Robert Mugabe’s body may return next week as burial tensions arise

Mugabe’s family and Mnangagwa appear to disagree on whether the former president will be buried in his rural homestead Zvimba
young man wears an attire with a portrait of late former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe
A young man wears an attire with a portrait of late former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe on the streets of Harare on September 7 2019, on the first day of a period of national mourning following the death of the former guerrilla hero turned despot who ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years. – Mugabe, 95, passed away on September 6, 2019 in Singapore, where he had been hospitalised in April. First heralded as a liberator who rid the former British colony Rhodesia of white minority rule, Mugabe used repression and fear to govern until he was finally ousted by his previously loyal generals in November 2017. (Photo by Jekesai NJIKIZANA / AFP)

Robert Mugabe’s nephew said Sunday that a delegation was expected to leave Zimbabwe on Monday to collect the hero’s body from Singapore where he died two days ago. Mugabe, a guerilla leader who swept to power after Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain and went on to rule for 37 years, died on Friday, aged 95.

His health took a hit after he was ousted by the military in November 2017, ending his rule. He had been travelling to Singapore for treatment since April. “I can’t give an authoritative day, all I know is people are leaving tomorrow Monday to go and pick up the body,” Leo Mugabe told reporters. 

“So assuming they get there on Tuesday and the body is ready, logically you would think they should land here on Wednesday,” he said, adding that a list of accompanying family members was being finalised.

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Once praised as a liberator who rid Zimbabwe of white minority rule, Mugabe soon turned to repression and fear to govern. He is widely remembered for crushing political dissent and ruining the economy, prompting mixed reactions to his passing.

At Sacred Heart Cathedral, Mugabe’s parish in the capital Harare, the priest encouraged congregants to pray for their founding leader. “I know some of us may have different feelings about it, but it’s our duty to pray for one another,” Father Justin Jagaja told reporters.   

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President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared a period of “national mourning” on Friday, without providing further details. The government is expected to announce when Mugabe’s body will be returned to Zimbabwe and provide details of the funeral in coming days.

  • Pedestrians walk past signs of the various daily newspapers mourning following the death of former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe
  • Singapore Casket building where the body of former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe is being kept
  • Singapore Casket building where the body of former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe is being kept
  • Singapore Casket building where the body of former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe is being kept
  • Singapore Casket building where the body of former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe is being kept

Read: Zimbabwe’s ex-president, Robert Mugabe dies aged 95

Burial tensions

Mugabe’s family and Mnangagwa appear to disagree on whether the former president will be buried in his rural homestead Zvimba in a ceremony involving local chiefs, or at the National Heroes Acre – a hilltop shrine in Harare commemorating guerillas killed during the liberation struggle.

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Leo Mugabe refused to comment on the feud. “All I know is (that) we are closer to an agreement if the chiefs meet up with the president and discuss the issues,” said the nephew. He explained that his uncle would have been appointed chief of Zvimba had he not become president.

Zimbabwe’s deputy information minister Energy Mutody said the body would rest in Harare. “His Excellency President ED Mnangagwa has declared former President Robert Gabriel Mugabe a National Hero,” Mutody tweeted on Saturday. “The former President will be buried at the national heroes acre at a date to be announced.”

The 57-acre site, presided over by three bronze guerilla soldiers, was later opened up to national heroes in the arts and academia. The family of Zimbabwean Afro-jazz icon and human rights activist Oliver Mtukudzi also refused to bury him at the shrine.

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Mtukudzi, who succumbed to diabetes in January, was declared a national hero for his social and political influence.

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