Owen Gagare/Tinashe Kairiza
THE bitter fallout between President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the late former president Robert Mugabe which has divided their families, Zanu PF and government, as well as the public — exacerbated this week in his death as it did in life, with far-reaching political consequences.
A series of dramatic events — including Mnangagwa’s visit to Mugabe’s home yesterday and his failure to break the deadlock over where his mentor would be buried – characterised the theatrical end of an era.
“There has been so much fighting and drama over the funeral and burial issues since Mugabe’s death a week ago,” a senior government official said. “I have been talking to government officials and the Mugabe family; there is an interesting interplay of different characters and events. This is not a family feud, but a political issue. The stakes are very high. In short, it’s a combination of personal vendettas, continued hostilities over the coup and competing agendas.”
Mnangagwa yesterday visited Mugabe’s residence, the Blue Roof mansion in Borrowdale suburb Harare, in a bid to resolve the impasse, but failed to pressure the family to allow the country’s founding leader to be buried at the National Heroes Acre.
It was Mnangagwa’s first visit to the Mugabe family home since 2017. Since the November 2017 military coup which brought to an end Mugabe’s 37-year rule, while propelling Mnangagwa to power, the two comrades-turned-enemies had not had direct contact.
Mugabe and Mnangagwa had been communicating through emissaries, including Central Intelligence Organisation director-general Isaac Moyo.
However, Mugabe’s family, Grace, children and relatives, yesterday slammed the door on Mnangagwa’s face as he desperately tried to gain entry, mend fences and secure control of Mugabe’s funeral and burial arrangements.
Insiders say Mnangagwa wants to take charge for political reasons to enhance his profile and legitimacy by appropriating Mugabe’s history and legacy, as controversial as they are.
Doing so would in turn allow Mnangagwa to control the narrative of the liberation struggle which Mugabe — the political, ideological and intellectual leader of Zanu PF for 40 years — carved out and sustained as the lifeblood of the party and his rule.
When the coup happened, Mugabe and Mnangagwa completely lost contact with each other.
The fallout came to a head yesterday when the family dug in and refused to release Mugabe’s body to the state, in line with his dying wish that he should buried next to him mother Bona at rural Zvimba home in Mashonaland West province.
Mugabe also told the family that he does not want Mnangagwa and his allies to take custody of his body as it might be used for ritualistic purposes, sources said.
Before his death in Singapore, as exclusively reported by the Zimbabwe Independent lead story in the August 9 edition, Mugabe told his family that he does not want to be associated with Mnangagwa, some government officials and military chiefs, whom he viewed as “betrayers” and “tormentors”.
It has also emerged Mugabe told his family that he does not want Mnangagwa and the government to have custody of his body at any given moment and pontificate over it, insisting Grace and other family members must closely stick to it until it is interred.
Family members told the Independent Mugabe feared there was a huge risk Mnangagwa could use his body for rituals, to consolidate and maintain power, sources said. Insiders say Zanu PF leaders are incredibly superstitious.
As a result, Grace and the family have been clinging onto Mugabe’s body since its arrival on Wednesday. They clung to it from the airport to One Commando Barracks and all the way to Blue Roof.
The strategy to keep the body under lock and key was also on display yesterday when Mugabe’s youngest son Bellarmine Chatunga refused to let his mother and her sister to travel alone in a military helicopter carrying the body from the Blue Roof mansion to Rufaro Stadium in Harare after security officers tried to stop him. He bulldozed his way and security officers backed down.
The Mugabe family has also put in place private security arrangements to guard the body. When the coffin arrived in Harare on Wednesday, it was clear from the reception ceremony, body language of the Mugabe family members and close monitoring of the casket that the bereaved had no intention of giving Mnangagwa control. Although Mnangagwa gave a speech at the airport, he was clearly not in charge.
The body was later taken to One Commando Barracks for a military parade and then straight to the Blue Roof mansion.
Sources said in between the events, Mnangagwa was expected to meet Grace at State House, but the meeting did not take place as the former first lady was not interested. She also did not want to abandon Mugabe’s body at One Commando Barracks, while meeting Mnangagwa at State House.
Mnangagwa was resultantly forced yesterday to go to the Blue Roof for the first time since the coup, where he pleaded with the family to let bygones be bygones. Prior to the visit, Mnangagwa had consulted the Zanu PF politburo.
While at Blue Roof, Mnangagwa requested for a one-on-one meeting with Grace as he sought to convince her that Mugabe should be buried at the Heroes Acre. But the family rejected the idea as they feared the former first lady would be subjected to irresistible pressure alone.
The Mugabe family had earlier yesterday accused government of unilaterally coming up with a funeral programme. It also complained that officials were trying to “coerce” them into accepting their plans.
In the process, the Mugabe family hit back, making it clear the former president is not going to Heroes Acre, but to Zvimba for burial.
After some haggling, Mnangagwa and his team, which included Vice-President Kembo Mohadi and chief of protocol Munyaradzi Kajese, ended up having a meeting with Grace and former Mines minister Walter Chidhakwa, among others, sources said.
The family, however, stuck to its guns, triggering fresh demonisation from Mnangagwa allies.
“Mugabe’s children, particularly Chatunga and Bona, are determined to honour their father’s last wish to be buried in Zvimba,” a source said.
“The children are putting the family interests first, although Grace was considering Mnangagwa’s offer for political and protection reasons.”
The family — which had earlier issued a statement through Mugabe’s exiled nephew Patrick Zhuwao, slamming government for drafting Mugabe’s funeral programme without consulting them — however agreed that the body be taken to Rufaro Stadium yesterday and today for Zimbabweans to bid farewell.
Heads of state, former leaders and other foreign dignitaries will get an opportunity to bid farewell to Mugabe at the National Sports Stadium tomorrow.
Chiefs from Zvimba also held a meeting of their own before the Mugabe family met Mnangagwa. They said it was important Mugabe is buried like a traditional leader.
Chief Dununu told the Independent the meeting centred around how the burial process and the body of the former president would be handled.
The chiefs said the government had hurriedly announced a funeral programme without input from the family.
“It is important to understand that there are a number of cultural traditions which must be observed. For instance, the body has to be taken to his burial place in Zvimba in line with tradition,” he said. “This dovetails with what we discussed as a family, bearing in mind that Mugabe was a chief. We communicated to government that if they can find an appropriate place at the Heroes Acre where we can inter the remains of our former president in line with our cultural traditions, it is something we may consider. If such a place is there, we will consult as a family.”
Sources said the Mugabe family wants him to be buried in a secret cave in line with tradition. They even considered burying him on the vast Blue Roof mansion grounds, a source indicated.
Family spokesman Leo Mugabe told reporters Mugabe would be buried privately in Zvimba in accordance with traditional rites since he was a chief. He would not reveal the date of burial, but said it would not be Sunday, as earlier stated by government. Monday or Tuesday have been tentatively suggested as the burial day.
Mugabe family members yesterday told the Independent that there were a number of reasons why Mugabe and his family did not want a Heroes Acre burial.
“The first reason is that they vilified Mugabe and tarnished his legacy through the coup. They also subjected him to tremendous pressure by, among other things, putting him under virtual house hastening his demise,” said a family member.
Mugabe also felt betrayed by Mnangagwa, despite having worked closely with him for about 50 years.
Family members said Mugabe taught Mnangagwa while he was in prison and encouraged him to complete his law degree. Mugabe, the family said, also played a key role in ensuring Mnangagwa, who had been sentenced to death for treason over a Masvingo train bombing incident, is not executed after engaging lawyers on his behalf.
After Mnangagwa was deported to Zambia, Mugabe brought him back to the liberation war fold at the height of the liberation struggle.
Besides betrayal, Mugabe was also angered by the persecution of his family during and after the coup, they said.
Mugabe’s relatives who have been arrested on different allegations after his toppling include his son-in-law Simba Chikore, former Mines minister Chidhakwa and Grace’s sister Shuvai Junior Gumbochuma.
Zhuwao is in exile and so, too, is another close relative Adam Molai.
In addition, Mnangagwa’s government failed to intervene when people invaded some of Mugabe’s farms after the coup, while also threatening to grab some of the farms from the family, sources said.
The family is also refusing as they say Mnangagwa wants to gain political capital by presiding over Mugabe’s burial at the Heroes Acre.
Zimbabwe’s big power allies, notably China and Russia, and African leaders have hailed Mugabe’s record, complicating matters.
Sources said the family was also angered upon arrival at Robert Mugabe International Airport from Singapore to find that the army was waiting with gun carriers to carry Mugabe’s body.
“The gun carriers and military presence just evoked memories of the coup and this hardened the family’s attitude,” a family member said. “Some government officials who had ridiculed and humiliated Mugabe after the coup were also there shedding crocodile tears. People like Defence minister Oppah Muchinguri, who labelled Mugabe a traitor, were there to receive the body, but the family will not forget their statements.”
The family said Mugabe was also angry that in the aftermath of the coup, Mnangagwa’s government attributed all of Zimbabwe’s ills on him alone. Mnangagwa promised a clean break with the Mugabe era in what he called the “new dispensation” following his rise to power.
However, after Mugabe’s death they have turned around and are singing eulogies for him, with Mnangagwa’s office saying that he is “providing continuity” from where the late president left.