Former Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe has finally been buried at his rural Zvimba home, bringing to an end the dramatic and bitter disputes between his surviving spouse Grace and President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government.
It also gave some insight into the lingering misgivings the late Zimbabwean leader had about his successor.
Mugabe, who died aged 95 on September 6, was buried yesterday at Zvimba, about 80km west of Harare.
His burial was a dramatic affair, with his family turning away journalists and tightly vetting family members allowed into his wealthy compound for the burial.
Those not on the guest list were not allowed in.
“I am sorry we can’t allow you in; we have strict instructions to use the guest list and to allow only family members,” a family member, who was helping vet delegates for the burial ceremony, said yesterday morning.
Even Zimbabwean state media were not allowed into the compound.
The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation set up equipment away from the Mugabe compound.
However, some delegates who had been inside the compound described Mugabe’s burial place as being at the centre of his homestead.
“The grave is in the middle and that’s where they will bury him. People are already gathered for the burial later this afternoon [yesterday] and we are happy that we are bringing this issue to an end. This will allow us as a family to move on and to focus on other issues,” said a family member who declined to be named.
The decision to have Mugabe buried in Zvimba was controversial and came after intense bickering and heated debates.
Grace reportedly had a fallout with elders and chiefs from Mugabe’s rural homestead, with sources saying she accused them of siding with Mnangagwa as they pushed for the burial to be at the traditional National Heroes Acre in Harare.
Many top heroes of Zimbabwe’s liberation war – including previous vice-presidents and struggle stalwarts – are buried at Heroes Acre.
Mnangagwa and the Mugabe family had earlier agreed to have the former Zimbabwean leader buried at the national shrine, but the case assumed a sharp twist after EFF leader Julius Malema visited Zimbabwe to pay his last respects to Mugabe.
Malema was in Zimbabwe earlier in the week and viewed Mugabe’s body in his blue-roof mansion in Harare.
Reports during the week showed that Grace had applied to the Harare City Council to have Mugabe buried at his residence. The city fathers turned down the request.
Earlier this month, the government hosted a funeral service for Mugabe at the National Sports Stadium which was attended by regional leaders and former presidents from countries, including South Africa and Namibia, among others.
Malema said after his visit that Mugabe’s last words had to be respected and criticised Mnangagwa’s government for trying to gain political mileage by insisting that Mugabe be buried at the Heroes Acre.
“They tormented him to the last day. We were giving Grace and the family our support in respect of the last wishes of Mugabe,” said Malema.
“In our African traditions, the words of the deceased cannot be undermined by anyone, no matter how powerful you think you are.”
But it was his burial in a specially designed and tamper-proof casket that left many Zimbabweans with more questions than answers regarding the power-play dynamics within Zanu-PF.
Mugabe, according to his family’s spokesperson, Leo Mugabe, was worried that some powerful politicians wanted to use his body parts for rituals.
Leo Mugabe told City Press that the family had been made aware of Mugabe’s fears in his last days.
“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 said.
Fearful about this, the Mugabe family had resolved to bury the late Zimbabwean leader in a specially designed casket.
This had motivated the family’s decision to have him buried at his rural compound in a courtyard.
“The casket is tamper-proof and there is nothing unusual about that because 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,” he said.
Earlier suggestions at the beginning of this month indicated that Mugabe would be buried next to his mother in the same village but some family members said there was no space for a new grave at his mother’s graveside.
Mugabe’s remains left his blue-roof mansion on Thursday, escorted by military and police vehicles.
His body lay in state at the rural compound before his burial yesterday.
“Someone within the family told Grace that the mausoleum would not be for Mugabe only but would house graves of other Zimbabwean presidents. She was expressly against this and that was what pushed her to opt for the courtyard burial. She had also clashed with chiefs and elders from Mugabe’s home about where his body should be buried,” said a family member.
Some political analysts have expressed concerns that Mnangagwa’s government might persecute Grace for “embarrassing Mnangagwa” by refusing to have Mugabe buried at the Heroes Acre in Harare.
Said Zimbabwe Democracy Institute’s Pedzisai Ruhanya: “Let the burial proceed and get done with and observe Zanu-PF vengeance thereafter. We know they won’t take it lying down. They feel disrespected by the Mugabe family.”
However, Mnangagwa’s government said it supported the wishes of the family, signalling an end to the strained relations between the two parties 22 days after Mugabe’s death at a hospital in Singapore.
Nick Mangwana, permanent secretary for the information ministry, said “the family of the late former president has expressed its desire to proceed with his burial” in Zvimba.
He said it was government’s policy “to respect the wishes of the families of deceased heroes”.
Mnangagwa was attending a UN conference in New York.