mock burial will be conducted for former President Robert Mugabe at the National Heroes Acre in Harare on Sunday – but his actual burial will not be held for several days after, his nephew and family spokesman Leo Mugabe said on Friday.
Mugabe’s family is rowing back from comments made a day earlier, ruling out a burial at the hilltop monument which was in contradiction to the government’s burial plans.
“The president will be buried at the National Heroes Acre. As to when, that is another question,” Leo Mugabe told journalists at Rufaro Stadium on the second day of body viewing for thousands of people.
“On Sunday, the body will be taken to the Heroes Acre. The normal function at Heroes Acre will take place, that is the 21-gun salute and the conferment of heroism on him by the government will take place at the shrine.
“The body will then be taken away for burial later once the works that are supposed to be done at the Heroes Acre are done and finalised. Once they are finalised – it will take a bit of time for the works to be done, perhaps as much as a week – thereafter he will then then be buried at the Heroes Acre during a private service.”
After Sunday, Mugabe said the body would be taken to Zvimba, the former president’s home, for a traditional funeral ceremony.
Mugabe said traditional chiefs wanted particular things done at Heroes Acre, and the family had also given its input.
“This is not just an ordinary hero, he’s the founder of the nation. That must be shown forever and ever at the National Heroes Ace so that anybody who visits must be able to say yes, this is where Robert Mugabe is buried,” Mugabe added.
In previous interviews, Leo Mugabe insisted that Mugabe was a tribal chief and would be buried in accordance with tradition. Typically, this involves swapping the dead chief’s body for a log and then burying him in a cave up in the mountains (see our earlier report).
The family’s insistence on privacy would point to a desire to have something similar, although this might mean constructing a virtual cave at the Heroes Acre.
Mugabe’s widow, Grace, reportedly agreed to a Heroes Acre burial for as long as the former president is buried in a mausoleum – breaking with tradition at the monument where all graves are typically separated by just over a meter with a simple granite tombstone.
The construction of a mausoleum would also mean Mugabe will not be buried next to his first wife, Sally, owing to a lack of space.
“Listening to Leo Mugabe saying certain works will take time, you do get a sense that there’s a completely new section of the Heroes Acre that is being created for Mugabe which was not on the initial plan… whole new engineering works,” said journalist Xolisani Ncube.
Mugabe, who ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years until he was ousted by the army in November 2017, died in a Singapore hospital a week ago aged 95.
A fight over his burial place has threatened to undermine his successor, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s former deputy who conspired to topple him, and expose deep rifts in the governing Zanu-PF party.
Mugabe’s body arrived in Zimbabwe from Singapore on Wednesday and started three days of lying in state on Thursday.
Some of Mugabe’s relatives have expressed bitterness at the way former comrades including Mnangagwa ousted him and pushed for Mugabe to be buried in his home village.
On Friday, foreign dignitaries were due to start arriving in Harare ahead of a state funeral planned for the country’s National Sports Stadium on Saturday.
Heads of state expected to attend the funeral include the presidents of Angola, South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Botswana and Kenya. In all, 11 sitting heads of state are expected and eight former presidents will be in attendance, according to government spokesman George Charamba.