Zimbabwe’s founding leader Robert Mugabe was buried on Saturday in his home village Kutama, ending a dispute between his family and government over his final resting place.
Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years from independence in 1980 but was a polarising figure idolised by some for his role in the country’s liberation struggle and hated by others for ruining a promising nation through disastrous economic policies and repression against opponents.
He died in a Singapore hospital on September 6 aged 95, bitter at former allies including Mnangagwa who conspired to topple him in November 2017 and told his family he did not want his “tormentors” to preside over his burial.
His burial marks the end of an era for one of Africa’s last “Big Men”.
After Mass by a Roman Catholic priest and speeches by family members, Mugabe was buried in the courtyard of his rural homestead without the pomp and fanfare usually reserved for national heroes.
His wife Grace, children and close relatives, government officials and the media witnessed the burial ceremony.
As Mugabe’s coffin was lowered into the ground, Grace, face covered with a black veil, flanked by her sister and children and was sobbing and wiping tears.
In speeches, relatives said Mugabe’s wish before he died was to be buried in Kutama and not the National Heroes Acre monument in the capital, where Mnangagwa and the ruling ZANU-PF party wanted to bury him.
“There may be others who think the Mugabe family did something not in sync with other ideas from our party ZANU-PF or government,” Walter Chidhakwa, a Mugabe family spokesman said.
“We are saying we thank Mr Mnangagwa for accepting our father’s wishes. It may not be what you expected because you wanted him to go to Heroes Acre but we have done our father’s wishes.”
Mnangagwa, represented by government officials, initially pushed for Mugabe to be buried at the monument for liberation war heroes – an occasion political analysts and ZANU-PF party sources said Mnangagwa wanted to use to display public reconciliation with Mugabe’s admirers.
Mugabe’s family had since the arrival of his body from Singapore, kept vigil over his remains because the former president expressed fears some people who ousted him would seek to conduct a traditional ritual with his body parts, Mugabe’s nephew Leo Mugabe said.
ZANU-PF spokesman Simon Khaya Moyo said in a statement the decision to bury Mugabe in Kutama was unfortunate, a sign of the continued fall-out between the ruling party and the family.
“We respect the wishes of the families of deceased heroes, hence are saddened when manoeuvres bordering on political gimmicks unfold on an issue concerning an illustrious liberation icon,” Khaya Moyo said.