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UPDATE 1-Zimbabwe government wants to bury Mugabe next Sunday

MacDonald Dzirutwe

* Zimbabwe's founder died on Friday

* Mugabe's body still in Singapore

* Government wants burial at national monument

* Family says it has finalized own plan (Updates with presidential aide comments)

HARARE, Sept 8 (Reuters) - The Zimbabwean government has made provisional plans to bury longtime ruler Robert Mugabe at a national monument in the capital next Sunday, a presidential aide was quoted as saying, despite Mugabe reportedly not wanting to be buried there.

Mugabe, who died aged 95 in a Singapore hospital on Friday after a long illness, dominated Zimbabwean politics for almost four decades from independence in 1980 until he was removed by his own army in November 2017.

Revered by many as a liberator who freed his people from white minority rule, he was vilified by others for wrecking one of Africa's most promising economies and ruthlessly crushing his opponents.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who worked closely with Mugabe for decades before helping to oust him, granted Mugabe the status of national hero on Friday but did not give details about when or where the burial would happen.

Mnangagwa's spokesman George Charamba said in comments to The Sunday Mail newspaper that current plans were for Mugabe to be buried at the National Heroes Acre monument in Harare next Sunday but that those arrangements were subject to change.

"It is the timeline that we are working with," Charamba said, denying there was a difference of opinion between government and Mugabe's family over the burial.

Local newspaper the Zimbabwe Independent reported last month that Mugabe didn't want to be buried at National Heroes Acre - a site reserved for the country's heroes - because he felt humiliated at the way he was removed from power.

The Sunday Mail said Mugabe's body was expected back from Singapore on Wednesday afternoon and that Mnangagwa, members of Mugabe's family and traditional chiefs from Mugabe's Zvimba district would receive the body at Harare's Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport.

The body would then be taken to Zvimba before being moved to the National Sports Stadium, the newspaper added.

Leo Mugabe, Mugabe's nephew, told Reuters that Mugabe's family and traditional chiefs had finalized their preferred program for Mugabe's burial but that it was yet to be approved by the government.

He said he would give details later on Sunday.


At the packed Sacred Heart Cathedral in downtown Harare where Mugabe used to attend Catholic Mass with his first wife Sally and second wife Grace, people prayed on Sunday for their departed former leader.

"We are praying for our relatives who have died. Without forgetting to pray for our former president, Comrade Robert Mugabe, we bring him forward to God, we are asking God if there is anything that he did wrong in his life that he be forgiven," the priest told the congregation, speaking in the local Shona language.

Chris Sambo, a former soccer administrator who used to arrange matches for Mugabe in his home village of Kutama, said the southern African country's Catholic community had lost one of its most important members.

Tsitsi Samukange, another churchgoer, said Mugabe was a devout man who fought for his country.

"I think everyone can admit that without the work he did we would not be as independent as we are," she said. "You know when you fight, in a fight sometimes you lose your teeth, (right)? And we became poorer. But that's a fight and he did it, and we should give him that."

Many Harare residents said at the weekend that they were saddened by Mugabe's death and that it marked the end of an era.

But his ousting in 2017 was accompanied by celebrations across the country of 13 million, and critics at home and abroad viewed him as a power-obsessed autocrat who unleashed death squads, rigged elections and ruined the economy to keep control. (Additional reporting by Gift Sukhala Writing by Alexander Winning Editing by Ros Russell)