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Thursday 12 September 2019

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Leo Mugabe, Nephew of Former President Nelson at the Blue Roof

* Zimbabwe’s founder died six days ago

* Body lying in state in Harare

* Successor wants burial at grandiose shrine

* Family feel bitter over Mugabe’s ousting

By MacDonald Dzirutwe and Alexander Winning

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe’s former president, Robert Mugabe, will be buried at a private ceremony at a date still to be decided, his family said on Thursday, in an embarrassment for his successor who wants him interred at a national shrine on Sunday.

Bona Mugabe-Chikore, daughter of late President Robert Mugabe
Bona Mugabe-Chikore, daughter of late President Robert Mugabe

Mugabe, who ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years until he was ousted by his own army in November 2017, died in a Singapore hospital six days ago aged 95.

His body arrived in Zimbabwe from Singapore on Wednesday and started three days of lying in state on Thursday.

Mugabe is proving as polarising in death as he was in life, as the fight over where he will be buried threatens to undermine President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s former deputy who conspired to overthrow him.

Mnangagwa and the ruling ZANU-PF party want Mugabe buried at a national monument to heroes of the liberation war against white minority rule, in an attempt to unite the country behind their political and economic agenda. The government had planned for a state funeral on Saturday and then burial on Sunday.

But some of Mugabe’s relatives have pushed back against that plan. They share Mugabe’s bitterness at the way former allies including Mnangagwa toppled him and want him buried in his home village some 85 km (50 miles) from Harare.

The casket of former president Robert Mugabe is carried into an air force helicopter for transport to a stadium where it will lie in state, as his widow Grace Mugabe wears a black veil, far right in background.
The casket of former president Robert Mugabe is carried into an air force helicopter for transport to a stadium where it will lie in state, as his widow Grace Mugabe wears a black veil, far right in background.

Leo Mugabe, the late president’s nephew, said the burial ceremony would be private, without saying where it would be.

“If I tell you (where it will be) then it won’t be private,” he said. “The family is the one that makes a decision,” he added.

Snubbing a burial at National Heroes Acre, a grandiose monument on a hill overlooking Harare, would be a major snub to Mnangagwa, the ruling party Mugabe helped found and the country’s liberation war veterans, who broke with Mugabe in 2016 and endorsed Mnangagwa’s rise to power.

The family issued a statement saying it was concerned about the manner in which the government was preparing the programme for Mugabe’s funeral “without consulting his immediate family”.

Mourners arrive at Rufaro stadium, in Mbare township where the body of Zimbabwe's founder Robert Mugabe will lie in state, Harare, Zimbabwe, September 12
Mourners arrive at Rufaro stadium, in Mbare township where the body of Zimbabwe's founder Robert Mugabe will lie in state, Harare, Zimbabwe, September 12

The family “also observed with shock that the Government of Zimbabwe is attempting to coerce us to accept a programme for funeral and burial” that was contrary to Mugabe’s wishes, the statement said.

Mnangagwa, flanked by security and half a dozen soldiers carrying rifles, visited Mugabe’s palatial home, known as Blue Roof, in the capital on Thursday to pay his respects.

A choir wearing yellow T-shirts bearing Mnangagwa’s face sang songs as he arrived. Around a hundred well-wishers sat under a marquee on a lawn beneath the main house, waiting for their turn to see the coffin.

“As long as ZANU-PF is in power and as long as I am leading, no one will deviate, you remain our icon, our commander and founding father,” Mnangagwa said of Mugabe, addressing relatives and associates in the room where the coffin draped in the Zimbabwean flag was being kept.

The coffin of the late former Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe at his residence in Harare, Sept. 12, 2019.
The coffin of the late former Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe at his residence in Harare, Sept. 12, 2019.

Mugabe’s body was later flown to the Rufaro soccer stadium in Harare’s Mbare high density suburb, where thousands of mourners filed past the open coffin.

There was a brief stampede, as people rushed forward to get their chance to catch a glimpse of their former leader.

The body was expected to be on display at the stadium, the venue where he took his first oath at independence in 1980, for another day on Friday before a state funeral planned for the National Sports Stadium on Saturday.

Trust Nyakabawo, a Mbare resident, told Reuters at the Rufaro Stadium that he wanted Mugabe to be buried at National Heroes Acre along with other liberation fighters.

“We are in pain after his death because we were so used to seeing him alive as a father figure that led the country well. We need him to go to Heroes Acre,” another mourner, Prisca Mutandi, said as the helicopter carrying Mugabe’s coffin landed outside the stadium.

Mourners holding a portrait of the late former president Robert Mugabe in Zvimba communal lands, Mashonaland West.
Mourners holding a portrait of the late former president Robert Mugabe in Zvimba communal lands, Mashonaland West.

Many Zimbabweans remember Mugabe as their country’s liberator from white minority rule and praise him for broadening people’s access to education and land.

But that memory is also tinged with sadness, as he presided over an economy wrecked by hyperinflation, shortages and deeply entrenched corruption, and left a divided nation with loyalties split between the country’s two largest political parties, ZANU-PF and the opposition MDC.

Mnangagwa has found it hard to revive the economy, and steps his government has taken this year to reintroduce the Zimbabwean dollar have spurred steep price rises that have compounded people’s daily hardships. (Additional reporting by Siphiwe Sibeko and Gift Sukala Writing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo Editing by Gareth Jones, Peter Graff and Giles Elgood)

The coffin of the late former Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe at his residence in Harare, Sept. 12, 2019.

Zimbabwe's president and the family of former president Robert Mugabe are in discussions Thursday to decide where the deceased leader will be buried.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa came to Mugabe's home and said he will consult with the ex-president's widow, Grace, and other family members over the controversial issue of the burial place.

"We have no idea where we will bury him yet," said Mnangagwa at the Mugabe family home. "We need to talk to Amai [Mrs. Mugabe] and the family first."

Mnangagwa said he has asked for "a one-on-one" meeting with Grace "to discuss some issues."

"We had let bygones be bygones. You [Mrs. Mugabe] have the full support of the government. Nothing will change," said Mnangagwa, adding that his government will respect the family's wishes.

Mnangagwa spoke from inside the mansion and his comments were broadcast to press outside the house. Mnangagwa and the family then began private talks.

The ongoing uncertainty of where Mugabe, who died last week at the age of 95, will be buried has overshadowed the arrangements for Zimbabweans to pay their respects to the former guerrilla leader at several historic sites.

The dispute over the burial has sparked speculation of a bitter 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.

Mugabe died last week 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 Mnangagwa.

Earlier 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.

On Friday the casket is to go back to Rufaro stadium and on Saturday a ceremony will be held at the National Sports Stadium, which African heads of state and other prominent officials are expected to attend. Supporters of the ruling ZANU-PF party are being bused from all over the country to go to the stadium ceremonies.

Grace Mugabe is expected to stay beside the casket the entire time.

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.

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