Zimbabwe to build mausoleum for Robert Mugabe as family and government end burial feud

Roland Oliphant
Robert Mugabe's body was repatriated from Singapore on September 11 - REUTERS

Robert Mugabe's burial was postponed for a month last night as his family and the Zimbabwean government appeared to end a bitter feud over the former president's grave site. 

Leo Mugabe, the former president's nephew and a family spokesperson, told journalists late on Friday that relatives and traditional leaders had finally agreed to a government demand to bury Mugabe in an official cemetery in Harare. 

“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,” he said. “So what that means is the burial will take that long.”

Earlier in the day Mr Mugabe had insisted that his uncle would be buried at his home village in the district of Zvimba, 50 miles outside Harare, but that a  symbolic funeral would first take place at Heroes' Acre on Sunday in a compromise. 

Robert Mugabe's body was repatriated from Singapore on September 11 Credit: SIPHIWE SIBEKO/REUTERS

Emmerson Mnangagwa, the president of Zimbabwe, confirmed the plan, in the first sign that he and the family had finally found a compromise in a week long battle for control of the body's resting place. 

"We are building a mausoleum for our founding father at the top of the hill at the Heroes Acre, it won’t be finished so we will only bury him after we have completed the structure,” Mr Mnangagwa, who deposed Mugabe in a coup in 2017, told reporters late on Friday.

The Sunday ceremony earlier mentioned by Leo Mugabe appears to have been cancelled. A former funeral service attended by foreign dignitaries will go ahead as planned on Saturday. 

Mugabe's body has been at the centre of a politicised tug of war since he died at the age of 95 in a Singapore hospital last week.

The government had wanted him interred at Heroes' Acre, a cemetery that Mugabe himself established for prominent veterans of the Bush War against White-ruled Rhodesia that eventually brought him to power in 1980.

Mugabe's first wife, Sally Mugabe, is already buried at the site and a plot has been set aside for him alongside her, although it now appears it will not be used. 

But the family said Mugabe had turned against the idea after he was overthrown by Mr Mnangagwa and other former allies in the ruling Zanu PF party, and insisted he should be buried instead alongside his mother and brothers at their home village in Zvimba, about 50 miles outside Harare.

Family members and neighbours were seen putting up marques in preparation for a wake at the family residence there on Friday. 

The row pitted Mr Manangagwa against Mugabe's widow Grace in a re-run of the bitter power struggle over the succession that led to the coup in 2017 and quickly took on a political character. Allies of Mrs Mugabe who fled the country after Mr Mnangagwa seized power have accused Mr Mnangagwa of attempting to bribe tribal chiefs in a bid to get his way. 

The response to Mugabe's death among the Zimbabwean public has been relatively muted. While thousands of people have filed past his coffin at the capital's Rufalo stadium, there has been no official day of mourning and little outpouring of public grief.

The battle of the body, by contrast, has gripped the public imagination and dominated the front pages here.

 The Zimbabwe Independent summed up the row with its Friday front page headline: "betrayed Mugabe fights Mnangagwa from coffin.'

News Day, a tabloid, described the row as a "game of brinksmanship" which the whole country was watching. 

The Daily News, another tabloid, cited an unnamed source who claimed the Mugabe family feared being tormented by the president's vengeful spirit if they ignored his final wishes about his grave site.