Robert Mugabe family backs down over burial after 'threat to Grace'

John Sparks, Africa correspondent

You can see it from the suburbs of Harare, stamped onto a sizable chunk of hillside.

It is a burial ground fit for a king - or a long-time dictator like Robert Mugabe - and it was the former Zimbabwean president who paid the North Koreans to construct it back in 1981.

It is called Heroes' Acre, Zimbabwe's cemetery for its most extraordinary citizens, and it will not come as any surprise when I tell you that a special plot was reserved for the man who commissioned it.

The problem is, Mr Mugabe changed his mind about Heroes' Acre when the current president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, deposed him in 2017.

He was bitter and angry and he did not want Mr Mnangagwa to benefit from his death so he told his family to bury him in the village of his birth.

Yet Dr Phedzisai Ruhanya, an academic and analyst, told us that Heroes' Acre is the perfect place to put him.

"He was upset about being deposed but he cannot refuse being buried here.

"He constructed this thing at [huge] expense... so Mugabe must sleep in his grave.

"In fact they must put him on the top [of the hill] so he can preside over his criminal friends who are buried in this place."

Mr Mnangagwa planned to bury Mr Mugabe at Heroes' Acre on Sunday but members of his family intervened, objecting to the government's plans.

However, Mr Mnangagwa got his way, reportedly by threatening to kick Mr Mugabe's second wife Grace out of her palatial home, known in Harare as the Blue Roof.

Thus, in a month or so, the former president will be sealed in a mausoleum near the crest of the hill with the current president expected to play a prominent role.

Dr Ruhanya says Mr Mugabe will be in good company for he will be surrounded by plenty of others who did not want to be interred on the site.

"Just look at Edgar Tekere," says the academic.

Mr Tekere rose to the top of the ruling ZANU-PF party serving as the secretary-general in the early 1980s but his progress was dashed when he fell out with Mr Mugabe.

"Before he died, [Tekere] was very clear that he didn't want to be buried in a place where criminals and corrupt people and looters and violent groups [were buried].

"But Mugabe is on record saying that the dead do not decide where they are going to go and it is only their souls that belong to God.

"The body belongs to the state."

The government's funeral plan has been delayed but that delay is only temporary, for Mr Mugabe created a system that cannot be denied - and that system has decided that he will be buried at Heroes' Acre.

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