Sunday 27 October 2019


ALTHOUGH the end of the year is still two months away, definitely the story of the year in Zimbabwe barring any major incidents was the death of the country’s founding leader, former President Robert Mugabe.

His death brought sorrow to the nation but from the day he passed on until his burial there were a lot of stories, some true, others speculations of course, all surrounding his burial.

The most intriguing was the keeping of his body at his Borrowdale’s Blue Roof mansion when the norm is that a corpse should be kept in a mortuary while awaiting burial.

In addition, former President Mugabe’s burial was full of twist and turns, at a time when the Government had agreed with the family and was in the process of building a mausoleum at the National Heroes Acre, then suddenly the family made a u-turn and demanded that he be interred at his rural home in Zvimba, Mashonalaland West Province. 

While all this drama was unfolding, former First Lady Grace Mugabe was the figure who was always seen next to the coffin of her husband.

However, there was actually another woman who was also always close to the coffin. This woman was there from the day the body arrived in Zimbabwe from Singapore.

This woman also made sure she was in the thick of things, until the day when the former President was interred.

In fact, this woman is the one who lowered the former President’s coffin into the grave. 

Her name is Mrs Margaret Nyakudya (50), a funeral assistant with Doves Funeral Services in Harare.

She was the person tasked to preside over the funeral of the former President and even drove the hearse.

Sunday News Senior Reporter Robin Muchetu (RM) caught up with Mrs Nyakudya and she shared moments that stood out for her during the high-profile funeral. Read below to get an account of one of Mrs Nyakudya’s greatest moments in her career as an undertaker at Doves. Mind you, she is also the same woman who buried the former Prime Minister and leader of the country’s main opposition party MDC, Mr Morgan Tsvangirai last year. Below are excerpts of the interview:

RM. How were you chosen to go and assist at the funeral of the late former President and how was the feeling like?

MN. When there are State funerals the bosses meet and decide who should preside over the funeral and that is how I was chosen to go and bury the former President. At first, I was shocked and scared too that I was chosen among a number of men whom we work with, but I was also happy at the same time that I had been singled out, an indication that there was something good and positive in my line of duty.

RM. How did you feel as you were taking care of business in the Mugabe home for those days? 

MN. I felt that as I was assigned to the Blue Roof, I stood there representing women, I was their beacon for the period I was there, handling the funeral as women are usually shunned and stereotyped in society but that period showed that women can handle any task assigned. While I was at the Mugabe funeral, I received many pats on the back from mourners and family members who felt I was doing a good job and that made me proud of myself. I would go every single day to the Blue Roof and assist the family with whatever they needed until the final day we went to Zvimba. My female workmates were also overly impressed as they said I also represented them. My relatives and even strangers would call me and applaud me to the extent that others formed a WhatsApp group where they were showering me with praises for being the one who buried Cde Mugabe.

I then later saw videos and pictures of me during the burial that were all over social media and I was proud to say the least. My children would also send them to me while I was at the funeral. This job of ours is mostly dominated by men so I proved that women can do it too and lead the pack.

RM. Was this the first State funeral you have presided over and how did you feel being at the Blue Roof?

MN: Another highlight in my career as an undertaker is that I was the one who buried the former MDC president, Morgan Tsvangirai when he died in February last year. I drove to Buhera to bury him. The experience of just being at the Blue Roof was a great one for me, seeing the mansion and just seeing the place where the former President spent his time with his family. I was impressed.

On the day we left for Zvimba I was actually unaware, I went to work as usual assuming that we would routinely go and spend the day at the Blue Roof but I was informed that we were to leave that morning.

As a person who is now seasoned in the job and know the nature of the job, I had some extra uniforms that I kept at work for emergencies. So, I made sure my hearse was cleaned, fuelled and ready for the road.

RM: How was the trip to Zvimba and what were your thoughts during that time?

MN: The day we went to Zvimba was the defining moment as I was scared for the worst. I drove the hearse from the Blue Roof at an amazing speed as we were in a convoy so the speed that the security people and those who were part of the motorcade were cruising at was breathtaking. At the back of your mind you will be scared of making a mistake when travelling at such speed. In my mind I kept thinking what if I developed a tyre puncture and we have to stop, I did not want to draw that kind of attention on that day because I was carrying an important person and worse still the whole world was watching so I did not want to give room to any mistake. 

I asked God to intervene and ensure that it was a smooth journey because all eyes were on me and who I was carrying and I’m glad it was orderly although that one-hour drive to Zvimba felt like forever as I was a nervous wreck. But it all went well until we reached Zvimba.

RM: There were some rumours from the public that the coffin of the former President was empty. How far true is that?

MN: Many people on the streets were saying we buried an empty coffin, that is a big lie; I was there until the last moment when the coffin was lowered into the grave. What they do not know is that we actually check if the corpse is still in the correct position regularly and I saw his body with my own eyes.

About the coffins, some said they were changed four times, that is not true, I only saw two, the one he came in from Singapore and the copper casket we were given to finally lay him in. Again, the casket had no computer inside like what the public was saying, they had just developed wild thoughts of how the casket of a man of Cde Mugabe’s stature would be like.

RM: How was the reception from the former First Family?

MN: The Mugabe family was very open and pleasant to work with, no one was hostile to me and I enjoyed working with them despite the fact that they were in deep mourning. 

RM. Thank you for sharing these moments with us.

MN. It’s my pleasure.



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