-year rule ended in a coup in 2017.
Tensions between his family and President Emmerson Mnangagwa have erupted over whether he would be buried at the National Heroes Acre in Harare or at a private ceremony in the family homestead of Kutama in Zvimba, 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 told media.
Some family members are still bitter over Mugabe’s ouster and the role his former ally Mnangagwa played.
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 his wife Grace.
The former leader had been travelling to Singapore regularly for medical treatment, but his health deteriorated rapidly after his ouster, which allies say left him a “broken soul”.
Mnangagwa had declared Mugabe a national hero after his death, indicating he should be buried at the monument for his role as a founding father. But the family said traditional chiefs in his homestead in the Zvimba region should decide.
Mugabe’s body arrived from Singapore on Wednesday at Harare airport, where Mnangagwa and Grace stood together as the former leader’s remains were given an honour guard. His body was later taken to his Blue Roof residence for mourning.
His family said the body would be taken to Harare’s Rufaro stadium on Thursday and Friday for a public ceremony.
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.
“We had many differences, but beyond the differences that we had politically to serve our people, we have to reflect on his contribution,” said MDC opposition party leader Nelson Chamisa, visiting Grace at the residence.
Zimbabweans have been split over the death of a leader once hailed for ending the former British colony Rhodesia of white-minority rule and bringing more access to health and education to the poor.
“We thought he would go to Heroes (monument), but if it’s their decision we respect it,” said Zephaniah Duri, who was mourning Mugabe. “Every tribe has it’s customs and traditions.”
The 35,000-seat Rufaro stadium, where the public will be allowed to see the body, is where Mugabe took his oath of office when colonial Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith handed over the reins of the country.
Mugabe hoisted the new Zimbabwe flag and lit the independence flame on April 18, 1980 – bringing hope for a new era after a long insurgency.
But many Zimbabweans will 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 marked by the mass killing of the minority Ndebele people in a military campaign in the early 1980s known as Gukurahundi, which took the lives of an estimated 20,000 alleged “dissidents”.
His violent seizure of white-owned farms helped ravage the economy, sent foreign investors fleeing and turned Mugabe into international pariah — even if his status as a liberation hero still resonates in Africa.
Zimbabweans still struggle to survive, with a once-vaunted public health system now a shambles and the economy still in crisis.
Mnangagwa himself is under pressure after promising to attract investment and create jobs in a post-Mugabe era, with little success.
A massive fuel price hike this year sparked nationwide protests which left at least 17 people dead after soldiers opened fire.