The body of Zimbabwean liberation hero turned dictator Robert Mugabe arrived back in his homeland Wednesday, almost a week after he died aged 95 at a hospital in Singapore.
Encased in a wooden coffin and draped with a Zimbabwe flag, his remains were wheeled down a red carpet escorted by some of the country’s top generals and left to rest at the centre of a floral display.
The ceremony was watched by Mugabe’s wife Grace, who he was thought to be lining up as his successor until he was deposed in a 2017 coup, who stood next to Emmerson Mnangagwa, the man who deposed him.
Grace had been living with Mugabe in Singapore while he received medical treatment and agreed to fly back to Zimbabwe for the funeral only after Mnangagwa gave assurances she would not be arrested for corruption.
However, the two are still thought to be locked in a bitter dispute over the final resting place of the former President, which has yet to be decided. A state funeral is due to take place Saturday, before burial Sunday.
Robert Mugabe’s body landed in Harare on Wednesday after being flown back to his homeland from Singapore, where he died in hospital last week at the age of 95
The procession was watched by Mugabe’s wife Grace, who he was thought to be lining up as his successor until he was deposed in a 2017 coup (pictured right under a shroud), and Emmerson Mnangagwa, the man who deposed him (left)
Mugabe’s remains, encased in a coffin which was draped in the Zimbabwean flag, was wheeled down a red carpet while being escorted by some of the country’s top generals in front of around two thousands supporters
The body will be displayed at Harare airport until nightfall Wednesday when it will be taken to his private Harare residence, known as the Blue Roof, for the night
Grace is thought to favour burying him at his private homestead – bitter at how he was treated in later life – while Mnangagwa is thought to favour a shrine to former liberation heroes in the capital.
‘Gucci Grace’ – a derogatory nickname she earned thanks to her lavish spending habits – was concealed under a heavy black veil and flanked by her family as her husband’s body arrived at the airport.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, former Cuban leader Raul Castro and a dozen African presidents, including South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, are among those expected to attend the funeral.
Ahead of the ceremony, Mugabe’s body will go on public display at several locations around the country. His coffin was first displayed at the airport in front of 2,000 well-wishers who waited to see it arrive.
The body will then be taken to Mugabe’s private Harare residence, known as the Blue Roof, for the night. It will be laid out for the public to pay their respects in Rufaro stadium Thursday, before heading to his homestead Zvimba.
His remains will stay there until the funeral.
Mugabe died on a medical trip to Singapore, where he had been receiving treatment for cancer, among other ailments.
A delegation including Vice President Kembo Mohadi headed to the affluent city-state on a chartered flight to bring him home.
At home, Zimbabweans have been divided over how to mourn a man once hailed for ridding the former British colony Rhodesia of white-minority rule but who later purged his foes in a campaign of massacres and executions known as the Gukurahundi.
His increasingly tyrannical leadership and economic mismanagement prompted millions to flee a country crippled by hyper-inflation and shortages of food, drugs and fuel.
Following his death, Mnangagwa announced Mugabe had been declared a ‘national hero’, flags flew at half mast across Harare and news of his passing was splashed across newspaper front pages.
Grace was Mugabe’s second wife and they married in 1996, having two sons and a daughter. He married his first wife Sally Mugabe in 1961 but she died in 1992.
Mugabe’s sons Robert Jr and Chatunga gained a reputation for their playboy lifestyle, and were evicted from a flat in South Africa in 2017 after it was damaged in a party.
That same year, Chatunga was pictured on social media appearing to pour a £200 bottle of champagne over a watch which he claimed was worth £45,000.
Robert Jr had dreams of a basketball career but US sanctions meant he could not play in America, and he launched a clothing label in December 2017 called xGx.
Mugabe met Grace in the early 1990s when she was one of his shy young typists, but she became an ambitious politician who also wanted to become president.
The reports of her lavish spending and explosive temper earned her the title ‘Dis-Grace’ – and eyebrows were raised in 2014 when she gained a PhD in three months.
Her spending was an uncomfortable contrast with an economic crisis which left most of the 16 million population mired in poverty and unemployment.
The Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, whose anti-corruption agents have targeted several of Mugabe’s former aides, is believed to be keen on establishing what Mugabe’s widow syphoned off during her husband’s three decades of power.
But a source said: ‘She has been given a guarantee that she won’t be stitched up.
‘Her husband has been declared a national hero and it would not be appropriate to interfere at this time when she has suffered such a loss.’
‘He turned into a child at the end’: Robert Mugabe lost the power of speech before he died aged 95 in Singapore as Zimbabweans blast him for bringing their country to its knees
Robert Mugabe ‘turned into a child’ in his final months and lost the power of speech as his health declined, it has emerged, as Zimbabweans voiced decades’ worth of fury at their former dictator after he died at the age of 95 today.
Mugabe, who died in Singapore this morning, caused outrage even in death as furious Zimbabweans said he had gone abroad for treatment because medical care was lacking in his own country after his 37 brutal years in power.
The former President had been admitted to hospital in early April, apparently unable to walk and was pictured looking extremely frail alongside his son in what appear to be the last pictures of him.
These photographs of the Robert Mugabe, taken in Singapore, show him looking frail and weak alongside his favourite son Robert Junior and may be the last ever taken of him
Robert Junior (left) spent much of his time with his the former president (right) in his final months, thought to be documenting his memoirs
Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe for 40 years, during which time there was widespread bloodshed, persecution of political opponents and vote-rigging on a large scale
A source close to the family said he had ‘almost turned into a child at the end’, and before he lost the power of speech he said he wanted to be buried next to his mother rather than given a ‘hero’s burial’ in Harare.
A grave is waiting for him at the North Korean-built National Heroes Acre monument on the outskirts of the capital, but Mugabe will apparently leave it empty.
His first wife Sally is already buried there and there is another vacant plot for his much-despised second wife Grace, who had hoped to succeed him as President and was reportedly by his side when he died.
Mugabe’s successor Emmerson Mnangagwa confirmed the former President’s death this morning, hailing him as an ‘icon of liberation and saying his ‘contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten’.
But Mugabe, who was toppled from power in 2017, will be little mourned by many of his countrymen who are now free to voice their anger without fear of repression.
‘The fact that he died in a hospital in Singapore speaks volumes about the healthcare that our people have to endure because he destroyed every bit of it,’ one said.
‘So Mugabe died in Singapore? He never saw the need of building a good hospital all the time he was in power?,’ asked another.
Others described a feeling of ’emptiness’ in Harare today where Mugabe’s resignation in 2017 had been met with jubilation.
Diplomatic sources said Mugabe died at 10.40am local time on Friday.
He came to power in 1980 as the founding leader of Zimbabwe, initially hailed as a liberator after the country became fully independent from British rule.
But his own reign was marked by murder, bloodshed, torture, persecution of political opponents, intimidation and vote-rigging on a grand scale and there was jubilation in the streets of Zimbabwe when he was toppled in 2017.
Under Mugabe’s leadership, which made him a pariah in the West, the economy of a mineral-rich country descended into chaos with thousands of people reduced to grinding poverty after land reforms which boosted Mugabe’s personal wealth.
‘It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing on of Zimbabwe’s founding father and former President… Robert Mugabe,’ Emmerson Mnangagwa said today.
‘Mugabe was an icon of liberation, a pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people. His contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten.’
Mnangagwa was later seen at an airport named after Mugabe in Harare.
Mugabe with then-South African President Nelson Mandela in 1998
Diana, Princess of Wales talks to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe when she visited Harare in 1993
Mugabe with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip before a state banquet at Buckingham Palace in May 1994
Zimbabwean officials were spotted at a rear exit to the Gleneagles Hospital hospital with undertakers from Singapore Casket, one of the country’s leading funeral directors.
Mugabe’s remains appeared to be destined for an undertakers’ parlour in Lavender Street, where a Mercedes Benz with diplomatic number plates was parked.
Singapore’s Foreign Ministry says it is working with the Embassy of Zimbabwe to fly Mugabe’s body home to Zimbabwe for burial.
In what appear to have been the last photos of Mugabe, the former dictator was seen looking frail and weak alongside his favourite son in June.
Robert Jr, who spent much of his time with his father in his final months, shared photos of Mugabe looking slumped and shrivelled in a tracksuit, baseball cap and white beard.
Mugabe’s visible ailments were often shrouded in mystery. Officials often said he was being treated for a cataract, denying frequent private media reports that he had prostate cancer.
The British government issued a damning statement today, saying: ‘Under his rule the people of Zimbabwe suffered greatly as he impoverished their country and sanctioned the use of violence against them.
‘His resignation in 2017 marked a turning point and we hope that today marks another which allows Zimbabwe to move on from the legacy of its past and become a democratic, prosperous nation that respects the human rights of its citizens.’
The U.S. embassy in Harare responded more cautiously, saying: ‘We join the world in reflecting on his legacy in securing Zimbabwe’s independence.’
However, Mugabe did not want Mnangagwa and his allies to ‘hold forth and pontificate over his dead body’, according to Zimbabwean media.
Mnangagwa had close ties to the military and the powerful independence war veterans but had been fired as Vice President by Mugabe shortly before the dictator’s downfall in 2017.
A source close to the family said that Mugabe was flown to Singapore five months ago where his health quickly deteriorated, losing the power of speech by July.
‘He had been writing a memoir ever since he was deposed with the help of a ghost writer. But I don’t think he managed to finish it,’ they said.
‘Before he lost the ability to talk, he gave us a short speech about how he wanted to be buried.’
A hospital spokesman in Singapore said: ‘We are saddened by the news of the passing of Mr Robert Mugabe, former president of Zimbabwe.
‘Our thoughts and deepest condolences go out to his family and loved ones. We are unable to share further, out of respect for the privacy of Mr Mugabe and his family.’
Despite Zimbabwe’s decline during his rule, Mugabe remained defiant, railing against the West for what he called its neo-colonialist attitude.
He enjoyed some support among peers in Africa who chose not to judge him in the same way as Britain, the United States and other Western detractors.
Today the South African government hailed him as a ‘fearless pan-Africanist liberation fighter’ and offered condolences ‘to the people of Zimbabwe’.
Kenyan leader Uhuru Kenyatta called him an ‘elder statesman, a freedom fighter and a Pan-Africanist who played a major role in shaping the interests of the African continent’.
Kenyatta also ordered flags lowered to half-staff following the death of Zimbabwe’s longtime ruler.
The Chinese government, which was a staunch Mugabe supporter and has positioned itself as a powerful ally of Africa in recent years, today called him an ‘outstanding national liberation movement leader and politician of Zimbabwe’.
Mugabe’s successor Emmerson Mnangagwa confirmed the former President’s death this morning. He is seen at an airport named after Mugabe in Harare today
Russia’s Vladimir Putin also hailed him for his ‘great personal contribution to your country’s independence’.
Even Nelson Chamisa, the leader of Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), declared that ‘a giant has fallen’.
‘Even though I and our party, the MDC, and the Zimbabwean people had great political differences with the late former President during his tenure in office, and disagreed for decades, we recognise his contribution made during his lifetime as a nation’s founding President,’ he said.
British politician Peter Hain, who grew up in South Africa and was a prominent anti-apartheid activist in the 1970s, said Mugabe was ‘a tragic case study of a liberation hero who then betrayed every one of the values of the freedom struggle’.
Mugabe ‘betrayed all the values of the freedom struggle and became corrupt, repressive, dictatorial, self-serving and ruthless in eliminating opposition and becoming increasingly interested in enriching himself and impoverishing his own people,’ Lord Hain said.
Former British diplomat George Walden, who dealt with Mugabe in the talks that led to his rise to power in 1979, called him a ‘true monster’.
‘The first thing to be said is that one mustn’t speak ill of the dead, except when they killed as many people as Mugabe did,’ he told the BBC’s Today programme.
Mugabe’s later years were partly overshadowed by the ambitions of his wife Grace, whom he married in 1996 and who aspired to be President herself.
His first wife, Sally, who had been seen by many as the only person capable of restraining him, died in 1992.
The topic of his succession was virtually taboo during Mugabe’s decades-long rule but became unavoidable as he clung to power into his 90s and his health weakened.
The military finally intervened in late 2017 to ensure that Grace’s presidential ambitions were ended in favour of their own preferred candidate. Mugabe was placed under house arrest and then resigned.
The coup sparked wild celebrations on the streets of Zimbabwe. Today people gathered in small groups as the news filtered out in Harare.
‘I will not shed a tear, not for that cruel man,’ said Tariro Makena, a street vendor. ‘All these problems, he started them and people now want us to pretend it never happened.’
However, some were more generous. ‘He was iconic, he was an African legend. His only mistake was that he overstayed in power,’ said Harare resident Onwell Samukanya.
An embittered Mugabe resurfaced last year to say he was backing the opposition candidate at the 2018 election, refusing to support Mnangagwa and his own former ZANU-PF party.
Mnangagwa won the election but the military spilled into the Harare streets, shooting six people dead, while an opposition court challenge to the election results was defeated.
Mugabe was born in Southern Rhodesia, as the British colony was then known, in 1924 and his rise to prominence began when he joined a resistance movement against British rule in the 1960s.
Gleneagles Hospital, where Zimbabwe’s former President Robert Mugabe died, is seen today
Mugabe (left) with his eventual successor Emmerson Mnangagwa (right) in younger days
Mugabe’s later years were partly overshadowed by the ambitions of his wife Grace, whom he married in 1996 (pictured) and who aspired to be President herself
He was jailed for his nationalist activities in 1964 and spent the next 10 years in jails and prison camps.
When his infant son died of malaria in Ghana in 1966, Mugabe was denied parole to attend the funeral, a decision by the government of white-minority leader Ian Smith that some experts say played a part in explaining Mugabe’s subsequent bitterness.
After his release, he rose to the top of the powerful Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army, known as the ‘thinking man’s guerrilla’ on account of his seven degrees.
He became prime minister in 1980 of the new Republic of Zimbabwe and assumed the role of president seven years later.
During the 1980s Mugabe unleashed the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade on a rival nationalist group in a campaign known as Gukurahundi – ‘the rain which washes away the chaff’ – which killed some 20,000 people. His successor Mnangagwa was Minister for State Security at the time.
In 2000 he led a campaign to evict white farmers from their land, which was given to black Zimbabweans, and led to famine.
Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth in 2002 over accusations of human rights abuses and economic mismanagement and increasingly became an international outcast.
His successor Mnangagwa has since applied for Zimbabwe to rejoin the group.
When Mugabe came to power in 1980, life expectancy at birth in Zimbabwe was 59.4 years, rising to 60.8 years in 1986, according to the World Bank.
It then crashed to just 44.1 years by 2002 – a devastating indictment of his rule.
Spry in his impeccably tailored suits, Mugabe as leader maintained a schedule of events and international travel that defied his advancing age, though signs of weariness mounted toward the end.
Mugabe retained a strong grip on power, through controversial elections, until he was forced to resign in November 2017, at age 93.