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 today.
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.”
At least five people were carried away on stretchers and the severity of their injuries was not immediately clear.
Others limped away or were treated by Red Cross medics on the field.
Tumulto durante funeral de Robert Mugabe no Zimbábue deixa feridos https://t.co/O0dIFmHt23— G1 - Mundo (@g1mundo) September 12, 2019
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.
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.
Even the most raucous youths who were in the crush were subdued after walking single file past the coffin.
“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.”
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 today.
The burial will be a private, family affair, he said to press outside the Blue Roof house.
“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 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.
Speaking at the Mugabe house, Mr Mnangagwa said his government would respect the family’s wishes over the burial, saying they have “the full support of the government. Nothing will change”.
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.
Thousands filling Rufaro Stadium break into song as they bid farewell to their revered icon of the liberation struggle pic.twitter.com/gJ2cmD9kBj— ZBC News Online (@ZBCNewsonline) September 12, 2019
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.
It has long been taken for granted that Mr Mugabe would be buried at Heroes’ Acre monument, a burial place reserved for top officials of Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party who contributed to ending white colonial rule.
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 today 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.”