African leaders to pay tribute at Mugabe state funeral

African leaders are expected to pay tribute to Robert Mugabe lauded as a colonial-era liberation hero. — Reuters pic
African leaders are expected to pay tribute to Robert Mugabe lauded as a colonial-era liberation hero. — Reuters pic

HARARE, Sept 14 ― Former Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe will be given a state funeral today with a dozen African leaders expected to pay tribute to a man lauded as a colonial-era liberation hero.

Mugabe, who died last week in Singapore aged 95, left Zimbabwe torn over the legacy of his 37-year rule marked by brutal repression and economic crisis.

He died almost two years after former army loyalists forced him out in 2017, following a power struggle over what was widely perceived as his bid to have his wife Grace succeed him.

His body was returned from Singapore on Wednesday to a country divided and still struggling with inflation and the food and fuel shortages caused by decades of economic crisis.

“Despite certain misgivings, within certain quarters about his so-called mistakes... the government's position is clear,” Foreign Minister Sibusiso Moyo told AFP. “The late President Mugabe is an icon.”

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and a dozen current and former African leaders are expected to attend Saturday's official funeral at a Harare sports stadium.

But his final burial at a national monument will only happen after a new mausoleum is built, his family said.

While Mugabe ended white-minority rule and gave more access to education and public health to the poor black majority, he soon turned to fear and repression to govern.

Many Zimbabweans will remember Mugabe more for the economic mismanagement and increasingly tyrannical rule that followed the initial hope of liberation.

Millions fled the country during decades of crisis and hyperinflation and a brutal crackdown on dissidents at home.

Many are struggling to survive despite President Emmerson Mnangagwa's vows of more investment and jobs in the post-Mugabe era.

“Things were much better under Comrade Mugabe, prices of basics were lower,” said Daydream Goba, 27, using an affectionate term for Mugabe. “Now, we can barely manage.”

Bitter legacy

Always divisive in life, Mugabe's funeral arrangements were also caught up in a dispute between Mnangagwa and the family over where and when the former leader should be buried.

The two parties on Friday finally agreed he would be buried at National Heroes Acre. But the final ceremony would take place in about 30 days, once the new mausoleum was built for him there.

His family are still bitter over the role Mnangagwa played in his ouster and had pushed for Mugabe to be buried in his homestead of Zvimba, northwest of Harare.

A former guerrilla who fought alongside Mugabe against colonial forces, Mnangagwa was fired as first vice president by Mugabe in 2017. Mugabe branded him a “traitor”.

Soon after, protesters and military officers pressured Mugabe to step down in what was widely seen as a struggle between Mnangagwa's faction and loyalists to Grace inside the ruling ZANU-PF party.

The “heroes” monument, where more than 130 national figures are buried in black marble tombs, sits on a hilltop overlooking Harare. Mugabe's first wife, Sally is also buried there. ― AFP

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