Mugabe's family wins tussle with government over burial site


By MacDonald Dzirutwe and Alexander Winning

HARARE, Sept 26 (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's longtime ruler Robert Mugabe will be buried in his home district, not at a national shrine, the government said on Thursday, relenting to the family's wish for a private burial three weeks after his death.

Mugabe, who ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years from independence in 1980, was a polarising figure idolised by some for his role in Zimbabwe's liberation struggle but hated by others for overseeing a disastrous economic decline and political violence.

He died in a Singapore hospital on Sept. 6 aged 95, bitter over the way he was ousted in an army coup in November 2017 and replaced by his former right-hand man, President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Mnangagwa had initially pushed for Mugabe to be buried at the National Heroes Acre monument - an occasion political analysts and ZANU-PF party sources said Mnangagwa wanted to use to display a public reconciliation with Mugabe's admirers.

But the information ministry said in a statement on Thursday that the government was cooperating with Mugabe's family, who wanted him buried in the Zvimba district to the west of the capital.

Mnangagwa, in New York attending the United Nations General Assembly meeting, is facing intense pressure over a struggling economy and a perceived crackdown on dissent that has drawn parallels with the worst excesses of the Mugabe era.

Both men have blamed Western sanctions and accused the United States and Britain of driving opposition protests.

Nick Mangwana, permanent secretary at the information ministry, said his understanding was that Mugabe's burial would take place on Saturday. Mnangagwa's spokesman George Charamba did not answer calls seeking comment.

Mugabe's nephew and family spokesman Leo had said on Sept. 13 that the plan was for Mugabe to be buried at a mausoleum at National Heroes Acre in around 30 days.

Two relatives close to Mugabe's wife Grace later told Reuters that they were unhappy with that plan.

They even went so far as to say the family was keeping vigil over Mugabe's body because the former president had expressed fears to close family members before his death that some of the people who ousted him would seek to conduct a traditional ritual with some of his body parts. Leo Mugabe declined to comment on those stated fears and said Grace was not available for an interview.

Asked for comment on the relatives' statements, ZANU-PF spokesman Simon Khaya Moyo said he had not heard anything like that and that unless the family expressed such fears publicly he could not comment.

(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe and Alexander Winning; editing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and Philippa Fletcher)

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