FORMER president Robert Mugabe, one of the luminaries of the liberation struggle and the architect of the National Heroes’ Acre Monument, which was supposed to symbolise sacrifice, bravery and triumph of good over evil, has told his family members that he does not want to be buried at the North Korean-style shrine in Warren Hills in Harare, it has emerged.
OWEN GAGARE/BRIDGET MANANAVIRE
Family sources told the Zimbabwe Independent this week Mugabe, (95) and currently bedridden in Singapore for the past three months, has said he does not want the current Zanu PF government to preside over his funeral.
Mugabe has been hospitalised in Singapore since April. Insiders say his condition, although stable, is fragile.
Pictures of a white hairy and bearded Mugabe wearing a black and white Adidas tracksuit were circulated on social media recently by his children. They showed him wheelchair-bound and looking frail, helpless and glum.
Family sources said Mugabe has specifically made it clear that he would not want President Emmerson Mnangagwa — who seized power from him in a military coup in November 2017 — and his allies to hold forth and pontificate over his dead body.
Mugabe — who has remained bitter with Mnangagwa for toppling him despite their decades of close relations spoiled by the dismissal of the latter from government just before the coup — says he wants to be buried next to his mother Bona at his rural home in Zvimba, Mashonaland West province, sources say.
Although he seemed to make peace with Mnangagwa after the death of his wife Grace’s mother and government’s provision of a chartered plane to bring back the former first lady from Dubai and also following last year’s general elections, Mugabe is said to be still acrimonious and hostile towards his successor whom he described after the coup as his “tormentor”.
Mugabe worked with Mnangagwa for over 50 years. Mnangagwa became his right-hand man and enforcer of his authoritarian rule which destroyed the country and economy through repression, mismanagement and corruption.
Family members told the Independent Mugabe is insisting on not being buried at the Heroes’ Acre as he does not want Mnangagwa and his associates to be in charge of his burial and ride on his liberation struggle history coattails.
Insiders say this shocked Mnangagwa’s administration which was convinced Mugabe would want to be buried next to his late first wife Sally, who was interred at the national shrine after her death in 1992.
“Mugabe has made it clear to his family that he does not wish to be buried at the National Heroes’ Acre anymore. He does not want to be associated with Mnangagwa and all those he now views as his betrayers and tormentors. He has said he doesn’t want them to sing and pontificate over his dead body,” a close family member said. “He has informed relatives about his decision and this is known in the family; it’s also now known in government circles.”
News of Mugabe’s rejection of his former Zanu PF comrades and the party as well as government in the twilight zone of his life and also in death as he has already indicated, jolted Mnangagwa into action, sources said.
Officials say Mnangagwa reacted by sending to Singapore — where Mugabe has been receiving treatment for years — a delegation headed by Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet Misheck Sibanda. The team also included Central Intelligence Organisation Director-General Isaac Moyo and Mugabe’s former personal doctor Professor Jonathan Matenga.
Sources said Mnangagwa’s delegation was mainly there to try to fix broken relations with the Muagbe family and gather information about his health condition.
Government has been helping Mugabe out with payment of medical bills despite the sour relations between him and Mnangagwa.
Mnangagwa said in a statement this week Mugabe had been receiving treatment for an undisclosed ailment for months, but was responding well to medication.
“Founding president and founding father of our nation (comrade) Robert Mugabe remains detained at a hospital in Singapore where he is receiving medical attention,” Mnangagwa said. “Unlike in the past when the former president would require just about a month for this, his physicians this time around determined that he be kept under observation for much longer from April this year when he left for his latest routine check-up.”
Mnangagwa said his team that visited Mugabe reported he was “responding well to treatment” and that “because of the good progress he is making (comrade) Mugabe could be released fairly soon”.
Mnangagwa and state media hacks — who had stopped referring to Mugabe as “comrade” after the coup — resumed doing so this week, showing the overtures for rapprochement.
Mugabe played a leading role in the liberation struggle and was the founding leader of Zimbabwe in 1980. He ruled for 37 years and was at the helm of Zanu PF for four decades between 1977 and 2017.
In the process, especially at the height of his power, he became the main intellectual and ideological pillar and articulator of the liberation struggle. The history and narrative of the struggle in some circles in Zimbabwe and in Zanu PF up to now is still told through his narrative and lenses, although counter-hegemony historiography and chronicles are emerging.
In order to institutionalise Zimbabwe’s history and enshrine the memory of the liberation struggle, Mugabe built the Heroes’ Acre in 1981. The shrine, before its desecration by burial of controversial characters and refusal to honour genuine struggle heroes on political grounds, had come to symbolise sacrifice, bravery and selflessness which characterised the liberation struggle.
Government and Zanu PF officials say Mugabe’s refusal to be buried at Heroes Acre — if his wish is to be respected — would constitute the greatest repudiation of not just Mnangagwa and his government, but also the Zanu PF struggle narrative and the Heroes Acre, and what it had come to represent.
That is why, they said, Mnangagwa is worried about the issue and is scrambling to fix his relations with Mugabe and his family.
“Although officially the purpose of the visit to Singapore was said to be to check up on Mugabe, the most urgent issue was to build bridges with his family to get an opportunity to preside over his funeral,” an official said.
Mnangagwa is hoping that when Mugabe dies, bridges would have been built with the family to enable government and Zanu PF to be involved in burial processes, it was said.
Government officials also said Mnangagwa would want his mentor to be buried at the Heroes’ Acre so that he could leverage on his liberation struggle credentials and inherit the mantle. Despite his failure and unceremonious removal, Mugabe remains a towering figure of the liberation struggle.
When the coup happened, Mugabe and Mnangagwa completely lost contact. During the course of the putsch, they only spoke once by telephone and after that it was only through emissaries.
Sources said a number of officials were suggested to be the link between them without much success.
Sibanda was initially approached to lead the process, but he was reluctant to take up the offer, they said. Others approached were former bureaucrat and ex-diplomat Dr Machivenyika Mapuranga, former Higher Education secretary Dr Washington Mbizvo and ex-Civil Service Commission chairperson Dr Mariyawanda Nzuwa. Eventually, Moyo was assigned as the link between Mugabe and Mnangagwa, which is why he was part of the delegation to Singapore.
Others who have been involved in talks and attempts to fix their relations include former Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono, Catholic priest Father Fidelis Mukonori and Kadoma businessman Jimayi Muduvuri.