BY EVERSON MUSHAVA
A TENSE atmosphere engulfed Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport when a chartered plane carrying the body of former President Robert Mugabe arrived yesterday.
Mugabe died last Friday in Singapore at the age of 95.
The late nationalist will be buried on Sunday, according to President Emmerson Mnangagwa who was there to receive the body, but did not mention the place of burial.
There is a dispute between some members of Mugabe family and the government over where he will be buried, an episode threatening to embarrass Mnangagwa.
Thousands of supporters and Zanu PF officials were singing and dancing for hours before the arrival of the body shortly after 15:30hrs.
Mnangagwa arrived with his security movie style and was immediately ushered into a briefing, but appeared just before the plane touched town.
Zanu PF politburo member Sydney Sekeramayi and Vice-President Kembo Mohadi were the first to disembark from the plane followed by former First Lady Grace Mugabe and ex-Senate president Edna Madzongwe and other relatives.
They were welcomed by military displays and the national anthem was played in honour of
Zimbabwe’s founding leader.
Grace, who was clad in black with her face covered, wailed throughout the proceedings, her crying becoming more pronounced as the body was taken to the Blue Roof, Mugabe’s private residence, where hundreds waited to pay their respects.
“We are gathered here to welcome our founding father of the nation of independent Zimbabwe, our revolutionary commander during our liberation struggle, an icon of pan-Africanism. The man that made us to this day,” Mnangagwa said in a terse address at the airport.
“We are grieved and give our deepest condolences to the former First Lady, their children and the entire nation of Zimbabwe.”
Mnangagwa added: “Our people across the world are morning because the light that led us to independence is no more, but his works, ideology will continue to guide this nation.
“On the day, we shall lay him to rest on Sunday. I appeal to you in your hundreds to show great love to our former leader. As we leave here, he will pass through the One Commando Barracks where the military will say their prayer and the body will proceed to the Blue Roof. Thereafter, the programme will be announced by the Home Affairs minister. I appeal to you to be loving and peaceful, Zimbabwe is one country.”
The crowd cheered when Mnangagwa talked of Mugabe’s ideology, with some beating up drums, whistling and ululating, but Zimbabweans did not miss the opportunity to remind Mnangagwa of the more pressing issues of bread and butter.
“Mr President, can you please order the fall of prices of goods?,” one supporter shouted when Mugabe’s body was being whisked away.
Two young men in Mugabe 2013 election campaign regalia could be heard grumbling before the body’s arrival when a motorist playing Jah Prayzah’s Kutonga Kwaro song at high sound passed by.
“This is what we don’t want,” one of them said to the approval by the other.
Kutonga Kwaro was the anthem underpinning the military coup that toppled Mugabe in November 2017, paving way for Mnangagwa’s rise to the top office.
Police and security details had a torrid time containing crowds who wanted to take pictures of Mugabe’s coffin.
Many Mugabe allies, including his former ministers, were among the crowd.
It was notable that the Doves Funeral Assurance hearse was used to transport the body instead of the military hearse which was available.
Flags and Mugabe T-shirts were a feature of the gathering.
Hundreds of people also cheered as Mugabe’s hearse drove through Harare’s the central business district on its way to the Blue Roof in Borrowdale.
At the Blue Roof, flowers were arranged to read “Gushungo”, Mugabe’s clan name.
Soldiers carried Mugabe’s coffin, which was wrapped in the Zimbabwe national flag into the palatial mansion to the sound of music and drums.