Traditional beliefs, rituals fuel tensions over Mugabe’s funeral

As public wakes for late Zimbabwean

leader Robert Mugabe have drawn to a close, traditional chiefs are demanding

the body be buried according to spiritual traditions.

Those requests have been part of a dispute over the final burial of

Mugabe, who died September 6 almost two years after a coup ended his

increasingly autocratic 37 year rule.

He died during a medical trip to Singapore aged 95, leaving Zimbabweans

torn over the legacy of a man who some still laud for his role as a colonial

era liberation hero.

Mugabe's burial has already been caught up in a dispute between his family

who wanted to bury him at his rural homestead Zvimba and the

government, which pushed for the body to rest at a national monument in the


They finally agreed Mugabe would be buried at the National Heroes Acre

monument, in about 30 days, once a mausoleum was built for him.

But Mugabe was a non practising chief in his homestead, and the burial

feud has highlighted the spiritual beliefs, superstitions and rituals

surrounding deaths of traditional leaders in parts of Zimbabwe.

Once Mugabe's remains were returned to Zvimba on Monday, traditional

leaders demanded the burial remain in line with local rites.

One of the Zvimba chiefs, Raphael Zvikaramba, said they had so far

accepted the government's proposal, but refused to comment on the details.

(Zvimba) chiefs are buried in caves and the burial is secretly conducted

at night, Mugabe's nephew Dominic Matibiri told AFP, standing outside his

late uncle's rural house.

Not just a president

A prominent Zimbabwean traditional healer, Benjamin Burombo Jnr, detailed

the cultural beliefs and superstition surrounding the deaths and funerals of


When a chief such as Mugabe dies, he is not a person that can be buried

at Heroes Acre, that is forbidden. He should be buried in a cave, Burombo

told AFP.

Mugabe was not just a president, but he was the embodiment of the spirit

of Kaguvi, he added, referring to one of Zimbabwe's revered spirit mediums

and pre colonial nationalist leader.

When a chief died, often his body would be dried, his teeth extracted

and his finger and toenails ripped off, Burombo said.

He said the body would then be wrapped in skin hides before burial, and

could even be swapped with a token such as a goat's head to be buried


You can build that monument, but it doesn't mean that is where the

remains of Mugabe will be buried it's just for people to continue

remembering him.

Mugabe grew up Catholic and was educated by Jesuits. But according to

Burombo, he still followed traditional norms and practices despite going

to church.

Exaggerating the mystery

Mugabe's remains currently lie in his childhood village of Kutama, in

Zvimba district, about 90 kilometres (56 miles) west of Harare.

During a mass held in his honour, priest Emmanuel Ribeiro a former

acquaintance said the former president was secretive and private about

his beliefs.

Retired sociology professor Claude Mararike told AFP the secrecy

surrounding the funerals of traditional chiefs had long vanished.

He said that in the past, a death would only be revealed days or even

weeks after burial.

Very few people knew where the chief was buried, Mararike said. There

were caves where a particular clan normally buried their own chiefs.

But Mararike said that long standing political tensions between the family

and government might have precipitated the discord and mystery surrounding

the funeral.

Mugabe's family are still bitter over the role current President Emmerson

Mnangagwa played in his ouster.

A former guerrilla who fought alongside Mugabe against colonial forces,

Mnangagwa was fired as first vice president in 2017. Mugabe had branded him a


Soon after, protesters took to the streets and military officers pressured

Mugabe to step down in what was widely seen as a struggle between Mnangagwa's

faction and loyalists to Mugabe's wife Grace inside the ruling ZANU PF party.

There obviously was quite a lot of anger among the Zvimba people on how

their son was removed from office, said Mararike.

The late president Mugabe might have said something before he died, he

added referring to how he wanted to be buried, but what he really said we

don't know.

Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)