The decision on the burial of Zimbabwe’s founding father Robert Mugabe sparked an element of deep traditional rituals which are part of the African culture rooted in some of our communities. He passed on while in Singapore at the age of 95, where he had sought medical treatment. The late Mugabe has been described as a pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people.
His burial arrangements had brought about a dispute between his family who wanted to bury him at his rural homestead Zvimba and the government, which pushed for the body to rest at a national monument in the capital, but the two parties settled for the National Heroes Acre Monument.
Chiefs in caves
When Mugabe’s remains were returned to Zvimba on Monday, traditional leaders demanded the burial remain in line with local rites, that could have highlighted the spiritual beliefs, superstitions and rituals surrounding deaths of traditional leaders in parts of Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe’s founding father was a non-practising chief in his homestead and according to their customs Zvimba chiefs are buried in caves and the burial is secretly conducted at night.
“When a chief such as Mugabe dies, he is not a person that can be buried at Heroes Acre, that is forbidden. He should be buried in a cave. When a chief died, often his body would be dried, his teeth extracted and his finger and toenails ripped off.
“The body would then be wrapped in skin hides before burial, and could even be swapped with a token such as a goat’s head to be buried instead,” said Benjamin Burombo Jnr a prominent Zimbabwean traditional healer.
On cultural beliefs and superstition surrounding the deaths and funerals of chiefs, very few people knew where the chief was buried as death would only be revealed days or even weeks after burial. In these caves a particular clan normally buried their own chiefs.
According to the traditional healer, Mugabe was not just a president, but he was the embodiment of the spirit of Kaguvi one of Zimbabwe’s revered spirit mediums and pre-colonial nationalist leader.
It is said that Mugabe grew up Catholic and was educated by Jesuits. But according to Burombo, he still followed traditional norms and practices despite going to church. A former acquaintance of Mugabe mentioned that he was secretive and private about his beliefs.