The ex-Zimbabwean leader’s family opposes government plan to bury him at the national monument for liberation heroes.
Harare, Zimbabwe – Dispute over where the body of former Zimbabwe president will be buried as well a stampede in which several people were injured marked a day of mourning for Robert Mugabe.
Thousands of Zimbabweans walked through Harare’s Rufaro Sports Stadium to pay their last respects to the late leader. Some mourned as they walked past, while others saluted as they had one last look at the veteran leader lying in an open wooden coffin.
Earlier, the Mugabe family expressed its intention to bury the former president at a private ceremony at an undisclosed location. But supporters of Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF objected to the plan, urging President Emmerson Mnangagwa to ensure Mugabe is buried at the National Heroes Acre.
Mnangagwa visited Mugabe’s family on Thursday morning to pay respects, holding a private meeting with Grace, Mugabe’s widow, seeking to change her mind but to no avail.
According to Zimbabwean norm, those declared liberation heroes by the ruling ZANU-PF are often buried at the national shrine, built in 1981 on the northeastern edge of the capital.
Those declared provincial heroes’ by the president are laid rest at the local heroes shrine.
The Associated Press reported that at least five people were carried away on stretchers following a stampede in the crowd that had come to view the body.
Morgan Kaseke, 28, told Al Jazeera he felt the family’s objection was unnecessary and Mugabe ought to be buried at the North Korean-designed site.
“He should just go to the Heroes Acre just like he used to force other heroes to go there, even if their families didn’t want Mugabe would make them go there so that’s the order that we know. This shouldn’t be such a big issue, the family should just follow the order Mugabe created,” said Kaseke.
Zvirevo Tichivanhu, 51 also felt Mugabe should be interred at the national shrine in public, but she would respect the family’s wishes.
“He’s the one who started this order of public burials at Heroes Acres so he should go there and be buried with his other comrades, even his first wife [Sally] is there. If the family decides to do a private burial, I can’t oppose that, but how are we, as children of Zimbabwe, supposed to mourn our father? He was the father of the nation, not just one family,” she said.
The family maintains its stance but Mugabe’s nephew, Patrick Zhuwao, a former minister who fled into exile when the military-backed deposing Mugabe began in November 2017, reportedly addressed a memorial service in South Africa earlier today and accused Mnangagwa of trying to force Mugabe’s widow to reconsider.
“They are being coerced by Emmerson Mnangagwa to ignore President Mugabe’s wishes on where his mortal remains should be interred. I call upon you commander-in-chief, I call upon you to help the family have the wishes of President Mugabe recognised,” he said.
In his public address earlier at the Mugabe mansion, Mnangagwa, who came to power through a de facto coup against Mugabe, said he was willing to follow the family’s wishes and provide support through the state.
However, Ibbo Mandaza, a political analyst, told Al Jazeera that despite the current president’s overtures, the family maintained a tough stance because they too, like the late Mugabe, remain bitter and see Mnangagwa as an illegitimate leader.
“The bottom line is the family is very bitter that Robert was pushed out. If Mugabe were to be buried at Heroes Acre, it would allow Mnangagwa to pontificate over his body and that would legitimise his rise to power,” said Mandaza.
“It would be like the coup never happened and the family accepts that. The coup was illegitimate and Mugabe’s death has stirred up lots of unsettled issues,” he said.
Public viewings of Mugabe’s body are expected to continue through the weekend with a state memorial to be held on Saturday with heads of state in attendance.
A special viewing is scheduled for Sunday in Mugabe’s home district of Zvimba, 90km northeast of the capital.