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Zimbabwe: The fight for Mugabe’s final resting place still rages on

By Farai Shawn Matiashe
Posted on Tuesday, 15 June 2021 09:38

The coffin of former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is seen at his burial site in Kutama, Zimbabwe
The coffin of former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is seen at his burial site in Kutama, Zimbabwe, September 28, 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

It's been over a year and the fight between the family of Zimbabwe's former president Robert Mugabe and President Emmerson Mnangagwa has reached a new level over the final burial place of the deceased leader.

Relations between the ruling party Zanu PF and former President Robert Mugabe’s family went sour after the long-time ruler was toppled through a military coup which led to Emmerson Mnangagwa ascending to power in November 2017.

In September 2019, President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his party Zanu PF respected Mugabe’s wish: that he be buried at his rural home Kutama in Zvimba, about 85 kilometres from the capital Harare.

However, after Mugabe died at a private hospital in Singapore, Mnangagwa wanted to push for the burial to take place at the National Heroes Acre in Harare. This sparked a raging dispute between the Mugabe family and the government.

More than a year after Mugabe’s burial, the battle over his final resting place rages on.

Family affair

In May this year, a traditional chief ordered that Mugabe’s body be exhumed and reburied at the National Shrine before 1 July 2021. Consequently, Mugabe’s widow Grace was fined five cows and a goat.

Chief Zvimba-born Stanley Mhondoro presided over the traditional court session where Grace is accused of breaking a local custom by burying her husband in Kutama and not at the National Shrine. Grace however did not attend the session, amidst claims that she is receiving treatment at a private hospital in Singapore.

Mugabe’s three children Bona Mugabe-Mutsahuna and her brothers Bellarmine Chatunga and Tinotenda Robert Junior have also challenged Chief Zvimba’s ruling at the magistrate court.

When Mugabe was alive, he feared that some powerful politicians would want to use his body parts for rituals.

Mugabe ignored their dying wishes

Throughout his 37 years in power, Mugabe buried many top government officials and members of his Zanu PF party at the National Shrine.

Some bigwigs such as Midlands Province governor Cephas Msipa, Vice President Joshua Nkomo and ex-minister Enos Nkala (one of the founding fathers of Zanu PF) were forcibly buried at the National Shrine against their wishes.

In line with this, there was apprehension that Mnangagwa and other Zanu PF officials might seek to perform the traditional rites. This is what motivated the family to respect Mugabe’s burial wishes.

“You know some people have an inclination for rituals. We are afraid that some people are after his body parts or even his whole body and they want to use that for rituals,” Leo Mugabe, the deceased’s nephew and a family spokesperson told News24. “We are trying to follow his last wishes which he confided to his wife before he passed on; he intimated that there were people who wanted to use his body for rituals.”

It is absolutely shameless, mischievous and malicious for anyone to try to drag the party into whatever is going on there.

Leo tells The Africa Report that the traditional chief’s order is only motivated by those who want to take advantage of the Mugabe legacy. “This is because of people who are looking for relevance. They want to use his legacy for political gain and even for financial gain,” he says.

Farai Gwenhure, a political analyst, says Mnangagwa is a ritualist. “Mnangagwa believes the failure to obtain performance legitimacy is because of unhappy ancestors and traditional spirits,” he says.

Therefore, one cannot rule out Mugabe’s fears and accusations of ritualistic intentions says Vivid Gwede, a political analyst. He says the order from the traditional chief shows an attempt by the current regime to use traditional structures to implement their plan to have Mugabe interred at the National Shrine.

“The family’s refusal to grant this wish since Mugabe’s death, continues to pique the authorities. Sections of the Zanu PF followers are still not happy that he is not there,” he tells The Africa Report.

‘Power is at play here’

The attempt to rebury Mugabe’s body at the National Shrine is nothing more but a subtle power game by Zanu PF, says Alexander Rusero, a political analyst.

“To them [Zanu PF], Mugabe’s funeral and his burial is a case of unfinished business. What is at play is the logistics of power. Zanu PF is a party that is so obsessed with the accumulation of power,” he says. “It is a party that does not take defeat in any matter: be it an argument or an election result. So, the burial of Mugabe at Kutama, to Zanu PF is a loss.”

Rusero adds that insistence by Mugabe’s family that the burial remain at the homestead, is a humiliation for Mnangagwa. “Remember we have a President who has got an excessive power ego. They [Zanu PF] want to be in charge, they do not want any remnants of Mugabe’s legacy being associated with anyone other than themselves,” he says.

However, Tafadzwa Mugwadi, a Zanu PF director of information, dismissed claims that the ruling party had a hand in the reburial order. “The party is not part of whatever that is. The party has no stake in Chief Zvimba’s local traditional court processes. Only them at [the] family level and Chief Zvimba are aware of what is going on,” he says.

“It is therefore absolutely shameless, mischievous and malicious for anyone to try to drag the party into whatever is going on there.”

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