Harare – African heads of state and envoys are gathering to attend a state funeral for Zimbabwe’s founding president, Robert Mugabe, whose burial has been delayed for at least a month until a special mausoleum can be built for his remains.
The service and viewing of the body of Mugabe, who died last week in Singapore at 95, will be at the National Sports Stadium in the capital, Harare, and comes following the announcement by the Mugabe family and President Emmerson Mnangagwa that his burial will be postponed until a new edifice for his body can be constructed at the national Heroes’ Acre monument.
More than 10 African leaders and several former presidents are expected to attend Saturday’s ceremony at the 60,000-capacity stadium.
Heads of state expected to attend the funeral include South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta.
Ramaphosa would be accompanied by Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor; Minister of Defence Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula: Minister of Police Bheki Cele; and Minister of State Security Ayanda Dlodlo, the presidency said.
"The president’s attendance signifies South Africa’s regard and gratitude for the role played by the late former president Mugabe in his capacity as leader of Zimbabwe’s pre-independence liberation movement and as president of the Republic of Zimbabwe in support of South Africa’s struggle against apartheid," the presidency said in a statement.
Mugabe, who ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years until he was ousted by his own 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 nephew said on Friday that he will be buried at National Heroes Acre, a Zimbabwean national shrine in Harare in about 30 days, contradicting comments earlier in the day that the burial will be on Sunday.
"The government and the chiefs went to the Heroes Acre, showed each other where President Mugabe is going to be buried, and that place would take about 30 days to complete," said Leo Mugabe, a nephew of the former president who has acted as a spokesman for the family.
"So what that means is the burial will take that long," he said.
Mnangagwa and the ruling ZANU-PF party have wanted Mugabe buried at a national monument to heroes of the liberation war against white minority rule. Such a ceremony could give Mnangagwa a chance to show that the party is united behind his political and economic agenda.
But some relatives, expressing bitterness at the way former comrades including Mnangagwa had ousted Mugabe, had pushed for him to be buried in his home village rather than at the shrine.
Mugabe’s body will be preserved until the burial, Leo Mugabe said.
Asked whether a mausoleum or similar structure would be built for Mugabe, the nephew said: "Yes, something like that", also disclosing that the burial site will not be next to the one of the former president’s first wife Sally, who died in 1992.
"It’s a totally different site," he said.
Mugabe’s body arrived in Zimbabwe from Singapore on Wednesday and started three days of lying in state on Thursday.
Foreign Minister Sibusiso Moyo told Reuters that the confusion over Mugabe’s burial place had arisen because the government could reach an agreement with close family members only once they returned to Zimbabwe with the body.
He said it was fitting for Mugabe to be interred at National Heroes Acre because it "symbolises the greatest honour one can be bestowed with and it can only be a place where men and women who have contributed to the liberation of this country…can be buried."
During his near four-decades rule, Mugabe used his powers to bestow or deny former comrades the privilege to be buried at National Heroes Acre.
Mugabe’s body was displayed for a second day on Friday at Rufaro soccer stadium in Harare’s Mbare township, where thousands of mourners filed past the open coffin.
Reuters, AP and ANA