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Robert Mugabe's Remains Arrive In Zimbabwe For Public Viewing, Thousands Attend

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Zimbabwe has begun four days of mourning for its late former leader, Robert Mugabe. His body was brought to a stadium in the capital for a public viewing, but people have mixed feelings around the city about the man they saw as a liberator-turned-tyrant. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF GENERATOR HUMMING)

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: In some ways, most of Harare wasn't focused on Robert Mugabe. This is a country with a ton of problems. Most of the time, there is no electricity, so stores and homes have to run on generators. And at this gas station, there is a two-hour line for gasoline. Tina, a realtor who would only give her first name because she fears government retribution, had to cancel all her meetings and get in line.

TINA: So it's like - it stops everything. So queuing is not - I mean, I don't even know what to call it. It's just bad.

PERALTA: At the moment, she says, everything seems upside-down in Zimbabwe. You can't find cash. Inflation is worse only in Venezuela, and she feels powerless.

TINA: I think we've just accepted the abnormal if no more less - the abnormal.

PERALTA: I ask her if she's thinking about going to see Mugabe's body, and she sighs.

TINA: It's not that I don't respect him. I do respect him so much. It is so much to remember independence, remember freedom. But in the end, (laughter) it didn't end well.

PERALTA: At the end, Mugabe had become repressive. He feasted on Zimbabwean wealth while his people struggled. But just a few miles away at Rufaro Stadium, right next to a poor, dense area in Harare, thousands show up waiting to view Robert Mugabe's body.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in foreign language).

PERALTA: They sing. They dance. They wear T-shirts with Mugabe's face on it. Samson Pili looks enchanted by the scene.

SAMSON PILI: I'm here to remember my hero.

PERALTA: Your hero?

PILI: Yes.

PERALTA: Why is he your hero?

PILI: He's my hero because he taught me the direction where from and where to go.

PERALTA: He says he remembers the days when Zimbabwe was Rhodesia, and it was ruled by the racist white minority government. Black parents struggled to send their kids to school. But when Mugabe came to power, everything changed.

PILI: From 1980 up to 1985, -6, -7, we went to school for free.

PERALTA: Pili says Mugabe leaves behind an educated people. And for that, he should be celebrated.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTER WHIRRING)

PERALTA: Mugabe's body arrives at the stadium on a military helicopter, and it is transferred to a white hearse. An honor guard removes the casket, which is draped in a Zimbabwean flag, and the crowd goes quiet.

So now the casket has been opened, and the family is walking toward it. Grace Mugabe, dressed in all black, black veil, leading the way as the family says goodbye to Robert Gabriel Mugabe, the longtime leader of Zimbabwe.

It is a somber moment until thousands rush toward the casket.

(CROSSTALK)

PERALTA: Several people are injured. Riot police are called. And like they've done so many times before in Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe, they use clubs to get the mourners in line. The family and the government are still negotiating where and when Mugabe will be buried.

Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Harare.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHNNY JEWEL'S "THE KEY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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