A man in the stands holds a banner with the face of former president Robert Mugabe, as members of the public queue up to view his body at the Rufaro stadium in the capital Harare, Zimbabwe Friday, Sept. 13, 2019. The ongoing uncertainty of the burial of Mugabe, who died last week in Singapore at the age of 95, has eclipsed the elaborate plans for Zimbabweans to pay their respects to the former guerrilla leader at several historic sites. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Zimbabwe's Mugabe to be honored at state funeral

September 14, 2019 - 3:23 am

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — 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 resting place for his body can be constructed at the national Heroes' Acre monument.

The announcement Friday evening is the latest turn in a dramatic wrangle between his family and Mnangagwa, a once-trusted deputy who helped oust Mugabe from power.

More than 10 African leaders and several former presidents are expected to attend Saturday's ceremony at the 60,000-capacity stadium, which is across the road from Heroes' Acre, a national burial site for top officials of Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party who contributed to ending white colonial rule.

Mugabe oversaw its construction with North Korean architects atop a prominent hill, featuring a towering sculpture of guerrilla fighters. There are about 130 people declared national heroes who are buried there, each on a flat surface marked by simple black marble slabs. Mugabe's first wife, Sally, is buried there and a space next to her had been reserved for Mugabe.

But now a new mausoleum will be built for Mugabe at an elevated site above the other graves, according to Mnangagwa and a Mugabe family spokesman.

The announcement followed days of controversy over where he should be laid to rest, with Mugabe's widow, Grace, insisting on a private burial rather than the state funeral and burial in a simple plot alongside other national heroes planned by the government.

"The construction will take about 30 days to complete," family spokesman Leo Mugabe said. "The burial will not take place until it is finished." He said Mugabe's body would be preserved until then.

Mnangagwa confirmed the plans for a grand edifice as Mugabe's final resting place.

"We are building a mausoleum for our founding father at the top of the hill at Heroes' Acre," Mnangagwa said on state television Friday night. "It won't be finished, so we will only bury him after we have completed construction of the mausoleum." 

The protracted dispute over the burial highlighted the lasting acrimony between Mnangagwa, who helped oust Mugabe in 2017, and Grace Mugabe and other family members. Mnangagwa met with them to try to resolve the burial dispute and later said his government would respect the family's wishes, adding they have "the full support of the government."

Zimbabwe's lively press has highlighted the dispute. "Betrayed Mugabe fights Mnangagwa from coffin," declared the Zimbabwe Independent in a banner headline on its front page.

Mugabe's body was on view at Rufaro Stadium in the capital for two days. A stampede on Thursday injured several people trying to view it.

Mugabe was a former guerrilla leader who fought to end white minority rule. He led Zimbabwe for 37 years, from independence in 1980 until he was deposed.

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