PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe, wife Grace and Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa all chose to stay away from Sunday's burial of Masvingo Provincial Affairs Minister, Shuvai Mahofa with signs they were still keen to wade off an intense week-long media spotlight on them.
It was left for co-Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko to preside over a tense ceremony whose undercurrents were seen in a section of Zanu PF supporters who heckled him during his speech.
President Mugabe, Grace and Mnangagwa returned from South Africa weekend with their controversial visits followed by a frenzied media coverage.
President Mugabe's wife torched a storm through a savage attack a week ago on a 20 year-old woman who was said to be friends to her socialite sons who are based in South Africa.
What was said to be a visit to South African hospitals over a leg injured in a freak accident involving the Presidential Limousine last month turned nightmarish for the under fire first lady when she had to go underground as people demanded her prosecution for the assault.
Similarly, conspiracy theories were also formulated around Vice President Mnangagwa's week-long visit to the southern neighbour's hospitals.
Mnangagwa, who has irked the first family through showing unbridled ambition to succeed the President, was taken ill during President Mugabe's youth interface rally a week ago with food poisoning fears which government has tried to link to his suspected consumption of "stale food".
President Mugabe later during the week visited South Africa for the SADC summit which allowed him to camouflage what was to become his high profile bidding for his wife to be granted diplomatic immunity from prosecution.
But with Mnangagwa returning home looking healthy on Saturday, followed by the first couple which returned on Sunday, media spotlight was set to fall straight on them when they attended Mahofa's burial.
They were all conspicuous by their absence, landing credence to suspicions they were not yet keen on making public appearances which could easily have clouded the Mahofa's burial.
Sensing the anxiety among mourners at the national shrine on Sunday afternoon, Home Affairs Minister and master of ceremony Ignatius Chombo said Mugabe could not attend as he had just returned home hours before.
"Today's proceedings would be led by Honourable Vice President of the Republic of Zimbabwe Cde Phelekezela Mphoko who has been assigned by the President to do so since the President just arrived this morning," Chombo said.
Mahofa died of heart failure but spent months in South African hospitals last year claiming food poisoning by unnamed Zanu PF rivals she later accused of attempts to kill her.
Grace is a prominent member of the so-called G40, a Zanu PF faction tussling for party control with VP Mnangagwa's Team Lacoste. G40 has been accused of attempts on party's rivals' lives through poisoning.
The thought of VP Mphoko, who is also to G40 presiding over a rival's burial was a thorny issue within Zanu PF throughout the week with some pushing for a Wednesday burial of the late Masvingo "iron lady" to allow President Mugabe to lead the ceremony.
But the Mugabes, smarting from an unsettling debacle on foreign land, seemed to have chosen to mind family problems which have seen the couple's delinquent sons hog the limelight for all the reasons.
Mphoko, in comments directed at party rivals, said in his speech that those seeking to ride of Mahofa's funeral to advance party interests were betraying the ideals of the liberation struggle.
"Cde Maofa subordinated herself to the party leadership and embraced whole-heartedly the work and assignments she was given," Mphoko said.
"She was completely herself. As such, there is no need for anyone to spoil her status to seek to hijack it for the purpose of advancing any narrow or sinister agenda.
"National heroes and heroines like Cde Mahofa are by definition figures and rallying points of national unity. Any attempt to use national heroes and heroines for any divisive politics is a betrayal of the gains of the liberation struggle."