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Letter from America: Will Mugabe’s dead body cause Mnangagwa’s downfall?

By Ken Mufuka

In my book (with Cyril Zenda) on the Life and Times of Robert Mugabe: Dream Betrayed (2017) we concluded that all the cadres who served with Mugabe, worshipped the ground on which he walked, were eventually betrayed.

Ken Mufuka
Ken Mufuka

Yet having served him for so many years, those loyal cadres find it difficult to disown Mugabe and his legacy. By insisting that his body be exhumed from his village, even though Mugabe himself regarded them as Judases for overthrowing him, I see nothing but peril on that path.

Unlike Zipra, Zanu, through a stroke of genius, embedded themselves in syncretism, a form of religion that combines Christian beliefs with traditional ancestral worship. More than 40 percent of Zimbabwe’s population fall under this general rubric called “mapostori.”

In yet another stroke of genius, Zanu’s inclusion of Nehanda in their nationalistic rubric confirmed them as authentic nationalists.

But there is a deep underside to all this.

Zanu leadership became embedded in superstition and ritualistic practices that were assumed to have disappeared with the dawn of Christian education. Mateo Hungwe, a scion of the Rain bird (the keepers of the earth’s secrets) claimed to be in possession of a talking walking stick (tsvimbo) traceable to Munhumutapa dynasty.

In an attempt to secure this tsvimbo on behalf of Mugabe, Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku sentenced him to a 15-year term on a trumped-up charge of insurrection. That tsvimbo is said to have been buried with Mugabe.

In another version, Patrick Zimbiru Hungwe was regarded as Shave Guru for vakomana (Zanla forces) and held court in the deep caves of Domboshava. He died at the hands of Selous Scouts during the liberation war. Nevertheless, a talking clay pot (Hari ya Zimbiru) is said to have been handed over to Mugabe.

These folklore mythical stories are widely known among people of the Rain bird. Zanu leadership, having imbibed these syncretic beliefs, was therefore very prone to spiritual manipulation by the spirit mediums, especially when its leadership was involved in murderous activities.

Whenever a leader was directly involved in the death of a colleague, that leader was required to go through some cleansing rituals. While our advanced readers may regard these rituals as pure abracadabra, their intention was to keep away the ghosts of the departed, either at bay (if murdered) or at least in a non-combatant calibration towards them.

Mugabe himself has described some rituals which he attributed to Joice Mujuru, performed in the middle of the night, by nude figures for effect, figure gyrating and speaking mysterious words about their political enemies.

Kelebogile Zvobgo, a relative of one of Mugabe fierce and gifted rivals for leadership, Dr. Eddison Zvobgo, writes as follows. “The 1979 automobile death of Josiah Tongogara (Mugabe’s rival) was one early attempt to consolidate Mugabe’s power.

Similar car accidents became a regime signature designed to intimidate, if not o eliminate, rivals such as Eddison Zvobgo. But chief among all these episodes of political violence perpetrated in Zimbabwe…is Gukurahundi” which involved the elimination of 20 000 people of the Ndebele nationality. (Transitional Justice, 2021).

If Mugabe was the architect of this horror, Kelobogile says that: “the strength of the case against Mnangagwa (the enforce) is undeniable.”

Mugabe in his death, sought to distance himself from all his collaborators. It never occurred to Mugabe that his collaborators (for 37 years) had any brains to have finally come to the conclusion that he must go.

Mnangagwa, like other collaborators, could not distance themselves from Mugabe since they never stood alone. Against their own judgement, they sought to ride on the back of the man whom they had deposed.

Mugabe did have charisma and invoked awe among his subordinates. Indeed, he had no friends but subordinates. But from whence came his power? It was acknowledged that some of his aura came from much learning; Mugabe having acquired seven university degrees from the University of London, in an attempt to shorten the circle of ignorance. Having none of that aura and inborn charisma, they resorted to syncretism. Surely, some of that charisma must have been derived from tsvimbo, or from the possession of the relics from the cave in Domboshava.

I owe some enlightenment from the writings of Dinizulu Macaphulana. To laugh at these superstitions is to misunderstand human nature. The murder of Herbert Chitepo was ameliorated through ritual practices. Tongogara’s shadow is reported to have been a constant visitor at the state house.

That Solomon Mujuru’s body parts were incinerated in a ritual ceremony may be deducted from the accusations against his wife, Joice Mujuru. She was accused of taking part in ritual ceremonies, a reference to a family which appeals to the dead to wake up in order to take revenge on its murderers.

That relics from the dead can be used in rituals is not new in the syncretic world. It was against such uses of relics that the German reformer Martin Luther first lodged his protest.

The downfall

Naturally, Bona, Mugabe’s daughter and Grace, Mugabe’s surviving wife and the whole of Mugabe’s clan will not wish to share the secrets of the earth or the relics interred in his casket. Besides, while Mnangagwa wishes to distance himself from Gukurahundi, the most egregious crime in Zimbabwe’s history, Mugabe’s shadow wishes to pin that atrocity on him as part of a revenge.

Besides, there are some taboos among the Bantu. A grave cannot be disturbed, or moved without proper spiritual rituals having been performed. The grave has a semblance of sovereignty. My information is that Chief Zvimba, who, in his greed or ignorance, had agreed to the removal of Mugabe’s grave from its tribal resting place, was struck by a Covid-19 related illness and died.

The fear by the Mugabe family is that some relics will be removed from Mugabe’s coffin; these relics include parts of his body. Ritual performances which require that kissing and consumption of these relics will be performed by Mugabe’s successors, presumably in the middle of the night, naked bodies gyrating to the beat of drums, shadows only partially uplifted by moonshine. Judging from Macaphulana’s brief, such was the fate of General Solomon Mujuru’s body.

The rituals and the muti (special medicines) protect the participants from revenge by those they have injured. Such is their world. In their primitive world, without the ritualistic performances, made possible by the availability of graveyard relics, the transition of power and the aura of charisma from one dark prince to another has not taken place.

Thus, in their own superstitious eyes, they are not legitimate. And what if Bona (Mugabe’s daughter) were to speak against the new usurpers, in the name and voice of her father? Who has more to lose, her or the usurpers?

(Ken Mufuka (and Cyril Zenda) spent ten years researching: Life and Times of Robert Mugabe: Dream Betrayed (Innov Bookshops, Zimbabwe). It is also available from kenmufukabooks.com)