African leaders gather to remember Mugabe

The late Robert Mugabe being laid to rest

African leaders are gathered at the funeral of Zimbabwe’s former president Robert Mugabe in the capital Harare.

Well-wishers saw his casket being paraded into the national sports stadium surrounded by a military band.

There are many empty seats in the stadium, which has a capacity of 60,000 people.

Mugabe is regarded as a liberator but many Zimbabweans said they would shun the ceremony in protest at the repression that marked his later years.

The BBC’s Africa correspondent Andrew Harding describes the stadium as three-quarters empty.

While current and former presidents from across Africa spoke, the crowd was concentrated on one side of the stadium, leaving the other side almost empty.

More than a dozen current and former leaders, including South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, are guests at the funeral.

Presidents, including Equatorial Guinea President Theodore Obiang Nguema, gave speeches at the stadium.

Mr Obiang, who came to power in 1979 and has outlasted Mr Mugabe’s 37-year rule, said he was “a leader without comparison on the African continent” and praised his controversial policy of seizing white-owned farms.

“The people of Zimbabwe will forever be grateful that he took land from the whites and gave it to his people,” he said.

Like Mr Obiang, many Zimbabweans are choosing to remember the former leader’s achievements, rather than the political violence and economic chaos that marked the last years of his long presidency, our correspondent says.

But many people in Harare were expected to avoid the ceremony as soaring inflation and unemployment grip the country.

“We are happier now that he is gone. Why should I go to his funeral? I don’t have fuel,” a Harare resident told AFP. “We don’t want to hear anything about him anymore. He is the cause of our problems.”

When and where will Mugabe be buried?

The funeral follows a row between the Mugabe family and the government over his burial.

It has now been agreed that he will be buried in the National Heroes’ Acre monument in Harare, his family says.

Family spokesman and nephew Leo Mugabe says this should be in about a month, when the new shrine to Mugabe will be built at the existing Heroes’ Acre.

Earlier plans to have a burial on Sunday appear to have been cancelled.

Mugabe, who was 95, died last week while being treated in Singapore.

Who was Robert Mugabe?

Mugabe was Zimbabwe’s first leader after the country became independent in 1980. He held on to power for almost four decades before being ousted in the 2017 coup.

During his early years, he was praised for broadening access to health and education for the black majority.

However, his later years were marked by violent repression of his political opponents and Zimbabwe’s economic ruin. An increasing number of critics labelled him a dictator.

He seized land from white owners in 2000.

Mugabe famously declared that only God could remove him from office.

In 2017 he was placed under house arrest and, four days later, replaced as the leader of his party Zanu-PF by his former vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Mugabe initially refused to resign. But, on 21 November, as a motion to impeach him was being debated in the Zimbabwean parliament, the speaker of the House of Assembly announced that he had finally left office.

Mugabe negotiated a deal which protected him and his family from the risk of future prosecution and enabled him to retain his various business interests. He was also granted a house, servants, vehicles and full diplomatic status.

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