TWO COFFINS AT OLIVER MTUKUDZI'S Funeral. Nyaradzo funeral and Doves funeral services wrangle.
AWAY from the mourning that was taking place nationwide and beyond Zimbabwe's borders - behind the scenes a war over custody of the body of the late national hero, Dr Oliver Mtukudzi, was raging.
Dr Mtukudzi had a policy with Nyaradzo Funeral Services, which upon his death quickly moved in to prepare the body for its final journey.
However, the moment Dr Mtukudzi was declared a National Hero, the highest honour that can be conferred on an individual in Zimbabwe, it meant that certain protocol had to be followed.
Without wasting time, Government activated its systems through the Ministry of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage. The funeral services company which has a contract for burial of national heroes in Zimbabwe is Doves.
As is the norm, Doves instituted proceedings for a handover-takeover with Nyaradzo.
According to stipulations regulating burial of National Heroes, the company that handles the body of a hero needs its staff to have security clearance and for everyone to be bound by a non-disclosure agreement.
Phone calls were made between the two companies, times were agreed and a meeting place for the handover-takeover set. However, all hell broke loose when staff from Doves arrived at Nyaradzo's Willowvale morgue to collect the body of Dr Mtukudzi.
According to an eye witness, tempers flared as Philip Mataranyika, the chief executive officer of the Nyaradzo Group of Companies blocked the process, telling hapless Doves' staff that there was no way they would pick up the body from Nyaradzo. Even the arrival of the Permanent Secretary of Home Affairs Melusi Matshiya did not help matters as Mataranyika remained defiant.
The insistence by Nyaradzo Funeral Services to continue handling the body without being compliant with the above-mentioned prerequisites was somewhat in contravention of the venerated treatment associated with the burial of National Heroes or Heroines.
"There was a heated exchange between Mataranyika and the Perm Sec (Matshiya). The Government official tried to explain to Mataranyika that once a person has been declared a National Hero — it meant that the State was taking over but he wouldn't listen," said our source, who witnessed the drama.
"There is now a spin that Mataranyika drove that hearse out of respect for Tuku but the truth is that he was actually guarding the body of the singer. He took it upon himself to be the driver, guard and undertaker. He even threatened to take legal action over the matter. It is a good thing that Government, to avoid further drama, gave in and let Nyaradzo bury Mtukudzi," added the source.
The issue did not, however, end there. Throughout the funeral proceedings, especially in Harare, Doves continued to shadow Nyaradzo just in case the company was asked by the Government to take over the funeral at the last minute.
The convoy even had two caskets, one with the body inside a Nyaradzo hearse and another carried by a Doves vehicle.
There was even confusion at the National Sports Stadium as to which car actually carried the body of the late national hero.
According to an official from the Ministry of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage, the position of Government was that Doves understands the protocol and they meet all the requirements for such high profile burials. Negotiations are said to have continued behind the scenes as Government officials hoped to convince Mataranyika to handover the body to avoid logistical nightmares and protocol breakdown. These yielded nothing.
The Sunday Mail Society contacted the Permanent Secretary of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage, Matshiya, who refused to delve into the details of what really transpired saying,
"It's not within our culture to cause acrimony or incite controversy during and after the interment of the deceased."
Efforts to get a comment from Nyaradzo Funeral Services through their PR office or Mataranyika directly were fruitless by the time of going to print. Doves officials said they were not entertaining the media.
Source - zimpapers