Several injured in stampede as thousands gather to mourn Robert Mugabe

Several people were injured in a stampede when thousands of Zimbabweans tried to view the body of Robert Mugabe as the country mourned its founding father.

The former leader will lie in state at the Rufaro Stadium in Harare until he is buried at the weekend. It was confirmed on Thursday that Mr Mugabe will not be given a state funeral. Instead the burial will be a private, family affair, while a ceremony will be held at the National Sports Stadium on Saturday.

At least five people were carried away on stretchers after a crowd, insisting on seeing Mr Mugabe’s face in the partially opened coffin, surged past a police cordon, causing a crush.

The severity of their injuries was not immediately clear.

Others limped away or were treated by Red Cross medics on the field.

A policeman attempts to take control as mourners stampede after the arrival of the coffin carrying former president Robert Mugabe at the Rufaro Stadium in Harare Credit: Themba Hadebe/AP

Riot police later restored order, at times using batons to strike those pushing to get into the line.

“I want to see my father,” said Margaret Marisa, 63, one of those who pushed their way into the line.

“I was a collaborator who supported him in the war against Rhodesia. I have supported him ever since.”

Mr Mugabe’s wife, Grace, sat on a podium to the side of the sports field where his coffin was under a tent at the centre.

The event was marked by singing and drumming of traditional songs of bereavement.

The coffin was open to allow a view of Mr Mugabe’s face.

Nelson Chamisa, left, leader of the main opposition party in Zimbabwe, consoles Grace, widow of former Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe Credit: Tsvangirai Mukwazhi/AP

Mr Mugabe will be remembered as both an oppressor and liberator, a man who freed a nation.

Even the most raucous youths who were in the crush were subdued after walking single file past the coffin.

“This man was a legend. He played a pivotal role in our lives,” said John Chiwashira, 36, a member of the National Youth Service. “I saw his face. He was asleep.”

A military helicopter later landed on the field and carried away the coffin with Mr Mugabe’s widow, wearing a black veil, at its side. The coffin was returned to Mr Mugabe’s Blue Roof house in the capital.

A dispute between Mr Mugabe’s family and the government has overshadowed arrangements for Zimbabweans to pay their respects to the late leader.

He will not be given a state burial on Sunday at the national Heroes’ Acre site, family spokesman Leo Mugabe announced Thursday.

People queue at the Rufaro Stadium Credit: Themba Hadebe/AP

“There have just been discussions between President Mnangagwa and Mai (Mrs) Mugabe and it would look like nothing has changed,” said the ex-president’s nephew.

“The family said they are going to have a private burial. We don’t want the public to come. They don’t want you to know where he is going to be buried. We are not witnessing burial on Sunday, no date has been set for the burial.”

The announcement came after President Emmerson Mnangagwa met Grace Mugabe and other family members to try to resolve the burial dispute.

Instead of an interment on Sunday, Mr Mugabe’s body will be on view to the public at a place near his birthplace in Zvimba district, said Leo Mugabe, who added that the family had not decided if he would be buried in Zvimba.

The coffin of Robert Mugabe at his residence in Harare Credit: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

Speaking at the Mugabe house, Mr Mnangagwa said his government would respect the family’s wishes over the burial, saying they have “the full support of the government. Nothing will change”.

Mr Mugabe was deposed in November 2017 by Zimbabwe’s military and his former ally Mr Mnangagwa.

Grace and other family members still resent his ousting, apparently resulting in their refusal to go along with state burial plans.

Shortly after Mr Mugabe’s death, Leo Mugabe said the former strongman died “a very bitter man” because he felt betrayed by Mr Mnangagwa and the army generals who were his allies for close to four decades before they put him under house arrest and forced him to resign.

Mourners await the arrival of the coffin at the Rufaro Stadium Credit: Themba Hadebe/AP)

It has long been taken for granted that Mr Mugabe would be buried at Heroes’ Acre monument, a burial place reserved for top officials of Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party who contributed to ending white colonial rule.

He had overseen the construction by North Korea of the monument atop a prominent hill and featuring a grandiose towering sculpture of guerrilla fighters.

He gave many speeches at the site and his first wife, Sally, is buried there next to a gravesite long reserved for the ex-leader.

On Saturday a ceremony will be held at the National Sports Stadium, which several African heads of state and other prominent officials are expected to attend.