THE family of former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe is against the government’s plan to bury him at the National Heroes Acre in Harare and want him to be buried in his home village.
Zimbabweans have been confused about when and where they would be able to pay their last respects to Mugabe since his death in a Singapore hospital on Friday after a long illness.
He dominated Zimbabwean politics for almost four decades from independence in 1980 until he was removed by his own army in a November 2017 coup.
Revered by many as a liberator who freed his people from white minority rule, Mugabe was vilified by others for destroying one of Africa’s most promising economies and crushing his opponents.
The Zimbabwean government told embassies on Sunday that it planned to hold a state funeral for Mugabe at the National Sports Stadium on Saturday, with a burial ceremony on Sunday, but it did not say where the burial would be held.
The Zimbabwe Independent newspaper reported last month that Mugabe would snub the offer of a burial at National Heroes Acre because he was bitter about his removal from power.
If he were buried in Kutama village, 85 kilometres from Harare, it would be a major rebuke of his successor, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, and the ruling Zanu-PF party Mugabe helped to found.
A relative who is helping with funeral arrangements said the family had compromised by agreeing to have a state funeral led by the government on Saturday.
But they also insisted that Mugabe would be buried at Kutama, his place of birth.
‘The family has made a decision that Mudhara [the old man] will be buried at Kutama. That is the position,’ a relative said from Singapore.
‘But the government is still engaging the family to try to have him buried at Heroes Acre.
‘There is no agreement on the place of burial. Even the government statement does not address that issue. It is not settled.’
The memo sent by Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to embassies in Harare said heads of state would be expected to leave the stadium immediately after the funeral ceremony because officials would be busy with preparations for the burial.
Mnangagwa’s spokesman, George Charamba, denied to The Sunday Mail that the government and Mugabe’s family were at loggerheads over where he should be buried.
Charamba said the provisional plan was for the burial to be at the National Heroes Acre.
Mugabe’s body is expected back from Singapore on Wednesday afternoon and Mr Mnangagwa, members of Mugabe’s family and traditional chiefs from his Zvimba district will receive the body at Harare’s Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport.
Leo Mugabe, the former president’s nephew, said on Sunday that the Mugabe family and traditional chiefs had finalised their preferred programme for his burial but it had yet to be approved by the government.
Meanwhile, at the packed Sacred Heart Cathedral in Harare, where Mugabe used to attend Catholic Mass, people prayed for him on Sunday morning.
‘We are praying for our relatives who have died, without forgetting to pray for our former president, Comrade Robert Mugabe,’ the church’s priest told the congregation.
‘We are asking God if there is anything that he did wrong in his life that he be forgiven.’
Chris Sambo, a former football administrator who used to arrange matches for Mugabe in Kutama, said Zimbabwe’s Catholic community had lost one of its most important members.
Tsitsi Samukange, another churchgoer, said Mugabe should be praised for fighting for his country.
‘I think everyone can admit that without the work he did, we would not be as independent as we are,’ Samukange said
‘You know, in a fight sometimes you lose your teeth? And we became poorer. But that’s a fight and he did it, and we should give him that.’
Many Harare residents said they were saddened by Mugabe’s death and that it marked the end of an era.
But his removal from power in 2017 was accompanied by celebrations across the country of 13 million.
Critics at home and abroad considered him to be a power-obsessed autocrat who used death squads, rigged elections and ruined the economy to keep control.