Even in death, former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe remains an Achilles’ heel for his successor Emmerson Mnangagwa’s legitimacy.
Since 1977, Mnangagwa has been on Mugabe’s side – first as his assistant, then as a body guard and then as a trusted minister from 1980, only to leave cabinet between 2000 and 2005, when he lost in parliamentary elections.
Still, Mugabe kept him on the political radar as speaker of parliament, despite Mnangagwa plotting with Jonathan Moyo to effect “leadership change” in the Zanu-PF that would have resulted in a palace coup to remove Mugabe through the infamous Dinyane Declaration in Tsholotsho, Matabeleland North.
Despite spending all these years as allies, in his last days in office last year, Mugabe passed a vote of no confidence in Mnangagwa when he regularly claimed that no one among his lieutenants had leadership qualities.
This was followed by what became a Zanu-PF slogan: “There’s no vacancy in the presidium.”
An impatient Mnangagwa would later be fired from the government, before briefly fleeing the country.
His response to being fired was a military coup. Having worked with Mugabe for years, it was not a hard move, but it was a play that broke up their relationship for life.
Now, for Mnangagwa, presiding over the funeral wake and burial of a man he knew so well would be an honour.
Mugabe’s burial was provisionally planned for Sunday – coincidentally falling on Mnangagwa’s 77th birthday.
The event is expected to take place at the National Heroes Acre in Harare. Deputy information minister Energy Mutodi was less than diplomatic when he declared that Mugabe would be buried there, while presidential spokesman George Charamba told journalists that the date and location for the burial had not yet been set.
Mugabe’s family was having none of that, however. “President Mugabe’s wishes on his final resting place must be respected – irrespective of the desires and wishes of any politician, no matter what lofty positions or office they think they occupy,” said Mugabe’s nephew Patrick Zhuwao in a statement.
Zhuwao also hinted that he was not allowed access to Mugabe’s corpse in Singapore to pay his last respects this week.
To show how much Mnangagwa still needs Mugabe’s endorsement, even in death, the president had a meeting with the leadership of the Gushungo clan – Mugabe’s tribesmen – on Tuesday about the burial arrangements. Sources said the meeting was to convince them to consider a Heroes’ Acre burial.
After the meeting, Charamba said the government was working closely with the family but no date or place of burial was mentioned because it was still a point of contention.
“The delegation pledged full support to government arrangements and programmes, which are being drawn up and executed in close consultation with the family of the departed,” said Charamba.
Political scientist Dr Ibbo Mandaza told TimesLIVE that the main reason for Mnangagwa to push for centre stage at Mugabe’s burial was because he wanted to give the impression that there was no rift between the two.
“It’s simply a move to try to tell the world that there was no coup, Mugabe resigned on his own and left power to the younger leader,” he said.
To date, however, no one knows where Mugabe’s resignation letter is. As a result, assistant clerk of parliament Johannes Gandiwa was fired.