Mugabe to receive state funeral on Saturday

Robert Mugabe sits with his wife Grace Mugabe and Emmerson Mnangagwa at the State House in Harare, December 12, 2014.
Robert Mugabe sits with his wife Grace Mugabe and Emmerson Mnangagwa at the State House in Harare, December 12, 2014.
Image: REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo /File Photo

The Zimbabwean government is planning a state funeral for former ruler Robert Mugabe in a sports stadium in Harare on Saturday, with a burial ceremony a day later, it said in a memo sent to embassies on Sunday.

Zimbabweans have been confused about when they would get to pay their last respects to Mugabe since his death at the age of 95 in a Singapore hospital on Friday following a long illness.

Mugabe, who had been travelling to Singapore for treatment since April, had dominated Zimbabwean politics for almost four decades since 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, he was vilified by others for wrecking one of Africa’s most promising economies and ruthlessly crushing his opponents.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who worked closely with Mugabe for decades before helping to oust him, granted him the status of national hero within hours of his death.

The memo, sent by Zimbabwe’s ministry of foreign affairs to embassies in Harare, said the funeral would be in the National Sports Stadium, but did not specify where the burial would take place.

It 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.

The Zimbabwe Independent newspaper reported in August that Mugabe did not want to be buried at National Heroes Acre – a site reserved for the country’s heroes – because he felt bitter about the way he was removed from power.

In comments to The Sunday Mail newspaper, Mnangagwa’s spokesperson, George Charamba, denied the government and Mugabe’s family were at loggerheads over where the former president should be buried and said the provisional plan was for the burial to be at National Heroes Acre.

The controversial 23ha site is presided over by three bronze guerilla soldiers.

The family of Zimbabwean jazz icon and human rights activist Oliver Mtukudzi had refused to bury him there after he died of diabetes in January.

The Sunday Mail said Mugabe’s body was expected back from Singapore on Wednesday afternoon and that Mnangagwa, members of Mugabe’s family and traditional chiefs from Mugabe’s Zvimba district would receive the body at Harare’s Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport.

Leo Mugabe, his nephew, said earlier on Sunday that Mugabe’s family and traditional chiefs had finalised their preferred programme for his burial, but it had yet to be approved by the government.

He said a delegation was expected to leave Zimbabwe on Monday to collect the body from Singapore.

“I can’t give an authoritative day, all I know is people are leaving tomorrow [Monday] to go and pick up the body,” he said.

“So assuming they get there on Tuesday, and the body is ready, logically you would think they should land here on Wednesday.”

A list of accompanying family members was being finalised, he added.

He was not available for comment after the government memo had emerged.

At the packed Sacred Heart Cathedral in Harare, where Mugabe used to attend Catholic mass with his first wife, Sally, and second wife, Grace, people prayed on Sunday morning for their departed former leader.

“We are praying for our relatives who have died. Without forgetting to pray for our former president, Comrade Robert Mugabe, we bring him forward to God,” the priest told the congregation, speaking in the local Shona language.

“We are asking God if there is anything that he did wrong in his life that he be forgiven.”

Chris Sambo, a former soccer administrator who used to arrange matches for Mugabe in his home village of Kutama, said the country’s Catholic community had lost one of its most important members.

Tsitsi Samkange, another churchgoer, said Mugabe was a devout man who had fought for his country.

“I think everyone can admit that without the work he did we would not be as independent as we are,” she said.

“You know when you fight, 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 ousting in 2017 was accompanied by celebrations across the country of 13-million people, and critics at home and abroad viewed him as a power-obsessed autocrat who unleashed death squads, rigged elections and ruined the economy to keep control.- Reuters