HARARE (AFP) – Close relatives and government officials flew out of Zimbabwe on Monday (Sept 9) to collect the body of former president Robert Mugabe from Singapore where he died last week, his nephew said.
Mr Mugabe, a guerrilla leader who swept to power after Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain and went on to rule for 37 years until he was ousted in 2017, died last Friday, aged 95.
A charter flight left Harare at 9am local time (3pm Singapore time) on Monday and was expected to return home on Wednesday at 9pm Singapore time, Mr Leo Mugabe told AFP.
On arrival, the body will be taken straight to his rural village in Zvimba, about 90km west of the capital Harare, for an overnight wake.
On Thursday and Friday the body will lie in state at Rufaro Stadium in Mbare township in Harare for the public to pay their final respects, he said.
The 35,000-seater stadium is where Mr Mugabe took his oath of office at a colourful ceremony when colonial Rhodesian prime minister Ian Smith handed over the country to Mr Mugabe.
There, Mr Mugabe hoisted the new Zimbabwe flag and lit the independence flame on April 18, 1980 – bringing hope for a new era after a long guerrilla war.
The body will be kept at his Harare house, known as the Blue Roof, overnight on Thursday and Friday.
The official funeral will be on Saturday at the giant 60,000-seater National Sports Stadium in Harare.
“Then the (traditional) chiefs will bury him on Sunday, where I don’t know,” said Mr Leo Mugabe.
The location of the burial remains unclear, with Mr Mugabe’s family and President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government apparently at odds over whether it would be at his homestead north-west of Harare or at a shrine for liberation heroes in the capital.
His nephew said that in line with native Shona customs, traditional chiefs from Zvimba will have a final say on where the former leader will be buried.
As a national president, he did not exercise the role of a traditional ruler, but Mr Mugabe held the respected title of traditional chief of Zvimba rural district.
Mr Mugabe’s health deteriorated after he was toppled by the military in November 2017, ending his increasingly tyrannical rule.