JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – A row over Robert Mugabe’s final burial site escalated on Thursday, a day after the former president’s body was returned to Zimbabwe from Singapore where he died on September 6.
A statement released by his nephew Patrick Zhuwao released on behalf of Mugabe’s “immediate family” accused the government of what it described as an “absence of consultation on the programme for the funeral and burial” of Zimbabwe’s founding leader.
The statement also confirms that the family refused to have Mugabe’s body kept overnight at One Commando army barracks in Harare – home to one of the three brigades that took part in a military coup that ousted the former president from power in November 2017.
The family did this by enforcing one of Mugabe’s final wishes, Zhuwao said, which was that “his wife, Amai Grace Mugabe, must never leave the casket bearing his remains for the duration of the funeral proceedings whilst in Zimbabwe up until his mortal remains have been interred.”
In a deeply superstitious country, the collapse of a pole marquee being put up at Mugabe’s residence in Borrowdale, known as Blue Roof, as his body was being taken to One Commando for a brief church service was taken as a sign of his unhappiness.
It is customary for people declared “national heroes” to spend at least a night at One Commando. Former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who died in February last year, lay in state for a night at the military barracks and it was later claimed by his supporters that some rituals were performed on his body overnight.
Some members of Mugabe’s family, believed to include his children Bona and Robert Junior and nephews Leo Mugabe, Patrick Zhuwao and Walter Chidakwa, are said to be opposed to a National Heroes Acre burial for Mugabe, insisting that his expressed wishes before he died were to be laid to rest next to his mother in Kutama, a village where he grew up 85km northwest of Harare.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who toppled Mugabe with the help of the military after he was fired as vice president, said on Wednesday that Mugabe would be buried on Sunday – but did not say where burial would take place. The home affairs ministry would draw up the funeral programme in consultation with Mugabe’s family, he said.
Mnangagwa and his Zanu PF party denounced Mugabe last year when he vowed to vote for opposition leader Nelson Chamisa in elections held in July. Defence minister Oppah Muchinguri described Mugabe as a “traitor”, her deputy Victor Matemadanda and Zanu PF women’s league boss Mabel Chinomona separately labelled Mugabe a “sell-out” while Mnangagwa said he was running against Mugabe “under the guise of Chamisa” in the elections.
The Zimbabwe Independent newspaper reported last month that Mugabe, who had cut a bitter figure since the coup, preferred not to be buried at Heroes Acre because he did not want Mnangagwa to “pontificate over his dead body”.
“We note with extreme concern the manner with which the government of Zimbabwe has developed the programme for the funeral of the late Robert Gabriel Mugabe without consulting his immediate family who were tasked with communicating his last wishes in regard to his funeral and burial,” Zhuwao said in the statement.
“As his immediate family, we have also observed with shock that the government of Zimbabwe is attempting to coerce us to accept a programme for the funeral and burial of the late Robert Gabriel Mugabe which is contrary to his wishes on how he wished to have his mortal remains interred.
“As the immediate family of the late Robert Gabriel Mugabe, we are ready and willing to work with the government of Zimbabwe to develop a programme for the funeral… which is in conformity to his wishes on how his mortal remains will be interred.”
The “immediate family” said it had appointed Chidakwa, a former mines minister in Mugabe’s government, as their liaison person “to communicate our position with relevant authorities to ensure that we develop a programme that conforms to the wishes of the late Robert Gabriel Mugabe.”
Asked by ZimLive if Leo Mugabe was no longer the family spokesman, Zhuwao said: “Leo speaks for the (traditional) chiefs and the whole extended family.”
Mugabe’s body was expected to go on display at Rufaro Stadium on Thursday and again on Friday before a funeral service to be attended by international dignitaries at the National Sports Stadium on Saturday.
The Zimbabwe government, in a note to foreign missions last week, said foreign leaders would be expected to “immediately leave” after the service.
Ibbo Mandaza, a political analyst who is writing a biography of Mugabe, said Mnangagwa was trying to avoid the possibility of a situation where heads of state and opposition rival Nelson Chamisa would attend a burial service in Mugabe’s home district to which he was not invited.
“That is the dilemma Mnangagwa faces, he can’t be sleeping well,” Mandaza said.
Source: Zim Live