By Andrew Kunambura and Farayi Machamire
President Robert Mugabe, who arrived in the country in the early hours of yesterday morning, did not show up at the burial of Masvingo Provincial Affairs minister Shuvai Mahofa at the National Heroes Acre in Harare, amid speculation that woeful events of the past few days might have taken their toll on him, the Daily News can report.
Mugabe, who conferred the national heroine status on the 76-year-old Mahofa mid last week, rarely misses a funeral of a top Zanu PF official when he is in the country.
Zanu PF and government officials canvassed by the Daily News said Mugabe, who turns 94 in February next year, did not attend the burial along with his wife, Grace, as they needed to rest.
Indeed, it had been a hectic week for the ageing Zanu PF leader who had to rush to Johannesburg ahead of a meeting of the 15-member Southern African Development Community (Sadc) bloc to calm a storm that had been brewed by his wife, Grace.
The first lady got herself in deep trouble, which almost caused a diplomatic furore between Harare and Pretoria, after she assaulted a South African model, Gabriella Engels, at a Sandton hotel last weekend. The temperamental first lady had gone to South Africa to visit her two sons — Robert Junior and Bellarmine Chatunga — when she found Engels in their hotel room. In a fit of rage, she assaulted Engels, accusing her of cohabitating with her sons — who are both in their 20s and live in Johannesburg.
Grace was lucky to escape arrest after she was granted diplomatic immunity by the South African government, ending days of nail-biting drama that kept the world entertained.
A few days earlier, one of Mugabe’s deputies — Emmerson Mnangagwa — had to be flown to South Africa to seek urgent medical attention following suspected food poisoning in Gwanda, where the Zanu PF leader was addressing Zanu PF youths.
While Mnangagwa came back home a day earlier than his boss after spending a week detained in a South African hospital, he could also not make it for the burial as well.
Many had, however, expected Mugabe and his wife to make it for Mahofa’s burial at the national shrine considering that he touched down at the Harare International Airport at around 03:30am and that he had left the Sadc summit in mid-session, but that was not to be.
The rumour mill was in full swing yesterday after Mugabe missed the burial of one of his praise-singers, Mahofa, who collapsed at her home in Rhodene, Masvingo, and died before she could be admitted to hospital last week.
Speculation swirled yesterday that Mugabe stayed away from Mahofa’s burial because it had been turned into a factional event.
Home Affairs minister, Ignatius Chombo, who was the director of ceremonies at Mahofa’s burial, announced that Mugabe was in Harare but said he could not attend the burial without giving the reasons.
“Today’s burial will be presided over by the acting president Phelekezela Mphoko who was assigned by president Mugabe who arrived this morning,” Chombo said.
Mugabe had already ordered that the funeral be presided over by Vice President Mphoko despite choruses of disapproval from Mahofa’s family and allies.
Interestingly, Mahofa’s family and the Masvingo party leadership frantically tried to halt funeral proceedings because they wanted to wait for Mugabe to return from the Sadc summit to preside over her burial. They even went to the extent of attempting to push the burial to Wednesday, which was turned down.
Chaos punctuated Mphoko’s 12-minute address as some mourners made interjections from the terraces, resulting in one State security agent slapping one of them.
He was immediately surrounded by an angry mob which angrily accosted him as they threatened vengeance.
It took the intervention of some senior government officials to cool down the tempers.
Scores of people started trooping out of the national shrine as Mphoko went through his prepared speech and by the time he finished, the place was virtually empty, leaving soldiers and police officers to dominate the crowd.
Mphoko appeared to be aware of the rumpus as he accused unnamed party officials of trying to use Mahofa’s death to settle their own political scores.
“She embraced herself to the party leadership and embraced wholeheartedly the work and assignments she was given. As such there is no need for anyone to spoil her status to seek to hijack for the purpose of advancing any narrow or sinister agenda. National heroes and heroines like comrade Mahofa are by definition figures and rallying points for nation unity. Any attempt to use national heroines for any divisive politics is a betrayal of the gains of the liberation struggle,” Mphoko said, in the only occasion when he strayed from his prepared speech.
Reports indicated that the booing and walking out on Mphoko was done by a rented crowd to embarrass the vice president.
Mahofa was one of the kingpins in the Team Lacoste faction, one of the two groups in Zanu PF battling to have their own succeed Mugabe.
“The iron lady of Masvingo”, as Mahofa was affectionately known, was one of the kingpins in the Team Lacoste faction, which is campaigning for Mnangagwa to succeed Mugabe.
There hasn’t been any love lost between Mphoko and the Team Lacoste faction as the vice president is seen as one of the key figures behind the rival Generation 40 (G40) faction, which is opposed to Mnangagwa.
Mahofa’s funeral brought to the fore the ugly side of the factionalism in Zanu PF when perceived G40 members were barred from attending her funeral in Masvingo.
The factional detachments manifested during Mahofa’s funeral wake in Masvingo, where G40 sympathisers, notably Tourism and Hospitality minister, Walter Mzembi and provincial political commissar, Jappy Jaboon, were chased away by Mnangagwa loyalists who accused them of hounding Mahofa to death as well as poisoning Mnangagwa.
On Friday, Chombo told a press conference that they were some mischievous elements who wanted to confuse the situation.
“The family spoke about Saturday and moved it to Sunday. There could be some mischievous elements who were trying to confuse the situation, but the family and political leadership are at one that burial is on Sunday (yesterday),” said Chombo. Daily News