Mugabe family at odds with Zimbabwe government over late leader’s funeral, burial

The family of Zimbabwe's former strongman Robert Mugabe and government officials appear at odds about where the late leader will be buried.

The government had earlier stated that Mugabe, who died last week at the age of 95, would be buried at the Heroes’ Acre state monument, a burial place reserved for top officials of Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party.

However, it seems some family members want to follow Zimbabwean tradition and bury Mugabe at his home village of Kutama.

The body of former president Robert Mugabe arrives to lie in state inside his official residence in the capital Harare, Zimbabwe Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019. 

The body of former president Robert Mugabe arrives to lie in state inside his official residence in the capital Harare, Zimbabwe Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019.  (AP)

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President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who declared Mugabe a national hero when he confirmed the death last Friday, said he and the ex-president’s widow, Grace, and other family members will have private discussions over the controversial issue.

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

Mugabe died last week in a hospital in Singapore following months of an undisclosed illness. His body was returned back to the capital city of Harare on Thursday.

Widow Grace Mugabe, center, wears a black veil as she follows the coffin of former president Robert Mugabe, as it arrives to lie in state inside his official residence in the capital Harare, Zimbabwe Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019. 

Widow Grace Mugabe, center, wears a black veil as she follows the coffin of former president Robert Mugabe, as it arrives to lie in state inside his official residence in the capital Harare, Zimbabwe Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019.  (AP)

At the airport Wednesday night, Mnangagwa paid tribute to his former ally, calling him an “icon of pan-Africanism” and “the man who created our nation,” Sky News reported.

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The news about discussions between the president and Mugabe’s widow came after the family blasted the government for not consulting them over the funeral and burial planes.

In a statement posted Thursday, the family accused the government of “attempting to coerce us” to accept a funeral plan that is “contrary to his wishes.”

According to his nephew, the family wants Mugabe’s body to lie in state in his home village of Kutama in Zvimba on Sunday night before a private burial.

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

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

"His body will lie in state at Kutama on Sunday night... followed by a private burial - either Monday or Tuesday - no National Heroe’s Acre. That's the decision of the whole family," his nephew Leo Mugabe told the Agence France-Presse news agency.

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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.

People queue at the Rufaro Stadium in Harare, Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, where former President Robert Mugabe will lie in state for a public viewing.

People queue at the Rufaro Stadium in Harare, Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, where former President Robert Mugabe will lie in state for a public viewing. (AP)

Later Thursday the casket is to be taken to Rufaro Stadium in Harare's poor Mbare neighborhood and then to Zvimba, Mugabe's birthplace 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.

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Mugabe was Zimbabwe’s first leader after the country became independent in 1980. He was ousted from power during a military coup in 2017 after nearly four decades.