Popular Zimbabwean singer Oliver ‘Tuku’ Mtukudzi had died on the 24th of January. Coming to office that day, I was told I was allowed to do my first field assignment, consisting of attending the funeral of Tuku with two other team members.
The funeral was being held at his house, an hour’s drive from the city. It was a popular occasion; the family was holding a feast for 3 days and everybody who wanted to pay their final respects to the singer was welcome. We arrived on the property after midday and witnessed masses of people walking into the gate. After entering the garden, we heard Chamisa (leader of the Zimbabwean opposition party MDC) speaking in the center of the crowd. We were seated and I observed the guests. There were a lot of Zimbabwean celebrity’s present, amicably sitting next to Chamisa. The attending people where singing Tuku’s songs and praying, at one point even dancing around Chamisa.
My team went to do some interviews and after a little while I had lost them out of sight. I went to look for them and found them outside the gates, together with other journalists from various Zimbabwean papers. They had a mixture of excitement and seriousness on their faces. At this point, Chamisa had suddenly left. I asked them what was happening and they mentioned the First Lady would come and pay her respects. A long line of big cars had turned up, accompanied with police and army forces. Out of the cars stepped some very important looking people, covered in medals.
The atmosphere around me changed. Whereas only an hour ago people had been singing and dancing, they were now looking glum and it became quiet. More security arrived and started pushing peoplehttps://www.newsday.co.zw/2019/01/mtukudzi-died-a-bitter-man/ do different parts of the garden and away from the road. A team member of NewsDay nudged me and said: “All of this is not just for the wife; the president must also be coming”.
Finally, the journalists were also pushed into the garden and a line of police cars entered the street. Then two black cars, with soldiers on foot running next to them. The soldiers entered the garden, positioning themselves in half a moon, facing the crowd. Their big guns were loaded. I was surrounded by soldiers, a gun briefly touching my knee. Across the road, more soldiers were posted on the first floor of a half-built house, closely watching us. The president stepped out, greeting a few officials but showing little emotion. He quickly walked into the house and his speach was broadcasted from within. He made some jokes, only a small portion of the crowd outside laughed. After half an hour of waiting – watching soldiers and security forces in suits nervously walking up and down the garden – the president came out of the house, stepped into his car and sped off. The moment he was gone, the crowd relaxed; I myself was very relieved to. All I wanted to do was find my driver and go home.
For me, the most memorable part of that afternoon was not the way in which Tuku was commemorated or the presence of the many peoples, it was the nearly palpable way the atmosphere changed for the worse when Mnangagwa and his entourage arrived.