In an unprecedented move, the family of the former governor for Matabeleland North province Welshman Mabhena on Thursday rebuffed efforts by President Robert Mugabe’s emissary, Vice-President John Nkomo, to entice them to release the body of the late national hero for burial at the National Heroes’ Acre in Harare.
Mabhena, who died in Bulawayo on Tuesday, was late on Wednesday declared a national hero by Zanu PF’s supreme decision-making body outside congress, the politburo.
Family spokesperson Norman Mabhena told journalists after the meeting with VP Nkomo that the family would respect the wishes of the former Matabeleland North governor.
“My brother told us before he died that he did not want to be buried at the National Heroes’ Acre. He was very clear that he would not want to be buried alongside thieves and crooks.
“He said the national shrine was a mockery of the liberation struggle and he would not want to be part and parcel of that,” said Mabhena.
He added: “As such, the family has agreed that he (Welshman) will be buried on Saturday morning at the Lady Stanley Cemetery (in Bulawayo).
We have even sent the message clear to the government that this is what the family wants.”
Mabhena’s conferment of national hero status was riddled with controversy and divisions as some members of the politburo were said to be against the idea.
Credentials of the 86-year- old politician however carried the day and, after discussions lasting the entire day, the former governor was conferred national hero status.
VP Nkomo emerged from the meeting with the Mabhena family on Thursday to tell journalists no decision had been finalised on Mabhena’s burial.
He was leading a high-powered Matabeleland Zanu PF delegation including former information and publicity deputy secretary Sikhanyiso Ndlovu and party central committee member Naison Khutshwekhaya Ndlovu.
“We have not finalised anything yet. I will have to get back to my principals and advise them of what has transpired in the meeting I held with the family here.
You will all appreciate that we have principals that we have to update before we announce some of these decisions,” said Nkomo.
He added: “In that regard, I will get back to my principals and the leadership (of the party) and after that we will be able to then announce the way forward.
That should be before the set burial day (Saturday).”
However, details emerging from the Mabhena family show that efforts to sweet-talk them into releasing the body fell on deaf ears.
Asked whether the family had been informed about Mabhena’s status accorded to him on Wednesday by the politburo, the family spokesperson said they were apprised of that status on Thursday.
“We have been told about the decision to confer national hero status on our father.
What we know without having to be told is that Welshman was a great man.
He was a hero who suffered for the freedom of the people both during the Ian Smith regime and after independence.
We, as a family, agreed that he was a hero of this country and deserves to be counted among other heroes,” said Mabhena.
The late former governor, according to the family spokesperson, died a bitter man.
“The family is not happy. Our father told us before he died that he was a bitter man.
He was bitter that after having sacrificed his life for this country, he was treated in the manner that he was by those that he fought the liberation struggle with.
“His bitterness also stems from the fact that he was removed from his post of (Matabeleland North) governor in a very bad way, which some of the family members still feel should be explained,” said Mabhena.
It is expected that the body of the late veteran politician will lie in state at his Four Winds home on Friday night.
A church service has been scheduled for Saturday morning before the body is taken to its final resting place at Lady Stanley Cemetery.