By Kevin Samaita, Business Day
The body of the late former president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, is expected to be flown to Harare on Wednesday for his burial on Sunday.
The state funeral, which is expected to be the largest ever held in Zimbabwe, will take place at the 60,000-seat National Sports Stadium in Harare.
But it is still unclear where Mugabe will be buried amid reports that his family and government officials are at odds over where he will be buried.
Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said on Monday that second vice-president Kembo Mohadi would lead a delegation to Singapore to return with Mugabe’s remains.
“The body is expected in Harare any time on Wednesday,” said Mutsvangwa.
The remains will lie in state at Rufaro Stadium in Harare on Thursday and Friday to allow members of the public to pay their final respects.
“On Saturday the body will be taken to the National Sports Stadium where members of the diplomatic community, foreign envoys accredited to Zimbabwe and various other dignitaries will have a chance to bid farewell and pay their last respects to the pan-African icon.”
But Mutsvangwa did not confirm Mugabe’s burial place. Reports have said that the former president left instructions to bury him at his rural home in Kutama mission village, about 80km outside Harare.
If Mugabe is buried in Kutama it would be a major snub to President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the ruling Zanu-PF party he helped found.
Presidential spokesman George Charamba said at the weekend Mugabe would be buried at the National Heroes’ Acre, which is reserved for the country’s heroes, mostly from the ruling Zanu-PF party.
Mugabe was instrumental in the construction of Heroes’ Acre. His former wife, Sally, is buried there and there is a plot said to be reserved for Mugabe next to her grave.
Prior to his death, newspaper reports said Mugabe had told his relatives he did not want to be buried at the national shrine.
The Zimbabwe Independent newspaper reported in August that Mugabe, who was deeply bitter over the coup headed by Mnangagwa that lead to his ousting, did not want Mnangagwa to “pontificate over his dead body”.
Mugabe died of advanced prostate cancer on Friday aged 95 in Singapore, where he had received medical treatment for months.
Several African heads of states and international figures are expected to attend Mugabe’s funeral which will be paid for by the cash-strapped government.
A towering but polarising figure in African history, Mugabe led Zimbabwe’s liberation from colonial rule and become the country’s founding president in 1980, ruling with an iron fist for 37 years before he was overthrown by longtime ally Mnangagwa, who is now Zimbabwe’s president.
Mugabe was idolised as a champion of racial reconciliation when he came to power in 1980 and led Zimbabwe through its best years when it was the bread basket of Southern Africa.
However, his leadership was tainted by the brutal massacres in Matabeleland in 1983 in which state-sanctioned death squads tortured and killed up to 20,000 people.
Mugabe’s supporters venerated him for embarking on land reform that empowered landless blacks in 2000. But the exercise was characterised by violence and it plunged the agriculture-based economy into chaos and alienated the international community.
By the time he was removed from power, to wild celebrations in November 2017, Mugabe was viewed as an authoritarian ruler who rigged elections and ruined the once-prosperous Zimbabwe.