A soldier stands near a portrait of former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe during the burial of the leader at his home village in Kutama, on September 28, 2019. Picture: AFP/JEKESAI NJIKIZANA
A soldier stands near a portrait of former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe during the burial of the leader at his home village in Kutama, on September 28, 2019. Picture: AFP/JEKESAI NJIKIZANA

Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa was a notable absentee at the burial of his predecessor Robert Mugabe on Saturday.

Mugabe, whose final resting place was the subject of intense and emotional debate in government and political circles, was buried at his rural home in a low-key affair.

The former president who died on September 6, ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years and was revered by some for his pan-Africanist stance but reviled by others for his brutality against opponents and his ruinous economic policies.

The former president was toppled in a military coup that was orchestrated by Mnangagwa and the military in November 2017.

His burial was postponed as government representatives, his family and traditional leaders from his rural Zvimba birthplace haggled over where he should be buried.

After the coup, Mugabe did not see eye to eye with Mnangagwa and before his death expressed the wish to be buried at his rural home, snubbing the protocol of where national heroes from Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle are usually interred at Heroes’ Acre.

Former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe was laid to rest on September 28 2019. The Mugabe family decided on a private burial after weeks of arguments with the Zimbabwean government who wanted him to be buried at the National Heroes Acre in Harare.

Traditional leaders from his home village leapt into the fray insisting he should be buried in accordance with rites reserved for royalty. They said Mugabe was supposed to have been a chief in the area but skipped the opportunity to concentrate on national politics.

The issue seemed settled when the government announced it was building a mausoleum at the national shrine for him. It said it had the blessing of the former president's wife, Grace, and other family members. But the saga took a another twist when the government later said it had agreed to the family’s demands that it abide by his final wishes.

Mugabe’s burial was a private affair with a service presided over by a Roman Catholic priest and speeches by family members. There were no military drills and the pomp and ceremony usually associated with the burials of national heroes.

Mugabe’s relatives spoke glowingly of the former president and chided Mnangagwa for failing to address Zimbabwe’s economic crisis better than his predecessor.

“Mugabe would not allow prices to go up. He would speak and businesses would reduce prices,” said a nephew of Mugabe, in reference to Zimbabwe’s spiralling inflation.

Mugabe’s sister in law, Shuvai Gumbochuma, said the former president had repeatedly said he did not want to be buried at the Heroes’ Acre because he felt betrayed by Mnangagwa.

“When I asked why he would not want to be buried at the Heroes’ Acre, he said he had been shamed and he felt betrayed. We know that he was loved by many people and we saw thousands of your supporters who came to mourn and receive his body,” she said.

The ruling Zanu-PF party did not hide its disappointment at the snub by the family.

Party spokesperson Simon Khaya Moyo said: “The late former president was the founding father of the nation and trivialising his remains by scandalously throwing it from pillar to post, particularly after an amicable agreement had been reached with the family that his remains will be interred at the national shrine is belittling the late revolutionary icon.”