By Mary Taruvinga
CHILDREN of the late Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe have maintained that the traditional leaders who ordered the exhumation of their father’s remains have no legal right to do so.
This emerged during the hearing of a matter Mugabe’s children are challenging their village head over their father’s reburial.
The village head is Tinos Manongovere, who filed a complaint before Chief Zvimba last year that Mugabe was “improperly” interred in a courtyard.
Manongovere’s request was upheld by Chief Zvimba who went on to fine Grace for contempt of court and incorrectly burying her husband.
The matter then spilled into the courts where Chinhoyi magistrate Ruth Moyo also allowed the exhumation of Mugabe.
Aggrieved by the decision, Mugabe’s children appealed against the magistrate who had dismissed their appeal on grounds that they had no locus standi to appeal against their father’s reburial.
They also challenge the chief’s decision at the traditional court.
In the latest development, High court judge, Justice Ammy Tsanga reserved her judgment in the case.
The judge also reserved her judgement in the submissions by Manongovere’s lawyer that their appeal is fatally defective because it does not comply with the rules of the magistrate’s court.
Mugabe’s children, Bona Mutsahuni and her siblings, Bellarmine Chatunga and Robert Junior on Thursday argued that no one except them has the authority over their father’s grave, warning that anyone who would tamper with it will be committing a criminal offence as outlined in the Burial Act.
Through their lawyer, Tawanda Zhuwarara, Mugabe’s children insist that the lower court must first determine if the village head who authorised exhumation and reburial has the rights to do so.
“The magistrate ignored the locus standi of Bona and siblings in this matter. They are the only heirs as such, the appellants being sons and daughter of Mugabe had locus standi to approach the magistrate on a notice of appeal to set aside the determination by Manongovere,” said Zhuwarara.
“Only the heirs are authorized to act when it comes to the question of burial, burial rights or location. The appeal ought to be heard in the court aquo because it has to be determined whether Manongovere had authority to determine the burial issue,” he said.
“Section 26 of the Burial Act says it is criminal to interfere with a grave, so it is important that Moyo deals with this matter because her court has jurisdiction. She has to rehear the matter and determine if the respondent was entitled to order the exhumation of Mugabe,” Zhuwarara submitted.
According to the said section, anyone who wilfully destroys or causes to be done any damage, defacement or disfigurement to any monument, vault, tombstone or grave whether within or without a cemetery shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding level five or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or both.
However, Pardon Nhokwara representing Manongovere argued that Grace should have appealed against the decision and not her children.
“Appellants chose to mis-join the person who the order related to who is Grace Mugabe. We do not even know her position. She might even be satisfied by the judgement,” he said.
However, Grace last year also filed a High Court application challenging the reburial of her husband.
She also insisted that her children have authority to appeal against their father’s reburial.
Mugabe died in Singapore on September 6, 2019 while receiving medical treatment at a private hospital.
He was buried in a family courtyard at Kutama in Zvimba, his rural home.
This was after several attempts by senior government officials to have him interred at the National Heroes Acre where other late nationalists are buried.
However, Mugabe’s family resisted, insisting before his death, he had told them he wanted to be buried at the family’s rural homestead.
In July last year Chief Zvimba summoned Mugabe’s wife, Grace Mugabe to appear before his traditional court and explain why her husband was buried at the family courtyard breaching traditional customs.
However, the widow did not attend the hearing held at Murombedzi Growth Point, amid reports she was in Singapore.
A default judgement in which chief Zvimba ordered Grace to pay a fine of five cows and two goats for breach of traditional customs was made.
The chief also ordered Mugabe’s reburial at the national shrine before 1 July 2021.
The court battle then began at the Chinhoyi provincial magistrates’ courts.
The children argued the traditional leader has no jurisdiction in interfering with their family issues.