By 9.00am, the gallery was already filled to the brim. As more mourners poured in, the gallery spilled into the steep, bushy mountain slopes surrounding it.
Old people, mothers with babies strapped on their backs, children, were all part of the crowds that did not stop pouring in.
“Ende Mujuru achemwa! (So many people have come to mourn Solomon Mujuru)”; “This is the largest crowd I have ever seen at the heroes’ acre since Nkomo’s (Joshua) burial in 1999.”
This is how some preferred to describe the situation. But my layman’s estimation put the crowd at over 40 000.
Some watched the ceremony while perched precariously on tree tops right on the mountain slopes.
The pandemonium was not unique to the gallery.
Near the main arena, the VIP tent was packed with government ministers from both Zanu (PF) and the MDC factions, politburo members, MPs, war veterans and everyone who considered themselves important.
Many more stood while some sat on the stone grounds of the national shrine.
What caught my eye were sights of Higher Education Minister Stan Mudenge sitting in the VIP tent, head tilted downwards in a late morning nap; Energy Minister Elton Mangoma, fresh from a court case
that almost broke his spirits, sitting right next to his tormentor Attorney General Johannes Tomana.
Perhaps overwhelmed by the rare camaraderie that hung thick in the air, I observed MDC-T legislators Pearson Mungofa and Morgan Femai wearing t/shirts that had been distributed among Zanu PF supporters with the late Mujuru’s face emblazoned on their front.
Ice-cream vendors made a killing. Among their customers was the eccentric Joseph Chinotimba, who took amusement by buying nearly a dozen ice-creams and dishing them out to strangers like Father
Christmas. Among his beneficiaries were some soldiers in uniform.
The usual features of Zanu PF women clad in party regalia, white robbed Johanne Masowe Apostolic Church worshippers and uniformed soldiers usually bussed in to boost attendance were there.
Zanu (PF) women from the Mbare Chimurenga Choir gyrated excitedly to every party song that played on the loud speakers.
Some toy toyed while carrying pictures of Mujuru, then looking young and in army gab.
The place was a cacophony singing from a church choir, sections of Zanu PF supporters in the gallery, the Johanne Masowe worshippers and Zanu (PF) women who all sang different songs.
Banner messages extolling the late Mujuru were equally conspicuous.
“You were synonymous with the liberation struggle”, “Rex Nhongo, epitome of the struggle”, these were some of them.
Security was hyper sensitive. State agents dressed in dark suits also ensured journalists did not breach the perimeters of the press gallery.
For once, speculation on the causes of Mujuru’s death seemed to have been put aside.
But not everyone was gripped by this excitement as there were some portions of the mourners who watched the events quietly.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai together with his deputy Thokozani Khuphe arrived quietly and joined Arthur Mutambara and Simon Khaya Moyo on the VVIP tent.
Later, a deafening crescendo punctuated the arrival of the gun carriage carrying Mujuru’s casket.
It was accompanied by President Mugabe and the Mujuru and his wife’s families.
Mourners stood up and watched meditatively as pall bearers hoisted the charcoal brown casket to their shoulders and slow marched to the main arena.
Proceedings began in earnest with speeches from the Mujuru family, a Holy word from Father Fidelis Mukonori,
A small section of Zanu (PF) supporters booed Tsvangirai, Mutambara and Khuphe each time their names were mentioned during salutations by the speakers while ululating in approval when names of visiting dignitaries from Southern African Development Community (Sadc) countries were being mentioned.
The lager majority of the mourners were behaved.
As Mugabe began his speech, he warned his supporters against jeering at his political rivals.
He went on to speak for over an hour and a half.
In his speech, Mugabe avoided antagonising his rivals who had joined him in mourning.
He also avoided the usually long diatribes aimed at the West and sell outs and stuck to a unifying address by a national leader.
He spoke in a slow, cajoling tone that evinced the charming side of him.
Mugabe preached peace and political tolerance. Maybe he was not entirely serious given that his supporters are not arrested for political violence. But he sounded a bit sincere in his appeal.
Everyone was humbled.
Mugabe also went for gays, describing them as worse than dogs and pigs which were able to identify their sex partners.
He however could not resist the temptation of straying a bit into familiar territory, bashing the West for alleged continued attempts to retake control of the country through black proxies.
But no sooner would he be back to his unifying line of address.
Mugabe joked about Mutambara whom he said came from a family so poor, it did not have goats.
He joked about how the MDC’s “chinja” slogan was as misplaced as it implied one should change their parents.
Sun scorched crowds sat for the entire duration of his speech.
After his long and amusing address, the stately Mugabe went back to the business of the day and gave a touching good bye to someone he said had been very close to him.
“Rex, great soldier, gallant freedom fighter, you fought a good fight. And all of us here and those we represent who are not here say go well brave soldier, go well son of the soil. The very soil you liberated today welcomes you, today will embrace you, keep you in its bosom as its worthy son, rest in eternity.”