Zimbabweans mourn founder Mugabe but confused over burial

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By MacDonald Dzirutwe and Gift Sukhala

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabweans on Saturday mourned the death of their founding father Robert Mugabe but there was confusion over when his body would be returned from abroad for burial, two years after he was toppled in a coup.

Mugabe died on Friday aged 95 in Singapore, where he had long received medical treatment.

He was one of the most polarizing figures in African history, a giant of national liberation movements whose 37-year rule ended in ignominy when he was overthrown by his own army in November 2017.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who worked closely with Mugabe for decades before helping to oust him, granted him the status of national hero on Friday, while tributes poured in from leaders across the continent.

There was still no word on Saturday afternoon about when Mugabe's body would leave Singapore. His nephew, Leo Mugabe, said the family would meet on Sunday to discuss the body's departure.

In the capital Harare, some government buildings and state-owned companies flew their flags at half-mast. Mnangagwa's office near parliament had not lowered its flag.

It was unclear whether Mugabe would be buried at Heroes Acre, a monument built with the help of North Korean architects.

The Zimbabwe Independent newspaper reported last month that Mugabe, who had cut a bitter figure since the coup, preferred not to be buried there because he did not want Mnangagwa to "pontificate over his dead body".

But on Saturday Zimbabwe's deputy information minister Energy Mutodi wrote on Twitter that the plan was still for Mugabe to be interred at the monument.

Leo Mugabe said the family would decide the burial site.

"Obviously there is a need to consult with the wife in Singapore ... but the people that make the decisions are the Zvimba people, the chiefs, those that are sitting in that room right now," he said, pointing to a room where more than 20 traditional chiefs huddled deep in discussion.

If Mugabe's family were to choose to bury him at his rural home in the Zvimba district instead of Heroes Acre, it would be a major snub to Mnangagwa and ZANU-PF, the ruling party that Mnangagwa now heads but which Mugabe led for four decades.


Mugabe was feted as a champion of racial reconciliation when he came to power in 1980 in one of the last African states to throw off white colonial rule.

By the time he was toppled to wild celebrations across the country of 13 million, he was viewed by many at home and abroad as a power-obsessed autocrat who unleashed death squads, rigged elections and ruined the economy to keep control.

Most residents in downtown Harare said on Saturday that they were saddened by Mugabe's death since he was their liberator and had broadened access to education.

"Even now we have livestock we keep in the rural areas because of him, so it's painful to lose our father, our grandfather who helped us to learn and go to school," said Tongai Huni, a fruit vendor.

Others expressed anger that Mugabe had left the economy in a sorry state, with hyperinflation and mass unemployment.

"We are just trying to deal with ... the harm that he did," said Margaret Shumba, another Harare resident.

Nearby, a policeman shook his head as he walked past a row of newspapers bearing pictures of Mugabe's face.

"End of an era," read the headline of the Daily News, while the state-run Herald ran a commemorative edition to mark Mugabe's death with articles praising him.

The harsh reality for many Zimbabweans is that the economy is mired in its worst crisis in a decade, with triple-digit inflation, power cuts lasting up to 18 hours a day and shortages of basic goods such as fuel.

A clampdown on dissent by Mnangagwa's government has revived memories of repressive tactics in the Mugabe era.

(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe and Gift Sukhala; Writing by Alexander Winning; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and Clare Fallon)

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