NEWS IN DEPTH ANDREW KUNAMBURA / NYASHA CHINGONO
TWO young women, flanking a middle-aged man who appears to enjoy every moment of it, stagger in a beer gut along the short road which branches off the smooth highway connecting Harare and Murombedzi growth point.
They are each holding a quart of the popular Black Label lager, shouting their voices hoarse, as if they have the world at their feet, literally.
But the rest of the people walking along this road, which leads to the late former president Robert Mugabe’s rural homestead in Zvimba, seem to barely notice their antics.
Suddenly, a plane appears in the sky prompting one of the women to shout: “There is Mugabe’s plane, he is here now.”
The second lady shouts back: “No, this is not him, Mugabe is not coming back.”
And they break into a wild, frenzied laughter, in which they are momentarily joined by some of the people in the crowds briskly walking to the Mugabe homestead.
It turned out that it was just another plane on a scheduled flight.
This was Wednesday evening, shortly after the former president’s body was flown to Harare from Singapore, where he died on September 6
At the Mugabe homestead — itself an expansive institution competing for status with the adjacent Kutama Mission — hundreds had gathered for an evening Catholic mass presided over by a
local priest who could not stop extolling Mugabe’s virtues throughout the benediction.
“He was a great man indeed, without whom this country would not have been what it is now.
“May God remember all the many good things he did on judgement day, and forgive all the errors he made since he was only just human like us all…” the priest said, as his sermon was
received with passion from the hundreds.
But it would not be too long before the real reason why the hundreds converged at the homestead became clear.
At the end of the mass, an announcer declared it was time for the evening meal, triggering massive commotion as, helter-skelter, the villagers rushed to queue for food.
It was clear from observation that the villagers, some of whom pitched up barefoot and thinly clad, had for long desired to set their feet at the imperial homestead, something which was not easy during Mugabe’s long reign since it was tightly secured.
Some of the villagers were said to have travelled long distances for the meal opportunity, at a time the country is staring in the face of mass starvation in the wake of poor harvests
caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon, which saw crops in most parts of the country failing.
Villagers have been camping at the Mugabe homestead for several days.
Some testified that they only depart after having had all three meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner, every day.
For breakfast, they were served tea and bread with baked beans and potatoes.
Lunches and dinners came in the form of a complete balanced diet of either rice or sadza and meat and vegetables.
For a wash-down, every villager was given a bottle of fizzy drinks and mineral water.
For each meal, there were three long and winding queues, which took no less than three hours to clear, in what turned out to be an outstanding gesture of hospitality by the family.
Even pupils from a nearby primary school headed directly to the homestead for lunch soon after they had been dismissed for the day.
A group of women was overheard admonishing a young man who had tried his luck to jump the queue: “Don’t play games with us, we will not allow you to jump the queue like that, go behind
if you know what’s good for you. Where are your manners?”
Humbled, the youngman retreated to the tail end of the long queue.
No sooner, commotion ensued as small boys of primary school-going age started pushing and shoving each other until an usher came through to restore order.
“People have been camped here since weekend. We serve them meals throughout the day.
“Some villagers come in as early as 7am when we serve breakfast and stay on for lunch and supper and there is enough food for everyone,” said one of the employees at the homestead, who
declined to be identified.
After the evening meal, the more youthful villagers stayed on for a small musical show which continued well into the night.
While 95km away in the capital, Harare, relatives tussled with government over the control of funeral arrangements, life in Mugabe’s rural backyard continued unabated.
At the nearby Mazunzahomwe shopping centre, grocers enjoyed unusual brisk business from several visitors, who included uniformed police officers providing security and secret state security agents teeming in the area.
One could tell from the big cars parked at the business centre that it was not business as usual.
Grocery shops, bars and butcheries were kept open even well after midnight to cater for the apparent insatiable consumptive appetites of the pilgrims.
Several braai stands had been erected around the business centre, smoke billowing into the mid-air as barbeques went on.
A popular bar in the area was recording brisk business.
Music came from electro-acoustic transducers purposefully hanging from the bar’s iron roof trusses. The noise mercilessly thudded the revellers’ ears.
Ordering soft drinks, the writers took a vantage observatory seat in one desolate corner of the packed bar.
No sooner, the barman, bowing to popular demand, played a song which is currently a hit, sending the bar into rapid commotion as revellers, young and old, took to the dancing floor as
if oblivious of the funeral just next door.
“Ava ndi Mamoyo, vanotamba madhanzi anoyera, moneredza, mona mona, (This is a MaMoyo, she is nimble-footed, she performs sacred dances),” so went the song.
The beat was met with matching pulsing dances, while the majority sang along to produce an electric atmosphere.
In the middle of the melee, a flock of barely dressed young girls suddenly stormed into the bar and raced straight to the centre, assuming complete dominance of the dance floor.
The barman conspiringly increased the volume.
After about half an hour of serious dancing, the barman decided that it was the right time to change the rhythm for the more relaxed and slow beats.
Some revellers responded by retreating to their seats and conversed in hushed tones, while others could be seen escorting the scantily dressed girls out.
“It is not that we don’t care (about Mugabe’s death), but life just has to go on. After all, we shall all perish,” said one of the revellers.
A butcher, still operating late on, said the past few days had been the best since he started the business two years ago.
“I am just happy that business is booming these days. I have been able to sell two whole beasts in the past four days alone whereas in the past, one beast would go for up to three
“Of course, the circumstances of this good business are not the most desirable, but we still have to satisfy the market while it lasts,” the butcher, Pilate Machaya, said.
Mugabe’s body was expected in Zvimba yesterday evening, where it was supposed to lie in state at his rural home.
Even in his own backyard, the mood is no different from the mood elsewhere in the country; a mixture of deep sorrow from those that admired him, detest from those that loathed him and indifference from the rest; as adjudged by how people simply went about their normal day-to-day lives as if nothing of that magnitude ever happened.
This sums up the man’s conflicted legacy, in which people around the world basically agree to disagree on how they would want him remembered in history.