Robert Mugabe’s family rejects government burial plans

Family says former Zimbabwe leader will be buried at home, against authorities’ wishes

Leo Mugabe, centre, Robert Mugabe’s nephew and the family’s spokesman, at the late Zimbabwe president’s official residence in Harare.
 Leo Mugabe, centre, Robert Mugabe’s nephew and the family’s spokesman, at the late Zimbabwean president’s official residence in Harare. Photograph: Ben Curtis/AP

The family of Robert Mugabe has said he will be buried in his home town in private, in an apparent snub to Zimbabwe’s government, which wants to inter his body at a national monument.

Leo Mugabe, a nephew of the late ruler, said the ceremony would probably be held early next week in Zvimba district, about 60 miles (95km) north-west of the capital, Harare. “That is the decision of the family since last night unless something changes,” he told the Guardian.

Many of Mugabe’s relatives oppose government plans for the funeral and burial of the man who ruled Zimbabwe for nearly 40 years before he was ousted in a military takeover in 2017.

The ruling Zanu-PF party announced that Mugabe’s remains would be interred at a hilltop monument outside Harare on Sunday, after a ceremony at the nearby national stadium on Saturday, where dozens of prominent African leaders would be present.

However, friends and allies of Mugabe’s wife, Grace, have said he made clear he would prefer to be buried in Zvimba with only close relatives in attendance. They said Mugabe did not want his death to be exploited by his successors for political gain.

A meeting on Thursday between Mugabe’s family and officials at his home in Harare ended without agreement. Walter Chidhakwa, a spokesman for the family, said the funeral would go ahead but not the planned burial.

Earlier, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who succeeded Mugabe as president, said he had appealed to the family to set aside any bitterness. They are reportedly unhappy about his treatment of the former leader.

“Let bygones be bygones. The family is going to lead the programme, that’s why we haven’t released anything. We haven’t agreed how he will be buried,” Mnangagwa said.

The president, a veteran of the ruling Zanu-PF party and a decades-long close associate of Mugabe, said: “We will have to sit down first with Grace. As government there’s nothing we will do to go against your wishes. Let’s unite, he was our father.”

Mugabe died in a clinic in Singapore last week, aged 95. His body arrived on Wednesday, on a government-chartered private jet, at Zimbabwe’s main airport, where thousands of supporters had gathered.

On Thursday his casket was taken to a sports stadium in Harare, where thousands packed the stands to see him lie in state. Several people were injured in a crush as they surged forward to try to view the casket, with some carried away on stretchers. The severity of their injuries was not immediately clear.

Riot police later restored order, at times using batons to strike people.

A casualty is rushed off the field after a stampede at the Rufaro stadium in Harare on Thursday.
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 A casualty is rushed off the field after a stampede at the Rufaro stadium in Harare on Thursday. Photograph: Themba Hadebe/AP

Mugabe’s casket was under a tent at the centre of the pitch, while his wife sat on a podium to the side of the field. A military helicopter later returned the casket to Mugabe’s Blue Roof house in the capital.

Though much of his 37 years in power were marked by violence, economic mismanagement and corruption, the former guerrilla fighter is still revered as a liberation leader. Many in Zimbabwe see him as a national hero, remembering his role in the war against white rule.

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