The regime of socialist President Emmerson Mnangagwa was forced to deny on Thursday that Zimbabwe leaders are interested in exhuming late longtime dictator Robert Mugabe in a quest to find a magical scepter believed responsible for his nearly 40-year rule.
Mugabe, leader of the Zanu-PF party, died in disgrace in 2019, two years after Mnangagwa, once his vice president, engineered a coup against his dictatorship. The Zimbabwean military removed Mugabe and effectively disempowered his wife, “Gucci” Grace Mugabe, Mnangagwa’s primary rival. Once firmly established in power, Mnangagwa granted the nonagenarian Mugabe a holiday in his name and access to a massive estate, luxury vehicles, and servants, all on the public dime.
Following Mugabe’s death in 2019, his wife and family smuggled his body out of the custody of Mnangagwa’s government and buried him in his hometown, Zvimba, on private property. Zanu-PF formally objected as an organization, noting that it had constructed a mausoleum and public memorial for the genocidal Mugabe and that his burial elsewhere was an affront to “all patriotic Zimbabweans.”
“What has happened here was [Mugabe’s] wishes,” Mugabe nephew Walter Chidhakwa said at the time. “When we had discussions the burial issue was non-negotiable. We want to say thank you to president Emmerson Mnangagwa for respecting his wishes.”
Mugabe also left behind a significant financial mess. Local reports estimated that Mugabe, who died without having drafted a will, left as much as $10 million in his estate and eight separate properties, though reportedly none of them were formally under his name. Mugabe left Zimbabwe one of the world’s poorest countries at the time of his ouster, a status it maintains today. The socialist Zanu-PF has faced decades of egregious corruption allegations that have persisted past Mugabe’s rule; the nation’s own fiscal watchdogs revealed in October that $10.6 billion in “unauthorized expenditure” disappeared from Ministry of Finance coffers between 2015 and 2018.
On Monday, Chief Zvimba, the tribal leader of Mugabe’s hometown, ordered the local government to exhume Mugabe, two years later, and move his remains to the national memorial built for him in Harare, on the grounds that the family’s burial broke violated tradition. Chief Zvimba ruled a week prior to his call to exhume Mugabe that Grace Mugabe had violated the norms of his clan and orchestrated an “inappropriate” burial. Mugabe was fined five cows and two goats in absentia.
Mugabe’s family has rejected the ruling. In the past, members of the extended Mugabe family claimed that Robert Mugabe feared that his enemies would “seek to conduct a traditional ritual with his body parts.” Months of similar accusations from Mugabe family members have rankled the Mnangagwa administration. The most prominent of these accusations is a widespread rumor that Mnangagwa fears he will lose control of the country without possessing a magical scepter that the Mugabe family allegedly buried him with.
Exiled Mugabe nephew Patrick Zhuwao was among the first to make the claim.
“Zhuwao says Mnangagwa is pushing for the exhumation of Mugabe’s remains, because he (Mnangagwa) believes Mugabe was buried with a (Tsvimbo, staff stick) which gave him authority and power to lead Zimbabwe,” the local outlet Pindula reported this month, citing a televised interview with South Africa’s SABC news.
Zhuwao reportedly said:
The reason Emmerson Mnangagwa wants to exhume the mortal remains of President Mugabe is that he has been looking for what is referred to as tsvimbo ya Mambo, which is really the scepter that he believes will give him the authority to be the leader of Zimbabwe. Emmerson Mnangagwa, in my presence and the presence of my two colleagues, has indicated that he believes that there are 16 traditional leaders who will effectively anoint the person that will be able to effectively govern Zimbabwe and he believes that president Mugabe had that tsvimbo yehuMambo.
The comments triggered a controversy over both the existence of the scepter and Mnangagwa’s alleged interest in it. Mnangagwa supporters have largely dismissed the remarks as ridiculous. Others, like Killer Zichu, a socialist Zanu-PF lawmaker, responded by asserting that the scepter exists, but it was not buried with Mugabe. Zivhu claimed that a former cabinet member, Saviour Kasukuwere, possesses the scepter; Kasukuwere is currently in exile.
Mnangagwa’s Information Ministry formally responded to the spread of the rumors regarding the alleged scepter on Thursday.
“It is a very local matter, I am not sure the chief has jurisdiction on who should be buried at the Heroes Acre or not which is a piece of land outside his dominion,” permanent secretary Nick Mangwana told reporters. “But what I can tell you (please take it as official) is that the government of Zimbabwe has no interest in this matter at all and we are just observing this local matter with annoyance.”