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Stampede mars mourning for Mugabe

World News | Published:

Several people were injured at Rufaro Stadium in the capital’s poor Mbare neighbourhood where thousands had gone to see his body.

Controversy over where and when Robert Mugabe will be buried, and a stampede which injured several people trying to view his body, marred the mourning for the Zimbabwean leader on Thursday.

A crowd insisting on seeing Mr Mugabe’s face in the partially opened coffin surged past a police cordon, causing a crush in which several were injured at Rufaro Stadium in the capital’s poor Mbare neighbourhood where thousands had gone to see his body.

“I want to see my father,” said Margaret Marisa, 63, one of those who pushed their way into the line.

“I was a collaborator who supported him in the war against Rhodesia. I have supported him ever since.”

Zimbabwe Mugabe
A policeman attempts to take control as mourners stampede after the arrival of the coffin carrying former president Robert Mugabe at the Rufaro Stadium in Harare (Themba Hadebe/AP)

Others limped away or were treated by Red Cross medics on the field.

Riot police later restored order, at times using batons to strike those pushing to get into the line.

Mr Mugabe’s wife, Grace, sat on a podium to the side of the sports field where his coffin was under a tent at the centre.

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The event was marked by singing and drumming of traditional songs of bereavement.

The coffin was open to allow a view of Mr Mugabe’s face.

Zimbabwe Mugabe
Nelson Chamisa, left, leader of the main opposition party in Zimbabwe, consoles Grace, widow of former Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe (Tsvangirai Mukwazhi/AP)

“This man was a legend. He played a pivotal role in our lives,” said John Chiwashira, 36, a member of the National Youth Service. “I saw his face. He was asleep.”

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A military helicopter later landed on the field and carried away the coffin with Mr Mugabe’s widow, wearing a black veil, at its side. The coffin was returned to Mr Mugabe’s Blue Roof house in the capital.

The dispute between Mr Mugabe’s family and the government has overshadowed arrangements for Zimbabweans to pay their respects to the late leader.

He will not be given a state burial on Sunday at the national Heroes’ Acre site, family spokesman Leo Mugabe announced Thursday.

Zimbabwe Mugabe
People queue at the Rufaro Stadium (Themba Hadebe/AP)

“There have just been discussions between President Mnangagwa and Mai (Mrs) Mugabe and it would look like nothing has changed,” said the ex-president’s nephew.

“The family said they are going to have a private burial. We don’t want the public to come. They don’t want you to know where he is going to be buried. We are not witnessing burial on Sunday, no date has been set for the burial.”

The announcement came after President Emmerson Mnangagwa met Grace Mugabe and other family members to try to resolve the burial dispute.

Instead of an interment on Sunday, Mr Mugabe’s body will be on view to the public at a place near his birthplace in Zvimba district, said Leo Mugabe, who added that the family had not decided if he would be buried in Zvimba.

Zimbabwe Mugabe
The coffin of Robert Mugabe at his residence in Harare (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP)

The ongoing uncertainty of the burial of Mr Mugabe, who died last week in Singapore at the age of 95, has eclipsed the elaborate plans for Zimbabweans to pay their respects to the former guerrilla leader at several historic sites.

The burial dispute has also highlighted the lasting acrimony between Mr Mnangagwa and Mr Mugabe’s wife and other family members.

Mr Mugabe was deposed in November 2017 by Zimbabwe’s military and his former ally Mr Mnangagwa.

Grace and other family members still resent his ousting, apparently resulting in their refusal to go along with state burial plans.

Shortly after Mr Mugabe’s death, Leo Mugabe said the former strongman died “a very bitter man” because he felt betrayed by Mr Mnangagwa and the army generals who were his allies for close to four decades before they put him under house arrest and forced him to resign.

Zimbabwe Mugabe
Mourners await the arrival of the coffin at the Rufaro Stadium (Themba Hadebe/AP))

He had overseen the construction by North Korea of the monument atop a prominent hill and featuring a grandiose towering sculpture of guerrilla fighters.

He gave many speeches at the site and his first wife, Sally, is buried there next to a gravesite long reserved for the ex-leader.

On Saturday a ceremony will be held at the National Sports Stadium, which several African heads of state and other prominent officials are expected to attend.

Earlier Thursday at Blue Roof, Zimbabwe’s opposition leader paid his respects to the man who had been his bitter political foe.

“I am here to do the African thing that is expected – to pay honour,” said Nelson Chamisa, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, the main opposition party.

“In politics we have had many differences but we are here to reflect on his contribution.

“We are here to pay condolences to the Mugabe family, all Zimbabweans and indeed the whole of Africa.

“It is only fair and necessary to see that we unite to see that he is given a decent burial and a peaceful send off. Today is a day of mourning.”

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