Grace Mugabe accompanies former Zimbabwean dictator’s body home amid row over funeral

Robert Mugabe’s body was repatriated from Singapore to Zimbabwe on Wednesday as his family said they were still unsure where he would be buried. Thousands of people gathered to watch as the plane carrying dictator’s remains landed at Harare’s international airport, which bears his name, early in the afternoon.

The coffin was accompanied by Grace Mugabe, the president’s widow, who had been living in Singapore with her husband since April. 

Zimbabwe's former first lady Grace Mugabe arrives at the Robert Mugabe International Airport in Harare with the body of her late husbandCredit:

Mugabe’s body will lie in state in Harare and at his home village in Zvimba before a funeral ceremony attended by international dignitaries at the capital’s main sports stadium planned for Saturday. 

But an acrimonious row over his final resting place is yet to be resolved, fuelling rumours in the Zimbabwean capital that the ceremony may be postponed. 

"I don’t yet know whether he will be buried at home, at the village or what," Leo Mugabe, the former president’s eldest nephew, told the Telegraph on Wednesday. "I am the family spokesman and I hope to soon find out… so far it is all going OK, as far as we know.”

Members of the military stand at the ready as the plane carrying the body of former President Robert Mugabe arrivesCredit:

The Zimbabwean government wants Mugabe to be laid to rest at Heroes Acre, a cemetery set aside for national dignitaries in west Harare where a plot for the late president is already marked out alongside the grave of his first wife, Sally.  

But some members of Mugabe’s family say the former president turned against the idea of being buried at Heroes Acre after he was deposed in a coup in 2017, and asked instead to be buried alongside his mother in Zwimba, his home village 50 miles from Harare. 

Mr Mnangagwa, a former lieutenant of Mugabe who ousted him in a coup in 2017, held inconclusive talks with tribal chiefs to diffuse the deadlock on Tuesday. 

Leo Mugabe told the Telegraph that even he did not yet know what had been said at the meeting. 

A source close to the Zimbabwean government told the Telegraph that  arrangements for a Heroes Acre burial had already been put in place and that it was unthinkable that the founder of the ruling Zanu-PF party be buried anywhere else.

Mugabe's body will be taken around the country before it is buriedCredit:
REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

"He doesn’t belong to the family. He belongs to the party," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

With dozens of African leaders expected to descend on Harare to bid farewell to one of the continent’s last liberation heroes, a burial anywhere other than Heroes Acre would be seen as an embarrassment to the government. 

The wrangling over the body is widely seen as an extension of the bitter factional feud between Mrs Mugabe and Mr Mnangagwa that led to president Mugabe’s downfall. 

Jonathan Moyo, a former minister and ally of Mrs Mugabe who has been in exile since Mr Mnangagwa overthrew Mugabe in 2017, on Tuesday claimed that the president had attempted to bribe chiefs with $10,000 cash bundles and promises of cars. He offered no evidence to back up the claim. 

Mourners wait for the arrival of Mugabe's body, but any grief has been muted across ZimbabweCredit:
REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Meanwhile, the source close to the government claimed Mr Moyo and three other allies of Mrs Mugabe who had fled the country in the wake of Mr Mnangagwa’s coup had tried to demand immunity from charges of embezzlement n exchange for releasing the body."

Violet Gonda, a Zimbabwean journalist who has lived in exile in Britain for several years after facing threats from the regime, said it would be fitting if  Mugabe were laid to rest in the official cemetery against his will.

"He was the architect of Heroes Acre. It’s only fitting that he should join his fellow comrades at what many now describe as a ZANU graveyard," she said. "It was good enough for those he got to be buried there why shouldn’t it be good enough for him to be buried there.”

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