Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, left, leaves with Grace Mugabe after receiving the body of her husband, former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe in Harare, Zimbabwe, on September 11, 2019. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, left, leaves with Grace Mugabe after receiving the body of her husband, former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe in Harare, Zimbabwe, on September 11, 2019. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO

Harare — The body of Zimbabwe’s founder prime minister and later president, Robert Mugabe, arrived at the country’s main airport from Singapore on Wednesday, but his final resting place remained a source of mystery, amid a dispute between some family members and the government.

Mugabe, one of the last “Big Men” of African politics who ruled for 37 years until he was ousted by his own army in November 2017, died in a Singapore hospital five days ago.

He is proving as polarising in death as he was in life, as the fight over where he will be buried threatens to embarrass his successor, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, and deepen divisions in the ruling Zanu-PF party.

The former president’s body arrived at Harare’s Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport shortly after 3pm. A military guard of honour stood at attention as the casket was offloaded from the aircraft, draped in the national flag and accompanied by security chiefs.

Robert Mugabe's body arrived at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport in Harare, Zimbabwe, on September 11 2019. President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a large government delegation and civilians were there to pay tribute to the former Zimbabwean president.

“The entire nation of Zimbabwe, our people, across the board are grieved and are in mourning because the light which led us to independence is no more, but his works, his ideology will continue to guide this nation,” Mnangagwa said.

Mugabe’s widow, Grace, dressed in black and wearing a black veil, was next to Mnangagwa at the airport. Also present were Mugabe’s daughter Bona, and Saviour Kasukuwere, a former Mugabe cabinet minister and staunch ally who has been living in self-imposed exile in SA since early this year.

Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, the former general who led the coup that overthrew Mugabe, was conspicuous by his absence at the airport. He has been receiving treatment in China since July for an unknown illness

Crowds had gathered at the airport well before the scheduled arrival time, with some wearing T-shirts bearing Mugabe’s face and others with Mnangagwa’s image, while music blared from loudspeakers. A convoy of 4x4 vehicles with number plates bearing the letters “RG Mugabe” and the former leader’s signature were on the runway.

Leo Mugabe, a nephew and family spokesperson, declined to say where Mugabe would be buried. Mnangagwa said the body would be taken to Mugabe’s palatial home in the capital, known as the Blue Roof, after a detour to a military barracks for prayers.

On Thursday, ordinary Zimbabweans and supporters are expected to pay their last respects to Mugabe at a Harare soccer stadium, where the body will lie in state before being taken to his rural home in Kutama, 85km northwest of the capital, he added.

Mnangagwa and his party want Mugabe buried at the national shrine dedicated to heroes of the liberation war against the white minority Rhodesian regime. But some of Mugabe’s relatives have pushed back against that plan. They share Mugabe’s bitterness at the way his former allies, including Mnangagwa, conspired to topple him, so instead want him buried at his home village.

Sunday’s burial will take place a day after a state funeral, but officials said the burial site would only be known after consultations with the family.

Reuters