President Jacob Zuma will take a break from his busy pre-election schedule to join President Robert Mugabe in celebrating his daughter Bona’s lavish wedding in Harare on Saturday.
His spokesperson Mac Maharaj explained this week that Zuma could not attend a special memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Westminster Abbey on Monday because “this is a very, very busy period”.
The rare service for Mandela – evidently the only foreigner ever to be honoured in this way at the abbey – had been postponed from February 11 especially to accommodate Zuma.
Yet the government announced yesterday that Zuma would attend Bona’s wedding “while in Zimbabwe” for a working visit today. However, the wedding seems in fact to be the main purpose of the visit.
Thousands of other guests, mostly aligned to Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF party, are also expected to attend.
But mystery persists about Bona’s fiance, Simbarashe Chikore, who last August forked out lobolo, or bride price, of about R350 000 plus 15 cows to Mugabe for the hand of his 24-year-old daughter. Zimbabwe media said Chikore is a pilot with Emirates Airlines, but aviation sources in Harare say they have no record of him being a pilot.
Bona Mugabe was born to Mugabe’s second wife, Grace, six years before the couple wed in 1996 and while his first wife, Sally,was still alive.
Zimbabweans only found out that their president had children with Grace, his girlfriend from the typing pool, when a local magazine published a photo of Bona Mugabe entering primary school at the Harare Dominican Convent.
At his 90th birthday celebrations last weekend, Mugabe said he was delighted his daughter was marrying: “Considering that I married… my second marriage when I was in the seventies, I had no hope that I will see my children grow old like this.”
Mugabe’s first child, a son, with his Ghanaian first wife, Sally, died when he was in detention in then Rhodesia
Both Emirates Air and Qatar Airlines – where media reports said Bona’s fiancé Simbarashe worked, denied he is an employee.
Little is known of him except that his mother, Christine, is known as a “reverend” in a church group known as the Zimbabwe Assemblies of God Africa.
Bona Mugabe was a quiet, diligent child, who worked hard at school and managed to get into a technical college in Hong Kong where she passed accountancy exams and then did a Master’s course in Singapore.
There she lived in a R40 million flat bought by her mother via a property company arranged by Jack Ping, a South African. The two later fell out and now the government of Zimbabwe has gone to court to try to claim the property.
The Catholic wedding service and reception will take place at Mugabe’s vast R100 m private residence in the posh Borrowdale suburb of Harare and dubbed Graceland by many Zimbabweans.
White marquees are already dotted over the huge garden, and kilometres of white wall surrounding the three-storey have been festooned with a fresh stripe of turquoise blue paint. Bronze Chinese dragons on a new terrace on either side of the heavily guarded front gates, are gleaming.
Several kilometres of a disintegrating road linking the Mugabe residence to the local country club have been repaired and newly tarred at a cost to the bankrupt Harare municipality of about R5m.
Many Zimbabweans have complained that desperately needed water and sanitation infrastructure maintenance projects in Harare have been sidelined in favour of preparations for the Mugabe wedding celebrations.
Despite Mugabe’s policy of “indigenisation” – ensuring that black Zimbabweans own majority shares in most companies – the wedding planners are white South Africans, who trucked several loads of tables, chairs, decorations, and party paraphernalia into Zimbabwe.
However, the wedding planner refused to erect the high-end marquee large enough to seat 4 000 guests, and equipped with chandeliers and other luxurious fittings, because the ground was too soggy following recent heavy rains.
The only Harare supplier of party gear, Rooney’s, has erected back-up tents and may battle to keep 4 000 guests dry as more rain is predicted for today. Media in Harare say some African heads of state will attend the wedding.
Every individual involved in planning and working at the event was required to sign a privacy agreement.
South Africans are even supplying the sound system for the wedding.