Nyasha Chingono/Blessed Mhlanga/Chipa Gonditii
IT was billed to be his historical final homecoming trip, complete with ecstatic crowds lining up the highway, which he travelled on so frequently during his long life.
Yet, whether as a result of deliberate poor organisation by his latter-day political adversaries or by sheer coincidence, the late former president Robert Mugabe’s last voyage to his rural home in Zvimba was far from being an impressive farewell.
His family, holding on to the body so tightly to fend off circling state vultures, most certainly did not anticipate the danger of the event building up to such a monumental anti-climax.
“We know people in Norton and along the way wanted to have a chance to bid him farewell so there are plans to bring him here in a motorcade so they can just bid him farewell,” a buoyant family spokesperson Leo Mugabe said ahead of the trip.
But on the day of the journey, there was no reawakening of the sleepy dormitory town as Mugabe’s expensive casket was driven through.
From Norton, the convoy of vehicles escorting the Doves hearse proceeded down the highway, past rustic villages, as it made its way to Murombedzi Growth Point, where his home province of Mashonaland West, beloved of him in life, was set to bid farewell to its greatest hero in the most distinguished way.
But, alas, it was not to be either.
This was on Monday afternoon and the customary September tropical savanna sun was already baking the earth when Mugabe’s body arrived, to a lukewarm reception by a few villagers, a far cry from the bumper crowds earlier anticipated.
The expected grand reception for the man who for 37 years drove his motorcade from Harare to his rural home along the same highway turned into something of an anti-climax, a sham for a man famed the world over for treating multitudes to enthralling speeches in his life.
For some, this was because of reported sabotage and poor organisation by the Zanu PF Mashonaland West leadership.
At Murombedzi, only five buses had been hired to ferry a few hundred mourners.
Compared to the large turnout at Kutama where hundreds trooped for daily meals since his death on September 6, the turnout at Murombedzi was underwhelming.
The reason for the low numbers could have been confusion over when the body would arrive. The initial plan was that it would arrive on Wednesday last week, but because of protracted negotiations involving the family and government officials, this did not happen. The homecoming was pushed to Sunday, but again there were changes as the body finally arrived on Monday.
A number of tents were pitched at the homestead, designated for VVIPs, close family, important people, church members, chiefs and the rest of the mourners.
Top government and party officials boycotted the functions at Murombedzi growth point and Mugabe’s homestead except Mashonaland West provincial minister Mary Mliswa and Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi.
The VVIP stand was also empty with just the two front row seats occupied, while the family tent had less than 50 people, with notable people, including former Registrar-General Tobaiwa Mudede and former minister of state Martin Dinha.
Zvimba mourners, though, did not disappoint and neither did the food. Name it — be it beef, chicken or salad — it was on the menu.
On Saturday, heads of state and some former leaders got the opportunity to pay their last respects to Mugabe.
The late Zimbabwean leader, who was at the helm for 37 years and caricatured as an unrepentant despot, attracted only a few thousand, roughly a third of the giant 60 000-seater to be precise. Despite the poor crowds on Saturday, Mugabe, whose remains arrived from Singapore on Wednesday last week, had been greeted by thousands of supporters who thronged Robert Mugabe International Airport.He had become a hero in death.
There was also a large turnout at Rufaro Stadium on Thursday and Friday when ordinary Zimbabweans bade him farewell.
On Saturday at the National Sports Stadium, thousands shouted with enthusiasm, sang and danced to the rhythmic beat of ancient African drums.
Their voices blended into a beautiful melody and their songs carried subtle messages to world leaders about their challenges under President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s so-called Second Republic.
Clad in Zanu PF regalia bearing Mnangagwa’s face, the few thousand who attended the memorial service at the National Sports Stadium seized the moment to express disgruntlement at the 76-year-old leader’s failure to change the country’s economic fortunes since seizing power in 2017.
“VaMugabe vakataura ndave kuenda asi chingwa ndasiya padhora. VaMugabe vakataura ndave kuenda, asi kombi ndasiya padhora (Mugabe said I’m leaving, but charge a dollar for bread . . . charge a dollar for bus fare),” the crowd sang several times.
Before the November 2017 coup, a loaf of bread cost a dollar, but has since risen 10-fold due to soaring inflation.Prices of basic commodities have also risen beyond the reach of many Zimbabweans.
Others sang: “VaMugabe vaive gamba. Tipeiwo nguva yekuchema gamba redu (Mugabe was our hero, give us time to mourn our hero.” On several occasions the crowd broke into Mathias Xavier’s Tormented Soul.
Tormented Soul, a song sung in 1986 following the death of Mozambican founding president Samora Machel, captures pain that words cannot utter.
The song also captured the story of Zimbabweans suffering in silence.