A bitter family feud over Morgan Tsvangirai’s widow – Elizabeth – accompanying her husband’s body into the One Commando Barracks forced government to step in yesterday and take charge of the proceedings, triggering protests from the late opposition MDC leader’s supporters.
At the last minute yesterday, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government – which refused to declare the popular opposition leader and long-time rival of former president Robert Mugabe a national hero – decided to have Tsvangirai’s body lie in state at the army barracks.
Acting Information minister Simon Khaya Moyo was dispatched by Mnangagwa to deliver the message that Tsvangirai’s body was being taken to One Commando Barracks, which did not go down well with the MDC leadership, but was begrudgingly accepted by the family.
While Tsvangirai’s mother and his family arrived with his body around 1600hrs, Elizabeth had arrived earlier due to family differences, with sources telling the Daily News on Sunday that the tension and its potential to degenerate into violence prompted government to intervene.
Hundreds of MDC supporters who were at the Robert Mugabe International Airport’s Aviation Ground Services, where the body arrived in a South Airways plane, breached security fences and almost broke into the warehouse where the body of the former prime minister was, amid delays from aviation authorities who were in sixes and sevens trying to control the restless mob.
They sang and demanded the body of their fallen leader saying it cannot be taken to the One Commando Barracks, a place where only Zanu PF heroes are taken before burial.
MDC vice presidents, Thokozani Khupe and Elias Mudzuri, were booed by the crowds when they arrived while their counterpart Nelson Chamisa – who has been elected acting president by the party’s national council – was mobbed amid deafening praises from the opposition supporters.
After protracted talks inside the warehouse, Tsvangirai’s body was then taken to the army barracks, with cars honking, while the MDC faithful whistled and wailed.
Scores of people, both adults and children, lined the airport road, which was clogged with traffic as they waved at the motorcade which crawled fitfully to the One Commando Barracks.
And just before dusk, the multitudes had gathered at the intimidating Commando Barracks, confronting soldiers.
“We want the body of our leader,” they shouted while singing the funeral dirge “ndimi makauraya” (you are the murders). Some even demanded to see former army general and Vice President Constantino Chiwenga.
Breaching all the rules, the MDC supporters took selfies at the manicured lawns of Commando Barracks and chanted while waiting for the return of the party leadership which had been permitted beyond the walls of one of the army’s bastions of power.
After failing to get a glimpse of the body of their hero, scores of MDC supporters later walked to his home, causing chaos and traffic jams.
Earlier yesterday, Tsvangirai’s brother and family spokesperson, Manasa, had told reporters at the former prime minister’s Highlands home that Zimbabweans from across the political divide will have a chance to bid farewell to the veteran opposition leader at the Freedom Square on Monday before the body is taken to Buhera.
“The programme starts today (Saturday); we are informed that the body will arrive at 16:25 hours. The body will be taken to Doves funeral parlour and it will lie there to enable them to make necessary preparations.
“Around 20:00hrs, they will be a church service here and tomorrow (Sunday). The body will leave Doves for Malbereign Methodist Church in Zimbabwe. They will be a church service around2pm and after the body will pass through Harvest House for a moment of silence and it will come here (at Tsvangirai’s Highlands home) and they will be a church service here again at night,” said Manase.
He was flanked by the MDC’s two deputy presidents, Nelson Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri.
On Monday, there will be a church service and body viewing. After that, at around 11am the body will be taken to Freedom Square for about two hours.
Thereafter, it will be taken to Buhera.
On Tuesday, the official programme will starts at 8am, with a morning service and after that there shall be a church service.
Burial has been scheduled for 2pm.
Tsvangirai, who died on Wednesday last week, was a veteran of the struggle for democracy against the Zanu PF regime.
He almost came within touching distance for presidency in 2008 only to be denied by arch-nemesis, former president Robert Mugabe, whom he had beaten in the first round, albeit failing short of the 51 percent threshold needed for an outright victory.
The consequent presidential election run-off was marred by electoral irregularities including violence against MDC party supporters and officials, forcing Tsvangirai to withdraw from the race.
The power contestations that followed resulted in the Southern African Development Community forcing Mugabe into a coalition government that stabilised the economy in 2009.