Zimbabwe feud over late leader’s burial site

Harare, Zimbabwe – The family of former Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe does not want the late liberation war hero buried at the country’s National Heroes Acre, preferring a family shrine in keeping with his last wishes.

President Mnangagwa declared Robert Mugabe a ‘national hero’ after his death on Friday Jekesai Njikizana/AFP

According to a government memo sent to diplomatic missions, Mugabe’s funeral will be in Harare’s National Sports Stadium on Saturday, though it didn’t specify where the burial would be on Sunday.

Mugabe, who died aged 95 in Singapore on Friday, did not want people behind his political downfall in November 2017 playing a role at his funeral, a relative said on Sunday.

Mugabe was removed from power in a coup after he fired Emmerson Mnangagwa as vice president at the instigation of his wife, Grace, and a faction of ambitious and young politicians loyal to the late leader.

Funerals for national heroes are officiated by a sitting president, which would be Mnangagwa, who is now Zimbabwe’s leader.

A close family member told Al Jazeera that discussions between top government officials and the family to change Mugabe’s final resting place were under way.

The relative, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Mugabe’s relationship with his protege Mnangagwa had soured after the coup.

“He was not happy with the fact that Mnangagwa had not come to see him. He believed in dialogue and people finding each other. This did not happen. I believe this would have turned out differently if this meeting had happened,” the source said.

‘A people’s decision’

Close family members in Singapore were left with clear instructions on where he would be buried, and that was at his village of Zvimba, about 100 kilometres northwest of Harare.

“Grace can’t go against the wishes of her husband. It would be a dishonouring of his memory. As of two weeks ago, I heard expressions such as ‘principles cannot be sacrificed for political expedience’,” the relative said.

“He did not have a problem with being afforded hero status. He felt that this was a people’s decision and not his. He had a problem with who would officiate at the funeral after everything that had happened.”

An aircraft was chartered from Harare to pick up Mugabe’s body. According to the family, Vice President Kembo Mohadi is going to lead the delegation to Singapore along with selected relatives.

His nephew, Leo Mugabe, said he expected the body back in Harare on Wednesday.

A relative of the late Zimbabwean nationalist, Adam Molai, who is in Singapore with the Mugabes, told The Straits Times newspaper that Mugabe died peacefully surrounded by his family.

Grace, daughter Bona and grandchildren, and his niece, Sandra Molai, and her husband, Adam, were with him when he died.

Mugabe was conferred national hero status after his death by Mnangagwa, the highest posthumous honour in the southern African country, for his role in the liberation struggle against colonial ruler Britain and leadership after independence in 1980.

Albert Mugabe, a nephew of Mugabe, said there was a meeting at Mugabe’s rural home of Zvimba on Saturday night.

Ruling ZANU-PF party spokesman Simon Khaya Moyo would not comment on the disagreement of the burial site.

“If they are differences, we don’t get involved in such matters as a party. We stick with the statement we issued that he was a liberation icon and our leader. He led from the front,” said Moyo.

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