President Mugabe briefly returned from his annual leave to bury the widow of veteran nationalist Leopold Takawira who was declared a national hero and interred at the national shrine in Harare yesterday.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai made his second official appearance at the Heroes Acre and was accompanied by his two deputies, Arthur Mutambara and Thokozani Khupe. Mugabe’s two deputies, Joyce Mujuru and John Nkomo also attended to complete a rare public appearance of the country’s entire top executive.

Mugabe, who made an unusual departure from his traditional attack of Britain and the West, took most of his speech to recall the works of the late Amai Sunny Ntombiyelanga Takawira and to relive the life of her husband, the legendary Takawira who died in prison in colonial Rhodesia.

His speech would however have been incomplete without mention of the ‘white outsiders’ and Zimbabwe’s sovereignty.

Mugabe said ‘outsiders’ were welcome in Zimbabwe only if they were coming to partner Zimbabweans in the exploitation of the country’s resources for the benefit of Zimbabweans.

“The destiny of our country is in our own hands. Outsiders, yes we need, but only to the extent that they want to partner us in exploiting the country’s resources for the development of Zimbabwe and its people.

“Our country’s interests come first and Zimbabweans must be prepared to defend those interests. The country’s sovereignty is non-negotiable, and the unity of our people remains paramount in all our endeavours.

Ministers and officials from Tsvangirai and Mutambara’s parties made conspicuous appearance leaving analysts wondering if Mugabe and his two protagonists had finally agreed on the contentious criteria for choosing national heroes.

The former opposition leaders had always complained about Mugabe using his party’s supreme governing body, the politburo, to unilaterally decide on who was to be declared a national hero.

This had been presented as one of the reasons why Tsvangirai’s attendance at the national shrine was not always guaranteed.