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Robert Mugabe's body arrives in Zimbabwe amid burial site row


The body of Zimbabwe’s former leader Robert Mugabe has arrived at the country’s main airport, but his final resting place remains a source of mystery amid a dispute between some family members and the government.

Mugabe, who ruled the southern African nation for 37 years until he was ousted by his own army in November 2017, died in a Singapore hospital five days ago.

The fight over where he will be buried is threatening to embarrass his successor as president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, and deepen divisions in the ruling Zanu-PF party.

His body arrived at Harare’s Robert Gabriel Mugabe international airport shortly after 3.30pm local time (2.30pm BST). Crowds had gathered at the airport well before the scheduled arrival time, with some people wearing T-shirts bearing Mugabe’s face and others with Mnangagwa’s image, while music blared from loudspeakers.

A convoy of 4x4 vehicles with number plates bearing the letters “RG Mugabe” and the former leader’s signature was also on the runway.

Mugabe’s wife, Grace, and the Zimbabwean vice-president Kembo Mohadi were among those accompanying the body on the plane, according to Leo Mugabe, a nephew, and family spokesman. Mnangagwa, senior officials, and other Mugabe family members were at the airport to receive the body.

Leo Mugabe declined to say where his uncle would be buried, saying only that on arrival his body would be taken to his palatial home in the capital, known as Blue Roof.

On Thursday, Zimbabweans would pay their respects to Mugabe at a Harare football stadium, where the body would lie in state before being taken to his rural home in Kutama, 50 miles (85km) from the capital, the family spokesman added.

Mnangagwa and his party want Mugabe buried at a national monument dedicated to heroes of the liberation war against the white minority Rhodesian regime. But some of Mugabe’s relatives have pushed back against the 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.

A government minister said on Tuesday the burial was still planned for Sunday, after a state funeral on Saturday. But the minister said Mugabe’s burial site would only be known once the body had arrived and government officials had consulted with the family.

Mugabe left behind an economy wrecked by hyperinflation and deeply entrenched corruption and a raging political rivalry between Zanu-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The MDC said in a statement on Wednesday that it had postponed its 20th-anniversary rally because of Mugabe’s funeral.

It said: “Notwithstanding our legendary differences with Mugabe, we have no reason to exhibit barbarity by hosting a national festivity during his funeral.”