ZIMBABWE'S wedding of the year -- barring unforeseen surprises -- in which President Robert Mugabe's daughter, Bona, will tomorrow tie the knot with Emirates pilot, Simba Chikore, is set to be an auspicious occasion for the First Family as it represents cloud nine in the personal life of the 90-year-old leader who had a tormenting childhood because of family problems and tragedies.
That the wedding is coming as Mugabe has just turned 90 and celebrated his birthday last Sunday at a lavish party in Marondera, which cost a staggering US$1 million, and also after winning almost certainly his last re-election, should add pizzazz to a life well-lived despite chapters of controversy.
Mugabe, as he has increasingly done of late, will perhaps thank God for the gift of longevity because, having fathered Bona at the age of 66, he could not have really imagined living to see his daughter walking down the aisle.
This is possibly why Mugabe is taking a very active role in the preparation of the wedding, to an extent that he and his wife Grace are personally co-ordinating the arrangements. Grace is said to be playing an instrumental role at every stage.
A top official privy to the preparations said: "Everything is being passed through Mai (Grace); no matter how small the issue is. She wants to make sure that everything is going according to plan and is perfect."
To show that this is a special occasion for them, the wedding ceremony will be held at their private mansion in Borrowdale from 2pm to 4pm. The reception will be held from 6pm to 6am.
This will be the first time the Mugabes have opened their gates for a function at their private family home which, on the six-page glossy invitation card, is being referred to as the "Blue Roof" -- the code name by which their luxurious home is known to close relatives and friends.
The mansion, located in the upmarket Borrowdale Brooke area, reportedly includes 24 bedrooms with bathrooms and spas, a ballroom and media complex. It is said to be three times the size of the president's official residence, State House, and his adjacent offices at Zimbabwe House where he used to live.
The Chinese-style mansion overlooks a dam and a 50-acre garden protected by a three-and-half-metre wall.
The wedding is certain to be costly and classy, and will be attended by several sitting and former heads of state who will make up part of the expected 5 000 guests.
To show that there will be glamour and style, the dress code is evening gowns for the ladies and dinner suits for the men.
The entertainment line-up includes famous French-based Congolese rhumba music sensation Koffi Olomide as well as popular local gospel musicians, the Charambas.
Bona's wedding is billed as an auspicious occasion for the Mugabe family.
It is expected to mark the closure of one of the most controversial chapters in Mugabe's life; his extra-marital affair with Grace during which he sired two children, Bona and Robert Jr while still married to Sally when she was battling a terminal illness. Mugabe's controversial affair with Grace followed an unhappy marriage of the First Lady to army officer Stanley Goreraza, father to her first born Russell.
Bona seems to be the favourite child in the family of four, which includes his stepson Russell. Mugabe lost his first child, Nhamodzenyika, who died of malaria at a tender age of three in Ghana in 1966 while he was in prison for his political activities.
From Mugabe's remarks and demeanour, it appears Bona is the favourite child -- she not only looks like him, but also she carries his own late mother's name.
Grace has publicly applauded Bona for her moral rectitude and being well-behaved. She even claimed she is getting married a virgin -- something not only rare but rather exceptional if true.
Grace has said she warned her new son-in-law to avoid engaging in sex before marriage with Bona and they allegedly listened to her.
Mugabe has also expressed his public admiration of his daughter. He says he is "very obedient" and "absolutely trustworthy".
While not much is publicly known about Bona's private life, one thing for sure is that she is not like other children from wealthy and influential leaders'
families who are notorious for controversial lifestyles of glamour and showiness.
Bona seems to be the opposite of other leaders' offspring, like her father's friend Equatorial Guinea Teodoro Obiang Nguema's son, Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue who has been embroiled in scandals, splurging on expensive cars, shopping, girlfriends and even money laundering and debauchery.
Bona has only been caught in the disputed US$5million Hong Kong mansion, which the Mugabes argue they bought amid a counter claim by a former business associate, but she is not in the eye of the storm. She only gets mentioned because she lived there while studying in that country.
The only negative report she has been mentioned in was one in which it was claimed she was raped by a son of a diplomat while they were drunk overseas. Grace has since publicly denied the reports.
Those close to the Mugabes say a fortress has been built around Bona. She is loved and protected by the family.
To show how Mugabe adores his daughter, information filtering out of the wedding arrangements shows she is likely to be given the historic Mt Pleasant house where Mugabe lived just before he became prime minister in 1980. Major renovations have already been done to the house on Quorn Road.
"A new high security wall has been erected and renovations have been done to the interior. The grounds have been done beautifully. The only thing that has not been touched, except for repainting, is the outside part of the house. This is for sentimental reasons. Apparently the house has already been fully furnished," said a source close to the family.
"By giving her that house, which has so much sentimental value to him, it shows how much he loves and cherishes her. It is his expression of pride in her -- the way she carries herself and her achievements in life compared to the boys."
Russell has been embroiled in scandals over the years, while Robert Jr failed his Ordinary Levels exams. Mugabe is also reportedly not happy with Chatunga for not taking his studies seriously.
The wedding will also be a boon for some Harare hotels, catering and decor companies.
A total of 68 sitting and former heads of state and government were invited, but sources in government say only about 10 are expected to attend.
"The First Family invited 68 sitting and former heads of state and government. All the Sadc leaders were invited but only 10 are likely to come," a source said.
Some of the heads of state and government who had confirmed attendance by yesterday include President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, Nguema, Michael Sata of Zambia and Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Sata will have a special place at the wedding since his daughter is apparently Bona's maid of honour.
Swaziland is likely to send Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini and other Sadc countries might dispatch senior officials. Former presidents likely to attend include Ketumile Masire and Festus Mogae from Botswana. It was not clear if former South African president Thabo Mbeki will be there. Perhaps predictably, ex-premier Morgan Tsvangirai is not invited, showing deep mutual hostility with Mugabe.
Despite being momentous, it remains to be seen if Bona's wedding will rival her father's 1996 marriage to Grace which was attended by former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano and the immortal Nelson Mandela, among other leaders.
Top itelligence sources say security at Mugabes' home has been tightened ahead of the wedding and is expected to be tighter as guests arrive tomorrow.
"As you would expect, security will be extremely tight given that the wedding will be held at their private home. In any case, there is always heavy security at the First Family's home, but it's natural that security will be stepped up considering the number of people who will be at the wedding," an intelligence source involved in the preparations said.
"You also have to take into account the number of heads of state and former leaders as well as other high-profile dignitaries who will attend the wedding. All this calls for tighter security."
It is said the intelligence services had advised against holding the wedding at the Mugabes' home for security reasons, but Grace insisted it should be held there since it was a private event.
This prompted security agents to tighten up security at the home, including monitoring preparations at the wedding venue.
Another official revealed certain sections of the home will be limited to family and very close associates and dignitaries.
Guests have been told to arrive at Heritage school at midday so as to go through the security checks. Electronic gadgets which record or take photographs such like cellular phones, laptops, iPads and cameras are strictly prohibited.
The guests will leave their cars parked at the school and will be taken to the residence by buses.
Mugabe, who has on several occasions narrated how miserable his childhood was, is likely to be on cloud nine.
At his sister Bridget's burial last month, Mugabe, who is often secretive about his past, said he started to fend for his family when he was only 21 after his father had abandoned the family in Zvimba.
Mugabe said his father left the family in 1934 after the death of his eldest brother Michael. He disappeared and went on to start a new family in Bulawayo.
Mugabe said his father only came back in 1944 while he was teaching in Matabeleland, but he never saw him again because when he returned to Zvimba he had died.
His father left him with another burden to look after his new in-laws and children he brought from Matabeleland.
Abandoned by his father, raised by his devotedly religious mother and devastated by the death of his elder brother Michael, Mugabe clearly had an unhappy childhood, as he recently admitted.
Besides his personal tragedies, Mugabe has had serious controversial and even tragic political chapters, particularly the Gukurahundi atrocities which in his interview last year with SABC's Dali Tambo appeared to trouble him so much. Bona's wedding and attendant bliss could provide a relief, albeit perhaps only temporarily.