Letter from Africa: How Zimbabwe is still haunted by Robert Mugabe



Robert Mugabe speaks during the funeral of a stalwart of the ruling ZANU-PF party at the National Heroes Acre in Harare on June 7, 2014

Robert Mugabe speaks in the course of the funeral of a stalwart of the ruling ZANU-PF social gathering on the Nationwide Heroes Acre in Harare on June 7, 2014

In our sequence of letters from Africa, Zimbabwean journalist-turned-barrister Brian Hungwe writes that long-serving ruler Robert Mugabe, who died in 2019, appears to be inflicting bother from past the grave.

Short presentational grey line

Quick presentational gray line

Robert Mugabe’s family members say he died a bitter man practically two years after he was compelled at hand over energy to present President Emmerson Mnangagwa – and his bitterness, even in demise, is creating feuds.

In an African conventional context, the lifeless can communicate, typically by way of a vengeful spirit that’s believed to reply violently in opposition to erstwhile tormentors. Due to this fact, the spirit must be appeased to keep away from the danger of being destroyed by it.

If Mugabe’s temperament in actual life might be measured in opposition to the depth of his supposed potential vengeful spirit, it could be just like the molten lava that has just lately been spewing from Mount Nyiragongo within the Democratic Republic of Congo, consuming every part in its path.

Mr Mugabe was a Catholic, partly raised by missionaries who had immense affect in his upbringing. However he by no means deserted the entire conventional beliefs.

‘Non secular energy’ of political hero

Typically on the nationwide shrine the place independence-era heroes are buried, Mugabe used to invoke the “spirit medium” of the liberation conflict hero, Mbuya Nehanda, who was hanged by the British colonialists in direction of the tip of the 19th Century.

She is believed to have stated that her bones would rise in opposition to the white colonial settlers. This grew to become a religious mantra, feeding into African nationalist resistance.

Final week, President Mnangagwa unveiled a statue of Nehanda within the coronary heart of the capital, Harare.

Officials gather around a statue of a spirit medium known as Mbuya Nehanda (C) soon after it"s unveiling by Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa during the Africa Day celebrations in Harare, Zimbabwe, 25 May 2021. Zimbabwe has joined many other African countries in commemorating Africa Day, that marks the creation of the Organisation of African Unity on 25 May 1963

Mbuya Nehanda’s head was taken as a conflict trophy by British forces

Some noticed it as a ploy to capitalise on the legacy created round her, provided that his plan to have his 95-year-old predecessor buried in a particular grave at Heroes Acre had been stymied.

This is able to have given him the chance to go to the shrine, and invoke Mr Mugabe’s spirit for political acquire – even supposing he ousted his former comrade from energy in 2017, thwarting then-First Girl Grace Mugabe’s ambition to develop into the following president.

Mrs Mugabe denied Mr Mnangagwa the chance, insisting that it was the previous president’s want to be buried at his household dwelling in Zvimba, subsequent to his mom Bona.

Grace Mugabe sit at funeral wake of her husband the late former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe on September 12, 2019, at the Blue Roof mansion in Harare

Grace Mugabe labored as Robert Mugabe’s secretary earlier than they married in 1996

Anthropologist Joost Fontein – creator of The politics of the lifeless in Zimbabwe: Bones, Rumours and Spirits – gives a special clarification for the previous first woman’s resolution.

“She did not need him buried subsequent to Sally [Mugabe’s first wife] as a result of she is aware of Sally stays rather more in style than she is going to ever be.

“But additionally she in all probability seeks to disclaim the brand new regime the legitimacy that Mugabe’s burial at Heroes’ Acre would bestow upon them,” he says.

A picture taken on September 12, 2019 shows an empty grave next to the grave of late Zimbabwean President's first wife Sally Mugabe, who lies buried at the National Heroes Acre in Harare, as speculations continue as to where the final resting place of the late president Robert Mugabe will be.

An empty area lies subsequent to the grave of Sally Mugabe at Heroes Acre

These tensions burst into the open final month, when a conventional chief in Zvimba dominated that Mrs Mugabe was responsible of breaking conventional norms by burying her husband within the courtyard of his dwelling.


Mrs Mugabe – who’s reportedly unwell, and in Singapore – didn’t attend the listening to, however the chief ordered her to pay 5 cows and a goat as a superb.

The previous president’s nephew Leo Mugabe dismissed the ruling, saying the chief had no jurisdiction over the matter.

Order to give up Mugabe’s garments

However, the row is no surprise. Prof Fontein factors out that in Zimbabwe the importance of demise, bones, and spirituality can have an effect on politics.

“Loads of the controversies round Mugabe’s burial must do with the system of nationwide commemoration that the previous president himself had such a big function in creating and through which he invested a lot power,” he says.

In his ruling, the normal chief ordered Mr Mugabe’s reburial at Heroes Acre, and for his widow “to collect [his] garments and all his belongings and give up them on or earlier than the first of July”.

"The political cult that Mr Mugabe built around himself lives on, with Zimbabwe's founding father still ruling from his grave"", Source: Brian Hungwe, Source description: Journalist and barrister, Image: Brian Hungwe

“The political cult that Mr Mugabe constructed round himself lives on, with Zimbabwe’s founding father nonetheless ruling from his grave””, Supply: Brian Hungwe, Supply description: Journalist and barrister, Picture: Brian Hungwe

Historian Terence Ranger says the importance of the “custodianship” of a lifeless particular person’s stays lies within the perceived safety they can provide the residing.

Mr Mugabe’s nephew, Patrick Zhuwao, provides {that a} sceptre allegedly given to the previous president by 16 conventional leaders anointing him as Zimbabwe’s chief may be behind the row.

It’s this employees, he instructed South Africa’s public broadcaster, SABC, that Mr Mnangagwa needs.

Worry of witchcraft

Mr Mnangagwa’s spokesman George Charamba, who held the identical place below Mr Mugabe, scoffed on the suggestion that the previous president had a sceptre, not to mention that his successor needed it.

“Turning such an anti-feudal revolutionary into an anachronistic Monarch!!! A little bit of enlightenment helps, pricey Zimbabweans!!!!” he tweeted below the identify Jamwanda.

Within the complicated realm of conventional politics, bones may also be abused for witchcraft.

Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa (C) gestures as he arrives for a "Thank You" rally on November 24, 2018, in Murombedzi, Zvimba, Mashonaland West, Zimbabwe

President Emmerson Mnangagwa was a detailed ally of Robert Mugabe earlier than the 2 fell out

There have been long-standing rumours that Mrs Mugabe insisted on burying her husband on the household dwelling to rule out the potential of her enemies exhuming his bones to hurt her and her kids.

There has additionally been speak that she needs to retain custodianship of her husband’s bones so as to construct an aura of virtually untouchable energy round herself – energy that Mr Mugabe demonstrated throughout most of his 37-year-rule, and which he had now relayed to her by way of the “spirit medium”.

So the political cult that Mr Mugabe constructed round himself lives on, with Zimbabwe’s founding father nonetheless inflicting bother from his grave.

Extra Letters from Africa:

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