guest column Alex T. Magaisa
Former President Robert Mugabe has allegedly made a declaration that upon his death he does not wish to be buried at the National Heroes Acre.
This is rather ironic, coming from a man who in his 37 years in power presided over scores of burials of his old comrades at the national shrine. Indeed, he
used his power under the National Heroes Act to deny the honour to those with whom he had fallen out with over the years. Commenting on Henry Hamadziripi, a
fellow veteran who was snubbed upon his death, Mugabe said he had stepped out of line and had lost his way. A few others, including Wilfred Mhanda (Dzinashe
Machingura), renowned heroes of the struggle were similarly excluded.
One reason for Mugabe’s declaration is probably that he is still bitter at the way he was ousted from power by his formerly trusted lieutenant Emmerson
Mnangagwa, the current leader. Never one to take loss easily, Mugabe probably wants to get even in a contest in which he knows Mnangagwa can never win.
Mnangagwa has been keen to give an impression to his peers in the region that he is treating Mugabe well and he has been indulging him with public funds. But a
stubborn Mugabe cannot be placated by those small things. Mnangagwa may have wrestled power from him in ignominious circumstances, but Mugabe thinks he will
have the last word. He won’t allow his lieutenant to enjoy any magnanimity from his predicament.
This is consistent with the young Mugabe who, according to a Jesuit priest at Kutama where he grew up, he was a fierce competitor at tennis, who utterly
despised the idea of losing. He played the game well, but when he lost he was a sore loser. He would throw away his racket and walk away sulking.
Another childhood friend and relative, the late James Chikerama also gave an insight into the character of the young Mugabe which would manifest on the grand
political stage. Apparently, if he got annoyed with his mates while herding cattle with them, the youthful Mugabe, a faithful reader of books, would simply
select and take away his grandfather’s cattle to herd them alone.
In 2002, irked by criticism of the shoddy presidential elections, Mugabe unilaterally decided to withdraw Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth. a group of largely
former British colonies. At a global conference in South Africa during the same period, he told the then British Prime Minister, Tony Blair to “keep his
Britain while he (Mugabe) kept his Zimbabwe”.
His decision to unilaterally “withdraw” his candidacy from the Heroes Acre is consistent with the personality of a man who has never hesitated to withdraw and
go it alone whether in his personal life or long political career. He’s easily given to rejection (vane chiramwa vaMugabe in chiKaranga). And those who are
familiar with village life know that men of his age believe they have leverage over the younger ones and they can make such decisions once they feel irked and disrespected. Often the villagers have to beg them to relent, which they do upon some form of compensation.
But as already stated, it’s also about Mugabe asserting command and control which he lost in November 2017. This is a different kind of command and control
however, relating as it does to control over the body. Here’s a man who fought for freedom during the liberation struggle, but spent 37 years denying millions
their freedom and he is now standing tall as a fighter for freedom of the body, itself an important human right.
We have no idea whether Josiah Tongogara, Herbert Chitepo and many others whose remains are interred at the Heroes Acre would have consented had they been
afforded the chance to decide. They were all buried there anyway by the man who is now asserting his freedom not to be buried there. Mugabe did what he wanted
when he held power and got away with it. He is still doing what he wants, an expression to Mnangagwa that he doesn’t have power over him.
Mnangagwa might give the impression that he doesn’t care what Mugabe says, but Mugabe knows it hurts to be rejected by someone who is supposed to be in a
weaker position and should, therefore, be grateful. But what more can he do to defeat and assert control over a man he ousted in a coup? If Mnangagwa was
hoping for some common understanding with his mentor towards the end, it might never come.
But maybe Mugabe just wants to be with his mother, the late Mbuya Bona. Those who have chronicled his life describe the close bond between the two, which
solidified after Mugabe’s two eldest siblings died in childhood and his father abandoned the family. She is buried in the village in Zvimba. Perhaps Mugabe
just wants to go home for one final and everlasting reunion with his mother.
He might also have in mind his own exclusive monument, far away from the rest of the “commoners” that he interred at the national shrine.
It wouldn’t be nice on Sally, his first wife, who died in 1992 and was buried at the Heroes Acre. When I visited the national shrine in 2014, I noticed there
was a vacant space next to Sally’s grave. I thought it was reserved for the old chap. But now he has said no, leaving Sally alone. That’s Bob. He has always
done what he wants. He is hurt by what his lieutenant did to him. He loved power and would have wanted to go on his own terms. He never got the chance. Now he
has one more chance to go on his terms, upon death, something that the authors of the coup cannot take away from him. That’s vintage Bob, just like he was as a
boy. It was always on his terms. Most Zimbabweans won’t care much, but it matters to him.