By Everson Mushava
A MEETING between President Emmerson Mnangagwa and former First Lady Grace Mugabe yesterday failed to break the impasse over former President Robert Mugabe’s burial place, with the late nationalist’s family maintaining the former leader would have a private burial at his ancestral home in what is seen as a snub to his successor and the clique that toppled him.
Mugabe died on Friday last week in Singapore at the age of 95.
His body arrived in the country on Wednesday afternoon and yesterday, was taken to Rufaro Stadium, where thousands bade farewell to the country’s founding leader.
But the family’s disquiet with the Mnangagwa administration was evident, with the clan members maintaining that the former ruler would have a private burial at a yet-to-be-disclosed location against the government’s wishes to bury the founding father of the nation at the ornate National Heroes Acre.
Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years since independence from Britain, but was ousted by his own army, which grabbed power in a November 2017 coup.
The key figures in the plot now hold senior positions in Mnangagwa’s government, including retired military commander and now Vice-President, Constantino Chiwenga, and Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo.
The Mugabe family, particularly the traditional chiefs from Mugabe’s Gushungo clan, want the former leader’s remains to be interred at a sacred place at his Zvimba rural home in line with their tradition since they claim that he was a “chief”.
Mugabe is proving to be as polarising in death as he was in life as haggling over his burial site continued yesterday, forcing a meeting between Mnangagwa and Grace that, however, failed to change the family’s position.
Last night, the family was still locked in talks with the government over Mugabe’s burial place.
The Mugabe family also met at the same time Grace and Mnangagwa were meeting.
Family spokesperson Leo Mugabe told journalists after the meetings that Mugabe’s body would be taken to Murombedzi Business Centre near Mugabe’s rural home on Sunday for locals to view the former leader’s body.
This is despite Mnangagwa telling people at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport on Wednesday that Mugabe would be buried on Sunday.
“There have just been discussions between President Mnangagwa and Mai Mugabe and it would look like nothing has changed,” Leo said.
“The family has never announced that they are going to bury him in Zvimba. They said they are going to have a private burial. We don’t want the public to come; they don’t want you to know where he is going to be buried. We are not witnessing the burial on Sunday; no date has been set for the burial.”
Asked about earlier pronouncements by the government on burial set for Sunday, Leo said: “It was never a burial day. The government cannot announce on behalf of the family.”
Leo, however, downplayed the rift between the family and government over the burial site.
“There is no misunderstanding with the government, the family is the one that makes the decision and tells the government,” he said.
Earlier, Mnangagwa climbed down on his pronouncement that Mugabe would be buried on Sunday, saying: “I said we bury him on Sunday, but we will have to agree with the family. We haven’t agreed.”
The President said government would be guided by the family’s decision and would not try to enforce any decision.
Mnangagwa was accompanied by politburo members and service chiefs.
“Amai (Grace), you have the full support of the government under me. As government, there is nothing we are doing contrary to what you planned as the family,” he said.
The Zanu PF leader said he had been with Mugabe for the better part of his life and since he took over, there was nothing the family requested that he had not met.
“I had requested to meet Amai so that we talk one on one. We haven’t met, but I hope we will have the time. I had been together with the former President and we were going on well for about 54 years. You all know what happened in 2017, but I said let bygones be bygones. That is the spirit I have because our former leader always preached peace,” he said.
Also speaking after Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s relative and former Mines minister Walter Chidakwa said: “We want to thank President Mnangagwa for the chance to meet the former First Lady. They discussed a lot of issues. He (Mnangagwa) was told of Mugabe’s last days.
“We have agreed that the programme that Mugabe should bid farewell at Rufaro Stadium, today there will be five provinces, tomorrow another five provinces and Saturday, we go to the National Sports Stadium, where he will meet friends. Colleagues, heads of State will have time to bid farewell to the former President.
“After the National Sport Stadium, we will advise how we will proceed on the burial arrangements. We are grateful Mnangagwa told us about the politburo views that they will respect the family’s decisions.”
Family sources told NewsDay that the chiefs were determined to respect Mugabe’s demands that he be buried in Kutama alongside his mother Bona because he died a bitter man after comrades he thought were trustworthy toppled him.
The family claimed the sense of betrayal sent Mugabe to his early grave because Mnangagwa and company did not reconcile with him before his demise.
“Mugabe told his son, Robert Junior, that he wants to be buried at his rural home and the chiefs are determined to respect his word. They will, however, have to agree whether they are to bury him in a cave at a sacred place or alongside his mother,” the family source said.
The family, the source added, gave in to have the government programmes go ahead and after Saturday, when they take Mugabe to his rural home, they will decide where to bury him.