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Tue, 10 Sep 2019 18:40 - Updated Tue, 10 Sep 2019 18:40

Mugabe polarises Zimbabwe in death as well as in life

HARARE - Zimbabwe’s founder Robert Mugabe is proving as polarising in death as he was in life, with a fight over where he will be buried threatening to embarrass his successor and deepen divisions in the ruling ZANU-PF party.

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President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government wants Mugabe, who led Zimbabwe from independence in 1980 until the November 2017 coup that ousted him, buried at a national monument to heroes of the liberation war against the white minority Rhodesian regime.

But some of Mugabe’s relatives have pushed back against that plan. They share Mugabe’s bitterness at the way former allies including Mnangagwa conspired to topple him and want him buried in his home village.

Mnangagwa has taken the threat to snub a burial at National Heroes Acre sufficiently seriously that he has dispatched a delegation to Singapore, where Mugabe died in a hospital on Friday, to negotiate with the family, government sources said.

The body is expected to arrive in Zimbabwe on Wednesday, adding time pressure to Mnangagwa, who is under fire over an economic crisis and clampdown on dissent that has drawn parallels with the worst excesses of the Mugabe era.

Both men have blamed Western sanctions and accused the United States and Britain of driving opposition protests.

“Mugabe has always been a controversial figure, in life as it is now in death,” said Eldred Masunungure, a politics professor at the University of Zimbabwe. “If the founding father of Zimbabwe wasn’t buried at National Heroes Acre, it would set a very bad precedent and tarnish the image of the head of state.”

In public, senior ZANU-PF officials express confidence that Mugabe will be buried at the monument on Sunday, after a state funeral in a sports stadium a day earlier. In private they say the feud with Mugabe’s family could have been handled better.

One factor that could help Mnangagwa’s delegation, which is led by Vice President Kembo Mohadi, is that Mugabe’s family is divided over where the former president should be laid to rest.

Leo Mugabe, Mugabe’s nephew, is leading a group of relatives who want the former president to buried in his home village of Kutama, some 85 km (52 miles) from Harare, two relatives who have attended planning meetings for Mugabe’s burial said.

That group is also backed by some members of the faction within ZANU-PF that is closely aligned with Mugabe’s wife Grace and wants to get back at Mnangagwa.

Other family members, including Mike Bimha, who is from Grace’s side of the family, think it would be best to mend ties with Mnangagwa by burying Mugabe at National Heroes Acre, the relatives said.

On Tuesday, a tour guide at the monument said he was sure Mugabe would be buried there. A place has been left next to his first wife Sally’s grave within the grandiose structure, which North Korean architects helped design soon after independence.Reuters

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