Mugabe burial talks deadlocked

Grace, family agree on Heroes Acre Chiefs defiant

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CHENGETAI ZVAUYA/ TAURAI MANGUDHLA

FORMER President Robert Mugabe’s family and government officials were last night locked in meetings to finalise where the veteran nationalist’s remains will be interred amid claims of competing interests. Mugabe died in Singapore last week after being admitted to hospital while undergoing a routine check-up in April.

When Business Times called last night, family spokesperson Leo Mugabe said he was on his way to the Blue Roof, the Mugabes’ residence in Borrowdale.

“Traditional leaders haven’t said anything yet. I am going to Blue Roof now. The body passed through One Commando so we will know once we get there,” Leo Mugabe said.

Mugabe’s remains will today be taken to Rufaro Stadium where he took oath of office for the first time in 1980 and where the Union Jack was replaced by the national flag to mark Zimbabwe’s independence from colonial rule. The remains will be flown tomorrow evening to Mugabe’s rural home in Kutama, in Mashonaland West where the former president would often visit during his tenure in office.

On Saturday, Mugabe’s remains will be taken to the National Sports Stadium where foreign dignitaries are expected to pay their last respects to the man adored as a pan-Africanist and advocate of self-determination.

Burial is slated for Sunday with strong indications now pointing to the Heroes Acre.

His remains arrived at the Robert Mugabe International Airport yesterday afternoon. The remains were ferried to One Commando and then the Blue Roof, the Mugabes’ residence. Since his death last week, Mugabe has divided opinion with family members at odds on where his remains should be interred.

Business Times heard yesterday that while the late Mugabe’s wife Grace and her three children Bona, Robert Junior and Bellamine Chatunga wanted his remains to be interred at the National Heroes Acre as a way of safeguarding Mugabe’s legacy and the family’s wealth, the extended family is believed to be fixated on making a political statement against President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s regime by burying Mugabe at his rural home in Zvimba.

Information at hand suggest the extended family has made attempts to preach the gospel that Mugabe was against being laid to rest on the Heroes Acre, a statement described as mythical and more of the preferences of the relatives than Mugabe’s wish.

For the Mugabe family and Grace, the legacy and a smooth relationship with current authorities is more important than grandstanding. Mugabe’s death comes barely two years after he resigned having led the country for 37 years.

Mugabe’s health had deteriorated during the course of the year, resulting in him living in Singapore with his family since April. According to family sources, the Mugabe’s siblings are eager to have the former President buried at the national shrine, built in the early years of independence to honour gallant sons and daughters who fought in the liberation struggle.

“His immediate family do not want to continue to be involved in political fight with the administration of President Mnangagwa and are keen to have Mugabe buried at the Heroes Acre,” said the source.

“We have been seeing Bona coming regularly to the country for the past six months when her father was sick together with her brothers, and briefing the family members on the condition of her father and she has been visiting her relatives on her mother’s side (Marufu family) and informing them on the health of their son in law,” said a family source.

The burial of the late former president has also generated anxiety and interest within the ruling party and the opposition party. On the eve of last year’s elections, Mugabe who had a fallout with his successor, hinted that he would vote for the MDC Alliance.

“Even when the father (Robert) left the country for Singapore treatment in April he went with his wife and children and it was known by his family and relatives that he had not been well for sometime,” said the source.

“I don’t know what is happening behind the scenes but I understand the children wanted their father to be buried at the Heroes Acre, but we are going to wait and hear the final decision that will come from the Gushungo family,” said the source.

Presidential spokesperson George Charamba told Business Times the decision on where Mugabe will be buried lies with the family.

On Tuesday, President Emmerson Mnangagwa held a meeting with family representatives in which the latter said it would give a definite position once the body arrives in Zimbabwe.

“We are waiting for the Mugabe family to have a caucus when the body arrives today as the Mugabe family representatives said they are going to inform us on the way forward,” Charamba said.

“ The government is going to respect the decision of the Mugabe family.”

Mugabe’s nephews and other relatives from the Gushungo family in Zvimba rural area are reportedly pushing for Mugabe to be buried in Zvimba, his place of birth and following the traditional rites.

Speaking at the Robert Mugabe International Airport upon the arrival of the body of the late Mugabe, President Mnangagwa described Mugabe as his “father” and advised the people to mourn Mugabe in a peaceful manner.

“Our founding father of the nation, our commander of the liberation struggle, the light that led us to independence. We mourn together as people who are united and grieve together with his family in a peaceful way,” he said.

Mugabe’s body was later taken to One Commando Barracks, where it was handed over to the Mugabe family by the State.

Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services minister Monica Mutsvangwa said she was going to announce where Mugabe was going to be buried later in the day. “We are going to inform you soon where he is going to be buried,” she said.

Ziyambi Ziyambi, minister of Justice, legal and Parliamentary affairs told Business Times that the discussions on Mugabe’s burial were going to be held.

“We have been waiting for the arrival of the body and it has now come and the discussions where he is going to be buried are now going to start,” Ziyambi said.