Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 19 October 2019

African leaders attend state ceremony for Zimbabwe's Mugabe

Mugabe will be buried in a month at a specially-constructed grand mausoleum

African heads of state and envoys gathered to attend a state funeral for Zimbabwe’s founding president, Robert Mugabe Saturday, 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, took place 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.

Zimbaweans danced and sang in the stands as Mugabe's casket was brought slowly into the stadium, followed by his widow Grace and other family members.

Nigeria's Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, President of Equatorial Guinea Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta were among the dignitaries to attend the service. Mr Kenyatta called the divisive Mugabe a "visionary leader" in his speech to attendees.

The country's current president urged the public on Twitter to "put aside our differences" for the day as the life of the controversial former leader was celebrated. 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.

African leaders and officials from Cuba, Russia and China all praised Mugabe as a pan-African hero for his past as a colonial-era guerrilla leader.

"We honour and remember our African icon. He had many allies and followers... Our motherland is in tears," Mr Mnangagwa said at the service.

Mugabe's burial will be delayed for at least a month until a special mausoleum can be built at a prominent spot at the national Heroes' Acre monument, relatives and the government said after days of wrangling over the final resting place of the independence struggle hero who ruled the country for nearly four decades.

The announcement followed a dramatic tussle between Mugabe's family and current President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a once-trusted deputy who helped oust Mugabe from power in 2017. Grace Mugabe insisted on a private burial rather than the state funeral and burial in a simple plot alongside other national heroes planned by the government.

The decision to build a new resting place for Mugabe, who died at age 95 in Singapore this month, came after consultations with influential traditional chiefs, his nephew Leo Mugabe told reporters.

"The construction will take about 30 days to complete," Mr Mugabe said. "The burial will not take place until it is finished.

"There are certain preparations that need to be done at Heroes' Acre and those developments will take time. These developments are the specifications from the chiefs themselves," he said, adding that the family was happy with the decision.

President 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," Mr 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."

Government officials earlier said that Mugabe would be given a state burial on Sunday at Heroes' Acre accompanied by a 21-gun salute.

The Heroes' Acre monument is reserved for top officials of Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party who contributed to ending white colonial rule in 1980. Mugabe oversaw its construction with North Korean architects atop a prominent hill, featuring a towering sculpture of guerrilla fighters. There are about 130 national heroes 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 Leo Mugabe said the deceased leader would not be buried next to his first wife. The Mugabe family and the traditional chiefs have decided that the mausoleum will be built at a spot elevated above the other graves.

The wrangle over the burial highlighted the lasting acrimony between Mr Mnangagwa and Mugabe's widow and other family members. The president met them to try to resolve the dispute and on Thursday 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.

Updated: September 16, 2019 09:35 AM

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