Zimbabwe's Heroes Acre is too exclusive, Mugabe critics say

The hilltop has a commanding view of Harare, features a huge bronze statue of three guerrilla fighters and boasts black marble and granite flourishes. It is quiet and is Zimbabwe's most exclusive neighborhood.

Turnover is zero: Once there, those who move in never leave. But now, people are complaining that President Robert Mugabe is making Heroes Acre too exclusive.

Only those who are on his good side get to be buried there, they say.

Internment at Heroes Acre, which opened more than three decades ago, is supposed to be only for those who made huge sacrifices during the war against white-minority rule and who dedicated themselves to the nation of Zimbabwe that emerged from the ashes of Rhodesia.

Also, you had to belong to ZANU-PF, the party headed by Mugabe that has ruled since independence in 1980, the critics note sourly. Those who broke with him? Their remains rest elsewhere.

Two critics this month approached the country's highest court, challenging the 91-year-old's monopoly in determining the importance of dead heroes.

The issue is significant in this southern African country, not least because those selected as national heroes get to be buried with full military honors and state assistance at the National Heroes Acre, which covers 57 acres and has a 40-meter (44-yard)-high tower which is visible from much of the capital.

"We have come to accept that this is a ZANU-PF cemetery, but the use of state funds to pay for such a partisan shrine is criminal," Luke Tamborinyoka, spokesman for the MDC-T, the main opposition party, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "If it is a private cemetery then it should be funded privately."

In papers filed with the Constitutional Court, Tinomudaishe Chinyoka and Alex Musundire note the absence in Heroes Acre of Ndabaningi Sithole, who was the founding president of the ruling party in 1963 but was removed before the end of the war, with Mugabe eventually taking over the leadership. They also cite Sir Garfield Todd, a former colonial prime minister who later became a fierce advocate of majority black rule and was once arrested by the minority white government for helping Mugabe and other nationalists. He later fell out with Mugabe for being outspoken about alleged misrule after independence.

Mugabe, who turns 92 on Feb. 21, is assured of the prime spot at the North Korean-built shrine. His late first wife Sally and one of his sisters, Sabina, are buried there. The remains of over 100 people, mainly those involved in the 1970s war, are buried before black marble tombstones, arrayed in a pattern said to resemble — when seen from above — ammunition magazines for AK-47 rifles.

In court papers, Chinyoka, a lawyer and former student leader, and Musundire, an MDC-T official, alleged that Mugabe's discretion on who gets in and who is barred from Heroes Acre is not "always lawful, efficient, prompt, reasonable, proportionate, impartial and both substantively and procedurally fair."

They accuse Mugabe of favoritism, citing the burial of his sister, as an example.

"Sabina Mugabe ... is not chronicled in any government or other publication that I am aware of with having done anything of note," Chinyoka said.

During an address at the shrine to mark Heroes Day last year, Mugabe slapped down the critics.

"The misguided elements whom we share Zimbabwe with have absurd, weird and wayward opinions on who should be declared a hero. Let me make it abundantly clear that these sacred shrines are solely for our heroes who sacrificed their lives for the liberation of this country," Mugabe said.

The court has not yet set a hearing date for the complaint filed by Chinyoka and Musundire.