Former President Robert Mugabe’s remains are due to be returned to Zimbabwe on Wednesday and the government has confirmed that his funeral will take place over two days this coming weekend.
Mr Mugabe died, aged 95, in a hospital in Singapore last week. But now there seems to be some disagreement between the family and the government over where the man who led Zimbabwe for 37 years, from 1980 to 2017, should be laid to rest.
Some of his relatives want him to be buried in his rural homestead in the village of Kutama in Mashonaland West province, 80km (about 50 miles) west of the capital, Harare. Most of Zimbabwe’s national heroes – those who fought against white-minority rule – are buried at the Heroes’ Acre shrine just outside Harare.
Inside the gates of Mr Mugabe’s rural home, now manned by just one security guard, a dozen mourners gathered on Sunday to pay their respects. They sat in small groups, speaking in hushed voices. There was an uneasiness – a sense that all was not well.
In one of the rooms, village elders and clan chiefs were deciding where the statesman should be buried. His nephew, Leo Mugabe, denied there was a disagreement over the issue with the government but admitted his uncle died a bitter man after being ousted in 2017 by the army and his former deputy. “He was bitter. You can imagine people you trusted – people that were guarding you, looking after, your security turn against you. He was very bitter and it dented his legacy,” he said.
Father Fidelis Mukonori, who played a key role in the negotiations between the 2017 coup plotters and Mr Mugabe, says he wishes he had asked his friend of more than 40 years if he had indeed felt betrayed. “I feel heavy inside because you can only have one founding father – as a child you only have your parents. He’s gone.”
The Catholic priest says Mr Mugabe was the spirit of the more 70,000 people who died during the liberation war for Zimbabwe. But the cleric is more sanguine about how the man who led Zimbabwe to independence in 1980 felt at the end of his long life: “He was ready to go, he was willing to go, he was hoping to go.” Heads of state are being invited to a public ceremony to honour Mr Mugabe, but not to the interment. If he is buried in his rural home, it would be his final snub to the comrades he believed betrayed him.