Soldiers carry a coffin with the body of former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe before his burial in Zvimba, Zimbabwe, Sept. 28, 2019. (C. Mavhunga/VOA)
Soldiers carry a coffin with the body of former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe before his burial in Zvimba, Zimbabwe, Sept. 28, 2019. (C. Mavhunga/VOA)

ZVIMBA, ZIMBABWE — Zimbabwe’s former president, Robert Mugabe, was buried Saturday in a low-key ceremony in his rural village. The site was chosen after the 95-year-old former leader's family refused to have him buried at the national shrine in Harare because he had been “ridiculed.”

A Roman Catholic mass was held Saturday afternoon at Mugabe’s former home, about 100 kilometers northwest of Harare ahead of his burial. Only family members were allowed to witness the interment, which took place on the home’s grounds just before sunset.

Junior Shuvai Gumbochuma, the sister of Grace Mugabe, said the former leader's family was not worried about the low-key burial.

Junior Shuvai Gumbochuma, sister of Zimbabwe’s former first lady Grace Mugabe, speaks behind a photo of the late president Robert Mugabe, at his burial in Zvimba, Zimbabwe, Sept. 28, 2019. (C. Mavhunga/VOA)

“We might be surprised by the way Mugabe was a great man and then see the number of people who have gathered to bury him. I remember when he used to bury other heroes at the National Heroes Acre, buses were coming from all corners of the country, coming to bury other heroes but in our minds were expecting his burial to be more special than other heroes' burials because of who he was. Let me tell you that what we have done today, was his wish because he said it with his own mouth that he does not what to be buried to be at National Heroes Acre. So we thank God, even if his burial may look small, with a small number of people, we are happy that we honored his wishes. He said I will not be buried at the Heroes Acre. I was ridiculed,” said Gumbochuma.

She did not explain further.

Mugabe died Sept. 6 in Singapore after a long illness, which his successor, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, later said was cancer.

Initially Mugabe was expected to be buried at a national shrine in Harare, until Thursday, when his family took the body to his rural home, where he was born in 1924, grew up, learned there and taught before he started his political career.

Zimbabwe’s former first lady Grace Mugabe is seen seen at her late husband's burial in Zvimba, Zimbabwe, Sept. 28, 2019 (C. Mavhunga/VOA)

Lovemore Madhuku, a law professor and analyst commented on the Mugabe family's decision to snub the national shrine, where a mausoleum was being built for him.

“I was very surprised because when idea came that he will be separated from the rest of the heroes and be given a special place, I thought that was the most befitting way of burying President Robert Mugabe. When the decision was then made, I think we were really surprised. You cannot runway from the fact that it is related to the coup in November 2017. Certainly, the way it started, 1980 as Prime Minister then 1987 then as the president going all the way, you would have not expected President Mugabe to leave office at the instance of his own colleagues. So l think that whereas most of us had forgiven that process and that we were moving forward, one would have to understand that he might have not been able to move away from that very point,” Madhuku said.

After his nearly 40 years in power, Mugabe was ousted by the army in 2017 and replaced by his ally of over 50 years, President Mnangagwa.

On Saturday, ruling Zanu PF spokesman Simon Khaya Moyo said the Mugabe family's decision to bury Zimbabwe’s former leader at his rural village was “most unfortunate,” adding that, “With the construction of the mausoleum progressing within the defined timeframe, all patriotic Zimbabweans were shocked to learn that the remains of the former president had been surreptitiously taken yesterday to Zvimba for a private burial…. We indeed respect wishes of  families of deceased heroes, hence get saddened when maneuvers that border on political gimmicks begin to unfold on an issue concerning an illustrious liberation icon.”

One can say even in death Mugabe’s controversy lingers on.

During his time in office he was accused of unleashing death squads to squash the opposition, election rigging, human rights abuses and mismanaging the economy of Zimbabwe, the country he had led to liberation from colonialism against Great Britain.