THE story, life and even death of late former President Robert Mugabe is a subject that continues to rekindle memories — good, bad and somewhat bizarre. His exhumation debacle exposes the certainty of the fact that Zimbabwe is still haunted and is likely to continue being haunted by Mugabe. For a variety of reasons, it appears that the populace is opposed to a reburial of Mugabe as it may open up fresh wounds to the Mugabe family and legions of his followers.
Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years until his rule was ended unceremoniously on November 21, 2017 by the military and the ascension of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, his long-time right hand man.
Two years after exiting the corridors of power — on September 6 2019 —Mugabe died in Singapore — his traditionally-preferred medical hub in the East. Mnangagwa, acting under the provisions of the National Heroes Act (Chapter 10:16) immediately declared Mugabe a national hero. After three weeks characterised by wrangling and tussling over the remains of the national hero, primarily between his family and the government — Mugabe was laid to rest at his rural home at Kutama in Zvimba.
Of late, there have been efforts to exhume Mugabe for reburial — allegedly at the National Heroes Acre. Is it necessary to rebury Mugabe? Aren’t there any other alternatives to canonise Mugabe as a national hero? This article proposes that instead of reburying Mugabe, declaring his resting place in Kutama, a national monument could be a better alternative.
Procedure for declaring national monuments in Zimbabwe
Cultural heritage in Zimbabwe is governed by the National Museums and Monuments Act (Chapter 25:11). The Act, establishes the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe (NMMZ), which is the main organisation mandated with the responsibility for the establishment, administration and preservation of ancient, historical and natural monuments as well as other objects of historical or scientific value or interest.
The National Museums and Monuments Act outlines a cumulative definition of a monument. It begins by defining what its terms an “ancient monument” before outlining the several aspects that need to be considered for a site, designation or object to be identified as a “monument”. On account of historical, archaeological or other scientific value or interest, an object or piece of land can be declared a national monument.
The transformation of a monument to become a “national monument” requires a declaration by the responsible minister on the recommendation by the NMMZ board. The board of the NMMZ is required to notify the owner of the property (provided it does not belong to the State) in writing or through a newspaper notice where the whereabouts of the owner are not ascertainable. On their part, the owners of the monument after receiving the notice may lodge objections with the board in writing.
The National Museums and Monuments Act also provides for the compulsory acquisition of monuments and relics by the State. When the board of the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe wishes to acquire a national monument or any land in connection with the monument and is unable to do so by agreement with the owner, it may apply to the President for authority to acquire that monument, land or relic. A further reading of section 23 of the National Museums and Monuments Act indicates that a national monument can be declared provided that the President is satisfied that it is in the “public interest” to do so.
Relevance of Robert Mugabe monument
The resting place of the first leader in post liberation Zimbabwe, who managed to rule for such a long-time is something which undoubtedly is of historical value and interest both locally and internationally. Declaring Mugabe’s grave a national monument is something that eternally characterises the status of Mugabe as a national hero while serving the incumbent government the embarrassment of pursuing the avenues for his reburial. While reburial may open up fresh wounds to the Mugabe family and legion of his followers, declaring the grave and homestead a national monument — without dispossessing the family of the property — is likely to amplify Mugabe’s contribution to modern-day Zimbabwe.
The site’s proximity to Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city where other liberation heritage sites are erected — including the National Heroes Acre and the Mbuya Nehanda Statue — strategically positions it as a potential completion of the liberation heritage tour package. Over the years, visiting the National Heroes Acre has become part of the city tour by visiting diplomats in Harare.
The transformation of Mugabe’s grave and by extension his homestead as a national monument would mean that the liberation heritage tour in Harare begins with the Mbuya Nehanda Statue at the heart of the city, National Heroes Acre just outside the city and lastly Robert Mugabe monument, 90 kilometres outside the city.
Challenges and dilemmas
The burial and the recent discourses relating to the reburial of Mugabe makes any issues relating to the remains of the former leader a hot political issue. The suspicions relating to traditional rituals have not died down, in fact they have escalated such that any expression of interest by the government or its agencies to declare Mugabe’s grave or homestead a national monument is likely to be fiercely resisted.
The family of the late national hero is likely to challenge such initiatives through all the avenues at their disposal including the legal and political ones. In some instances, legal procedures may take long to the extent that the will to embark on such initiatives may eventually die down before the matters are decided.
Brighton Taruberekera holds an Executive Certificate in tour guiding and guest relationship management, a BSc (Hons) political science and MSc. in international relations from University of Zimbabwe. He writes in his personal capacity