Members of Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party are planning to protest late dictator Robert Mugabe’s funeral on Thursday in honor of the tens of thousands Mugabe killed, local media reported on Tuesday.
MDC leader Nelson Chamisa has urged the public against attacking Mugabe at his own funeral, reportedly believing such a move to be “uncultured,” according to national newspaper New Zimbabwe. Many of those who disagree are younger members of the party, who grew up knowing only Mugabe as national leader, and lost relatives to his decades of slaughter.
Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years before his own Zanu-PF party ousted him in a coup in 2017. He died in Singapore, where he had spent months receiving treatment for liver issues. He was 95 years old, and 93 when he left power.
The most prodigious human rights atrocity during his rule was “Operation Gukurahundi,” the genocide of an estimated 20,000 people of the Ndebele indigenous group between 1983 and 1987 by elite, North Korea-trained forces loyal to Mugabe. The Ndebele largely rejected Mugabe and his Shona people as rulers. In the decades following Gukurahundi, Mugabe is believed to have killed thousands of dissidents in “road accidents, poison and at times burning them in huts as he sought to retain power by hook or crook,” as New Zimbabwe described it.
“We are not happy at all. This is a man who killed our members for fun during his days in power. We cannot pretend that he is a saint today,” an unnamed “youth” told the newspaper. “That African culture dictates that we sanctify the departed is not applicable here. Chamisa, [MDC deputy leader Tendai] Biti and all other party leaders should just have kept their mouths shut.”
Chamisa and Biti outraged the members of their party by expressing condolences to the Mugabe family and praising the late tyrant. Chamisa had also noted that, because of the coup against him. Mugabe had become an opposition supporter late in life.
“What is gratifying to us is that at the end of his reign he voted for change, he voted for me, in fact, Mr Mugabe is one of the few people who did not hide their vote,” Chamisa told Al Jazeera. “We have lost a voter, we have lost a supporter, we have lost a citizen, an African son.”
Biti, meanwhile, told opponents of Mugabe, “His legacy shouldn’t be detracted by the fact that there were atrocities.”
Biti himself has said he was “tortured” by Mugabe’s thug forces for being a member of the opposition.
“This is not funny at all. Mugabe killed many of our colleagues and never got to account for it. What is it our leaders got from Mugabe that they see him as a hero today?” another anonymous MDC member told Zimbabwe Voice, and online outlet. Yet another opposition supporter speaking to the outlet said they were “shocked but not surprised” at Chamisa, calling the opposition “very weak.”
“We are going nowhere with these clueless opposition leaders,” the unnamed individual lamented.
Pride Mkono, who went on the record as a youth leader for the opposition, said it was “shocking” that Chamisa and the MDC leadership were not attacking Mugabe because he had recently died.
“Those that are celebrating Mugabe’s violent legacy are either nonsensical, naive or both,” said Mkono. “It is especially shocking coming from purported leaders of the opposition.”
Mugabe’s funeral arrangements have become a matter of controversy as his body makes its way back to Zimbabwe. Local outlets reported this week that there was some discord between the government of Zimbabwe, who wished to bury him with other communist leaders in Harare, and family members who sought the full funeral rites of a Shona chief that they believed Mugabe deserved.
A spokesman for the family, nephew Leo Mugabe, told reporters that there was no disagreement between Harare and the Mugabe family.
“There’s no feud between the family and government. As to where he will be buried is dependent on the family, the family and chiefs in Zvimba are the people that will determine basically where he’s going to be buried,” Leo Mugabe said. “To say there’s [a] feud is not correct, not true. We’ve been meeting with government and everything has been very smooth, there’s understanding, there’s clarity on responsibilities and therefore, there is no feud whatsoever.”
The government is holding a public viewing of the body on Thursday at Rufaro Stadium in Mbare, then a funeral in Harare on Saturday before the final burial. Those organizing the rites have not made public yet where Mugabe’s final resting place will be.
Leo Mugabe told reporters that the final resting place is a decision that Shona chiefs must make.
“The chiefs in Zvimba still regard him as a chief and in terms of tradition, they are the ones that determine where is he going to be buried, how is he going to be buried, the procedures that must be followed in his burial,” Mugabe said. “This is a cultural thing and nobody can push the chiefs to divulge where they are going to bury [Mugabe].”
Leaders of several African allies, including Nigeria and South Africa, are expected to attend Mugabe’s official funeral. President Mnangagwa, who organized the coup against Mugabe after his wife Grace Mugabe forced him into exile, had kind words for the dictator upon his death on Friday, calling him “an icon of liberation.”
Mnangagwa and the nation’s military did not interrupt the thousands-strong protests against Mugabe in 2017 that called for him to be removed. Instead, Zanu-PF leaders claimed to listen to the people and begin impeachment proceedings in the legislature, which never came to fruition because Mugabe resigned.
Mnangagwa has since established a national holiday to celebrate the man he forced out of office.