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Harare - Zimbabwe may be struggling to pay its civil servants, but the first family’s wedding date on Saturday was a lavish extravaganza in the grounds of President Robert Mugabe’s home, one of the largest houses in sub- Saharan Africa.
In an elaborate and carefully stage-managed wedding, daughter Bona Mugabe, in a glittering white gown, was married in a huge white marquee in the garden of the family mansion, surrounded by thousands of guests including President Jacob Zuma and a handful of other regional leaders.
Simbarashe Chikore, the mysterious groom, now married into the rich Mugabe family, wore a silver- spangled jacket.
Most reports from Harare claim he is a pilot, while some are now questioning whether he is a member of the feared Central Intelligence Organisation. Aviation insiders in Harare say they have never heard his name as a pilot.
His stag night on Wednesday, in a local hotel, was paid for by members of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF cabinet.
Guests had to be ferried several kilometres from parking areas in the Borrowdale suburb to the Mugabes’ blue-tiled, three-storey home, surrounded by fabulous gardens which have two lakes, wildlife and terraces.
The Mugabe fortunes have grown and Saturday's wedding cost millions of rand. Among the visiting artists performing at the 18-hour event were several from the region including South Africa’s Zahara, Soweto String Quartet, Koffi Olomide from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) but who lives in France, and local stars, Jah Prayzah and Sulumani Chimbetu.
Mugabe, the proud father, who looked in good shape a week after his 90th birthday celebrations, wore a tuxedo, and Grace, his wife, was in a royal blue shimmering dress with huge silver earrings and a black fascinator and many extensions on her hair. Bona, 24, wore a jewel-encrusted gown, a glittering coronet and her hair had long extensions.
Vice-President Joice Mujuru was in a black and white ensemble and sitting right up front with other VIPs.
Guests had to be seated by midday, but the service only started about 3pm and was broadcast live on Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation. Ahead of the wedding, presidential spokesman, George Charamba told state media: “First and foremost, this a private wedding uniting the Mugabe and Chikore families. Never mind that the bride happens to be the daughter of the president of Zimbabwe.
“That means we have to strike a balance between the public office of the father and the mother of the bride, and on the other hand the sheer private nature of the day. For that reason we have kept the structures of governance out of the equation in deference to family structures.
“We have received several calls from different media houses as well as ordinary Zimbabweans desirous of attending the wedding of the Chikore couple.
“The venue of the wedding is a peculiar one. It is not a public place. It is actually within the grounds of the home of the first family and this is a home which is distinct from the official residence of the president.”
Zimbabwe media reported that Mugabe was likely to give Bona his first home, which he occupied after returning from exile in 1979, which is in Harare’s Mt Pleasant suburb.
He lived there with his first wife Sally until he was sworn in as Zimbabwe’s prime minister in April 1980.
While opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was not invited to yesterday’s wedding, a former opposition leader Arthur Mutambara was one of 4 000 guests at the wedding which took place on a hot, cloudless day.
A total of 68 sitting and former heads of state and government were invited, but sources in government said only about 10 attended.
Some of the heads of state and government who had confirmed attendance include Zuma, Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, Michael Sata of Zambia and Joseph Kabila of the DRC.
Sata had a special place at the wedding since his daughter was apparently Bona’s maid of honour.
Swaziland was represented by Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini and other SADC countries sent senior officials. Former presidents Ketumile Masire and Festus Mogae from Botswana were also reported to be there.
Despite Mugabe’s policy of “indigenisation” – ensuring that black Zimbabweans own majority shares in most companies – the wedding planners were white South Africans, who brought several loads of tables, chairs, decorations, and party paraphernalia.
Independent Foreign Service