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Traditional rulers demand customary rituals for burial of Robert Mugabe

Once Mugabe’s remains were returned to Zvimba on Monday, traditional leaders demanded the burial remain in line with local rites

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Traditional rulers demand customary rituals for burial of Robert Mugabe

As public wakes for late Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe have drawn to a close, traditional chiefs are demanding the body be buried according to spiritual traditions.

Those requests have been part of a dispute over the final burial of Mugabe, who died September 6 almost two years after a coup ended his increasingly autocratic 37-year rule.

He died during a medical trip to Singapore aged 95, leaving Zimbabweans torn over the legacy of a man who some still laud for his role as a colonial-era liberation hero. 

Mugabe’s burial has already been caught up in 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. 

They finally agreed Mugabe would be buried at the National Heroes Acre monument, in about 30 days, once a mausoleum was built for him.

But Mugabe was a non-practising chief in his homestead, and the burial feud has highlighted the spiritual beliefs, superstitions and rituals surrounding deaths of traditional leaders in parts of Zimbabwe.

Once Mugabe’s remains were returned to Zvimba on Monday, traditional leaders demanded the burial remain in line with local rites.

One of the Zvimba chiefs, Raphael Zvikaramba, said they had “so far” accepted the government’s proposal, but refused to comment on the details.

“(Zvimba) chiefs are buried in caves and the burial is secretly conducted at night,” Mugabe’s nephew Dominic Matibiri told reporters, standing outside his late uncle’s rural house.

‘Not just a president’ –  

A prominent Zimbabwean traditional healer, Benjamin Burombo Jnr, detailed the cultural beliefs and superstition surrounding the deaths and funerals of chiefs.

Traditional rulers demand customary rituals for burial of Robert Mugabe
A Catholic priest consoles a family members as the coffin of late former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe lies in state at the Mugabe homestead in Kutama village, 80 km northwest of Harare, Zimbabwe, on September 16, 2019. (Photo by Zinyange Anthony / AFP)

“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,” Burombo told reporters.

“Mugabe was not just a president, but he was the embodiment of the spirit of Kaguvi,” he added, referring to one of Zimbabwe’s revered spirit mediums and pre-colonial nationalist leader.

When a chief died, often his body “would be dried”, his teeth “extracted” and his finger and toenails “ripped off”, Burombo said. 

He said 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.

“You can build that monument, but it doesn’t mean that is where the remains of Mugabe will be buried… it’s just for people to continue remembering him.”

Mugabe grew up Catholic and was educated by Jesuits. But according to Burombo, he still followed “traditional norms and practices” despite “going to church”.

Exaggerating the mystery –

Mugabe’s remains currently lie in his childhood village of Kutama, in Zvimba district, about 90 kilometres west of Harare.

During a mass held in his honour, Priest Emmanuel Ribeiro — a former acquaintance — said the former President “was secretive and private” about his beliefs.

Traditional rulers demand customary rituals for burial of Robert Mugabe
Zimbabwe’s former first lady Grace Mugabe (2L) follows proceedings during a body viewing ceremony of late former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe hosted at Murombedzi Growth Point, about 107 km northwest of Harare, Zimbabwe, on September 16, 2019, as people have been accorded the opportunity to view Mugabe’s body a week after his death. – (Photo by Jekesai NJIKIZANA / AFP)

Retired sociology professor Claude Mararike told reporters the secrecy surrounding the funerals of traditional chiefs had “long vanished”.

He said that in the past, a death would only be revealed days or even weeks after burial.

“Very few people knew where the chief was buried,” Mararike said. “There were caves where a particular clan normally buried their own chiefs.”

But Mararike said that long-standing political tensions between the family and government “might have precipitated” the discord and mystery surrounding the funeral.

Mugabe’s family are still bitter over the role current President Emmerson Mnangagwa played in his ouster.

A former guerrilla who fought alongside Mugabe against colonial forces, Mnangagwa was fired as first Vice President in 2017. Mugabe had branded him a “traitor”.

Soon after, protesters took to the streets and military officers pressured Mugabe to step down in what was widely seen as a struggle between Mnangagwa’s faction and loyalists to Mugabe’s wife Grace inside the ruling ZANU-PF party. 

“There obviously was quite a lot of anger among the Zvimba people on how their son was removed from office,” said Mararike.

“The late President Mugabe might have said something before he died,” he added referring to how he wanted to be buried, “but what he really said we don’t know”.

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Former South African President Jacob Zuma delays corruption trial with appeal

If it goes ahead, the trial would be the first time Zuma faces a court on graft charges

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Former South African President Jacob Zuma delays corruption trial with appeal
South Africa's embattled former president Jacob Zuma (C) appears in the Pietermaritzburg High Court where he is appearing on corruption charges, in what would be the first time he faces trial for graft despite multiple accusations, in Pietermaritzburg on October 15, 2019. - Zuma stands accused of taking kickbacks before he became president from a 51-billion-rand ($3.4-billion) purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and military equipment manufactured by five European firms, including French defence company Thales. (Photo by Michele Spatari / POOL / AFP)

The corruption trial of South Africa’s embattled former President Jacob Zuma has been delayed again after his lawyer announced Tuesday he would appeal.

The last-minute move pushes back a long-awaited trial over bribery allegations dating back to a 1990s arms deal. Zuma dismissed the charges as a conspiracy.

If it goes ahead, the trial would be the first time Zuma faces a court on graft charges, despite a string of accusations over his long political career.

The High Court in the southeastern city of Pietermaritzburg last week rejected his request to have 16 charges of fraud, graft and racketeering dismissed, clearing the way for the trial to start on Tuesday.

READ: Ex-South African President Jacob Zuma claims he has been vilified

But Zuma’s lawyer Thabani Masuku told the court at the start of the trial that the ex-president would appeal, dragging on a case that has seen numerous legal twists over 15 years.

After the hearing, Zuma told a small group of supporters gathered outside court that “there have been many conspirators against me”. 

“There is no justice that will be served by continuing with this case,” he told the crowd in Zulu.

Zuma was forced to resign as president last year by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party after a nine-year reign marred by corruption allegations and dwindling popularity.

He is accused of taking bribes worth R4 million when he was deputy president from a R51 billion 1999 arms purchase by five European firms, including French defence company Thales.

Both Zuma and Thales, which are accused of paying the bribes and was also to stand trial, deny the charges.

‘Another cunning move’ –

Former South African President Jacob Zuma delays corruption trial with appeal
South Africa’s embattled former president Jacob Zuma (C) appears in the Pietermaritzburg High Court where he is appearing on corruption charges, in what would be the first time he faces trial for graft despite multiple accusations, in Pietermaritzburg on October 15, 2019. (Photo by Michele Spatari / POOL / AFP)

The appeal, which must be filed by November 1, will be heard on November 22. If denied, proceedings are scheduled to resume on the provisional date of February 4.

READ: Jacob Zuma’s son denies offering $40 million bribe to former South African minister

State lawyer Billy Downer told the court that the prosecution believed the appeal would fail and requested the trial starts as soon as possible.

Legal analysts have said a delay would have been likely even without the appeal, given the size of the case.

For its part, Zuma’s defence team maintained that the ex-president had been ready for trial for 14 years.

Legal expert Pierre de Vos of the University of Cape Town said that “if all the courts refuse to hear the appeal, there will be a short delay.”

“If they hear the appeal there will be another year or two before they can begin a trial,” he told reporters, adding that he could face 15 years in jail if found guilty.

Analysts have warned that if Zuma goes on trial, he will drag down with him many leaders of Nelson Mandela’s ANC, which has governed the country since the end of apartheid in 1994.

The opposition Democratic Alliance party in a statement slammed “yet another cunning move by Zuma to avoid jail” and called for the government to ensure the ex-president pay his legal fees.

After a court ruled last year that he should pay his own way, Zuma claimed he was so broke that he had to sell his socks.

‘Teflon president’ –

Former South African President Jacob Zuma delays corruption trial with appeal
South Africa’s embattled former president Jacob Zuma (L) leaves the Pietermaritzburg High Court where he is appearing on corruption charges, in what would be the first time he faces trial for graft despite multiple accusations, in Pietermaritzburg on October 15, 2019. (Photo by Michele Spatari / POOL / AFP)

Critics have dubbed Zuma the “Teflon president” for his reputed ability to evade judicial reckoning.

READ: Former South African President Zuma receives court order to face corruption scandal

He has also been accused of organising the systematic plunder of government coffers in a scandal known as “state capture”.

He appeared at an inquiry into the scandal in July, putting on a defiant performance and denying all wrongdoing.

Zuma’s successor President Cyril Ramaphosa told a conference hosted by the Financial Times in London this week that corruption during Zuma’s administration is estimated to have cost the country more than R500 billion.

Ramaphosa has vowed to tackle deep-seated corruption but faces opposition from powerful senior ANC members, many of whom remain Zuma allies.

“Zuma was in charge for nearly two terms but did very little for us ordinary people,” Sakhile Dube, a 30-year-old clothes seller, told reporters outside the Pietermaritzburg court.

“We are still waiting to see if Ramaphosa can assist us and remedy the situation,” he added. 

READ: Former South African President Zuma withdraws from graft inquiry

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Southern Africa

Police in South Africa march against gender-based violence on women

There has been a rising outcry against sexist violence in the country over the last two months after a series of murders

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Police in South Africa march against gender-based violence on women
Members of the South African Police Services (SAPS) hold plackards as they sing and chant during a march against gender-based violence outside the Sunnyside Police station in Pretoria on October 14, 2019. - The march led by the men in blue aims to raise awareness on the scourge of violence with a view of mobilising society to play an active role in assisting the police in detecting, preventing and fighting gender-based violence. (Photo by Phill Magakoe / AFP)

More than a thousand police officers marched against gender-based violence in South Africa’s capital Pretoria on Monday after a surge in murders and sexual crimes against women.

There has been a rising outcry against sexist violence in the country over the last two months after a series of murders that shocked the public.

In a sea of blue, police officers at the Pretoria rally held up signs reading:

“It hurts us as police officers to pick up bodies of women, children and vulnerable groups on a daily basis”.

READ: South Africa struggles with surge of gender-based violence

Acting national police commissioner Bonang Mgwenya told the gathered officers that gender-based violence was in “a dire state of emergency”. 

“We need an urgent shift that will govern the impact and outcomes of our concerted progressive resolutions,” she said.

The hashtag #AmINext started trending in South Africa as more than 30 women were killed last month, among them a student from Cape Town who was raped and killed in a post office.

READ: President Ramaphosa of South Africa talks tough on fighting gender violence

Police statistics released on the weekend showed that the number of crimes involving sexual offences jumped 4.6 per cent from April 2018 to March 2019, compared with the same period the previous financial year.

Sexual offences detected as a result of police action — instead of women reporting the crime — rose 19 per cent, the statistics said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has said South Africa is “the most unsafe places in the world to be a woman” has announced an emergency plan to stop the surge in violence against women.

READ: Painting by prostitute killer causes outrage in South Africa

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Former South African President Zuma receives court order to face corruption scandal

Zuma sought in March to have the case dropped, maintaining it was politically motivated

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Former South African President Jacob Zuma

South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma will face trial on corruption charges over a 1990s arms deal, a court ruled Friday, in one of multiple alleged graft cases over his long political career.

The court dismissed Zuma’s bid for a permanent stay of prosecution over 16 counts of fraud, racketeering and money laundering relating to the multi-billion-dollar arms deal dating back to before he took office in 2009.

Zuma, who was forced to resign last year over separate corruption allegations, has been accused of taking four million rand ($267,000) in bribes from French defence company Thales.

He sought in March to have the case dropped, maintaining it was politically motivated and that a 15-year delay would result in an unfair trial.

But the trial is now scheduled to begin on Tuesday after the High Court, sitting in the southeastern city of Pietermaritzburg, unanimously dismissed Zuma’s application, saying it was “anchored on unsound foundation”.

In their ruling, the three judges agreed with the prosecution that parts of Zuma’s arguments to have the case thrown out were “scandalous and or vexatious”.

The prosecution welcomed the decision, saying the trial would be held from October 15 to 18. However the 77-year-old former leader could still appeal the ruling, experts have suggested.

If it goes ahead, it would be the first time the former leader has stood trial on corruption charges, despite a series of graft allegations against him.

Zuma, who was in court for the ruling on Friday, has yet to respond. The High Court also dismissed an application by Thales to quash the trial. Both the French firm and the former president deny any wrongdoing.

Still going to drag

State lawyer Wim Trengove had argued that if Zuma did not stand trial it gave the impression that he had received special treatment “because he is an important and a powerful man”.

He also said Zuma’s claims that he was a victim of a “witch hunt” were unfounded.

Zuma is alleged to have taken the bribes during his time as a provincial economy minister and later as deputy leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in the 1990s.

The case has been much delayed – the charges were first brought against Zuma in 2005. They were dropped by prosecutors in 2009, shortly before Zuma became president, and reinstated in 2016. 

Former South African President Jacob Zuma
Former South African President Jacob Zuma is pictured at the High Court, where he is seeking a permanent stay of prosecution on charges of corruption, in Pietermaritzburg on October 11, 2019, . – The high court has dismissed with costs the appilcation for a permanent stay of prosecution by Zuma and his co-accused French Arms Company ,Thales. (Photo by – / AFP)

The judges blamed both Zuma and the state for the “systemic” delays, saying that “both parties are equally liable as they both participated in the litigation leading to the delay”.

However, they said they were satisfied that the delays would not prejudice the trial. Thales said in a statement that it “notes the decision of the High Court” and was assessing its legal options. 

South Africa’s main opposition party the Democratic Alliance welcomed the court’s decision, saying “that Zuma will eventually have to face his day in court”.

But political analyst Xolani Dube warned that Zuma could lodge an “urgent” appeal.

“There are also other avenues that the man might still use… he can still appeal so it’s still going to drag,” Dube told reporters, adding that the country may “not yet see him facing his alleged deeds”.

Zuma claimed last year that he was so broke that he had to sell his socks to raise legal fees, after another court ruled he should front the bills.

Other corruption claims 

The ruling ANC party forced Zuma to resign over another corruption scandal centered around the wealthy Gupta business family, who won lucrative contracts with state companies and allegedly held sway over his choice of cabinet ministers. 

The court’s ruling on Friday came just a day after the US Treasury slapped sanctions on the three Indian-born Gupta brothers, calling them a “significant corruption network” that dispersed bribes and misappropriated millions in state funds.

Zuma also appeared before a judicial inquiry in July that is probing allegations he organised a systematic plunder of government coffers in a scandal known as “state capture”.

A few days later he pulled out of the inquiry, saying that he had been “treated as someone who was accused”. But he later agreed to return at a future date.

Zuma’s successor Cyril Ramaphosa, has vowed to tackle corruption in South Africa, which has been led by the ANC since Nelson Mandela came to power in 1994 after the end of apartheid.

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