FORMER President Robert Mugabe’s nephew, Leo, and some close relatives snubbed the former president’s burial in Zvimba last Saturday after being accused by ex-first lady Grace Mugabe of taking bribes from government to ensure the late leader is buried at the National Heroes Acre against his wishes.
Before his death in Singapore on September 6, Mugabe had told his family he did not want to be buried at the National Heroes Acre, a North Korea-styled hilltop shrine in Harare.
He informed the family he did not want President Emmerson Mnangagwa to preside over his burial and pontificate over his dead body.
Grace also accused long-time family friends such as former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono of being sent by the state and acting to curry favour with Mnangagwa.
Despite negotiating on Mugabe’s behalf at the height of the 2017 military coup that catapulted Mnangagwa to power, Gono did not attend the burial as well.
Family sources told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that Grace unleashed her wrath on Leo during a family meeting held on Saturday morning hours before the burial.
Family members revealed Grace launched a verbal tirade on Mugabe’s nephew and other relatives, accusing them of betraying the family and taking bribes from government agents, along with Zvimba chiefs, to influence the family’s decision. The former first lady labelled Leo and other relatives “sell-outs”.
Leo, according to family members, stormed out of the meeting, trailed by a number of family members, who included some chiefs from the clan.
Leo, Mugabe’s late sister Sabina’s son and family spokesperson during negotiations between the government and family, confirmed the fallout in an interview with the Independent this week.
He, however, denied ever taking bribes from government agents.“We had a fall-out on Saturday around 11am before the burial. We fell out because she said I took a bribe from Mnangagwa to influence the decision to bury my uncle at the Heroes Acre. It is not true to accuse chiefs of taking bribes. Those are some of the accusations,” Leo said.
“It’s normal to fall out. It’s not new really because I don’t tolerate nonsense. My uncle knew that I would argue and put across my point. I am a principled person. Can you imagine I did not eventually attend my uncle’s funeral.”
Leo also said some family members expressed disappointment during the meeting, accusing Grace and a small cast of family members, who included her children and former mines minister Walter Chidhakwa, of making a unilateral decision to take Mugabe’s body to Zvimba.
“The extended family was then left out, but it’s normal in every family. It should have been properly communicated to others so that people don’t feel they are being pushed out,” Leo said.
“This is why the chiefs never showed up. There was one chief there. I think the situation could have been handled better. Certainly it could have been handled better.
“The bigger council should have been informed because it is the one that had gone to President Mnangagwa. It would have gone back to the president to say stop constructing the mausoleum because of the new plans.
“So that communication was not there, it was very poor. We regret that and personally I would apologies to the chiefs to say, we are sorry for the miscommunication, it was uncalled for.
“I don’t think an apology has gone to the chiefs. It’s even seen in the accusations that are now coming to me, to the effect that we sold out and we were bought by Mnangagwa. It is nonsense, total nonsense.
“Nobody was bought. Nobody was given money. Nobody was coerced into taking my uncle to the shrine.”
A close family friend told the Independent that Grace was consulted throughout the process before government announced that Mugabe would be buried at the National Heroes Acre.
“There were so many turns and twists. The Heroes Acre place was chosen and rituals were performed by Chief Zvimba (who also did not attend the burial), Robert Jr, Chatunga, Leo, Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi, representing government and Mnangagwa, and Ministry of Home Affairs officials.
“The designs of the Mausoleum were approved by Grace and relatives. Permission to construct the mausoleum came from Grace, only to change her mind later and leave everyone in the dark,” he said.
After agreeing that he should be buried at the National Heroes Acre, Mugabe’s family made an about turn last Thursday when it took a decision to honour his last wish by burying him in Zvimba.