A controversy over when and where former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe would be buried and a stampede that injured several people trying to view his body mar mourning for the deceased leader.

Mourners react after viewing Robert Mugabe's body as it lies in state at the Rufaro Stadium, in Mbare, Harare, Zimbabwe, September 12, 2019.
Mourners react after viewing Robert Mugabe's body as it lies in state at the Rufaro Stadium, in Mbare, Harare, Zimbabwe, September 12, 2019. (Reuters)

Zimbabwe ex-president Robert Mugabe's family and the government squabbled over his burial on Thursday, with the place of the ceremony — and even its date — unclear after relatives snubbed a plan for him to be entombed at a national monument.

"His body will lie in state at Kutama on Sunday night ... followed by a private burial — either Monday or Tuesday — no National Heroes Acre. That's the decision of the whole family," his nephew Leo Mugabe told AFP news agency.

Mugabe died in Singapore last week aged 95, leaving Zimbabweans torn over the legacy of a leader once lauded as a colonial-era liberation hero, but whose autocratic 37-year rule ended in a coup in 2017.

Tensions erupted after President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government proposed a burial for the former guerrilla fighter at the National Heroes Acre in Harare, while the family said he would be buried at a private ceremony, possibly in his homestead of Kutama, northwest of the capital.

In a statement, the family accused Mnangagwa's government of trying to strongarm them into a public funeral against Mugabe's final wishes.

In this file photo taken on November 24, 2017, Zimbabwe's new President Emmerson Mnangagwa reviews the honour guard for the first time as president after being sworn-in during a ceremony at the National Sports Stadium in Harare.
In this file photo taken on November 24, 2017, Zimbabwe's new President Emmerson Mnangagwa reviews the honour guard for the first time as president after being sworn-in during a ceremony at the National Sports Stadium in Harare. (Jekesai NJIKIZANA / AFP)

Some family members are still bitter over Mugabe's ouster and the role played by Mnangagwa, a long-time ally from their days as guerilla fighters who eventually turned against him.

Mugabe fired Mnangagwa as first vice president in 2017 — a decision many perceived as an attempt to position his wife Grace to succeed him after nearly four decades of iron-fisted rule.

Soon after, Mugabe was toppled by protesters and the army in what was seen as part of a power struggle within the ruling ZANU-PF party between pro-Mnangagwa factions and Mugabe loyalists siding with his wife Grace.

Mnangagwa, who praised Mugabe as a national hero, sought to downplay any dispute on Thursday, saying he was still in talks with the deceased leader's wife.

"We said we will bury him on Sunday, but how, it will be decided," Mnangagwa said, addressing mourners at Mugabe's Blue Roof residence. "The family will have the final say."

Leo Mugabe said later there was no feud, claiming only that the funeral would be private for family members only. But he said there was no plan for burial on Sunday and that the date was still not set.

"The obvious situation we are having here is there's only one Robert Mugabe," he told reporters. "They [family] don't want you to know where he is going to be buried."

Chinese President Xi Jinping, Cuban former leader Raul Castro and a dozen African presidents, including South Africa's Cyril Ramaphosa, are among those expected to attend Mugabe's state funeral on Saturday in Harare.

FILE PHOTO: Zimbabwe's ex-president Robert Mugabe looks on during a rally marking Zimbabwe's 32nd independence anniversary celebrations in Harare, Zimbabwe, April 18, 2012.
FILE PHOTO: Zimbabwe's ex-president Robert Mugabe looks on during a rally marking Zimbabwe's 32nd independence anniversary celebrations in Harare, Zimbabwe, April 18, 2012. (Reuters)

Mourning marred by stampede

Several thousand people gathered in 35,000-seat Rufaro Stadium in Harare on Thursday to file past Mugabe's open casket under a white tent in the centre of the sports field, led by Grace wearing a black veil.

A brief stampede broke out and several people were slightly injured as supporters rushed to see the casket where the former leader lay in a blue suit, white shirt and blue tie, an AFP correspondent said.

"The government should let him be buried at his rural home if that it is what he wanted," said taxi driver Desire Benhure, 28. "Otherwise he will become a ghost."

The former leader had been travelling to Singapore regularly for medical treatment, but his health deteriorated rapidly after his ouster, which allies say left him a "broken soul."

Mugabe's body arrived from Singapore on Wednesday at Harare airport, where Mnangagwa and Grace stood together as the former leader was given an honour guard.

People remove, from the wall at the International Conference centre, where parliament had their sitting, the portrait of former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe after his resignation on November 21, 2017 in Harare.
People remove, from the wall at the International Conference centre, where parliament had their sitting, the portrait of former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe after his resignation on November 21, 2017 in Harare. (AFP)
Source: AFP