News / Africa

Mugabe Refused Hero Status for MDC Leader

Morgan Tsvangirai (C) Arthur Mutumbaru (L) and Gibson Sibanda (R), 27 March 2007 (file photo)
Morgan Tsvangirai (C) Arthur Mutumbaru (L) and Gibson Sibanda (R), 27 March 2007 (file photo)

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Peta Thornycroft

The two Movement for Democratic Change parties have united in anger against Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's refusal to accord national hero status to Gibson Sibanda, a founding MDC leader who died earlier this week.

Gibson Sibanda, who died at age 66 in his home city, Bulawayo, was a life-long fighter for democracy, a former legislator, and a trade unionist  who was detained for his activism by both Rhodesia and Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF administration.

Sibanda was the deputy president of the MDC when it became a political party 10 years ago, and had been on a committee promoting national healing and reconciliation within the 18-month-old unity government when he died.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who is also president of the main MDC party, said Sibanda's name "shall remain an indelible imprint in the sad narrative of our determined and brave march towards a new Zimbabwe."

Tsvangirai spokesman Nelson Chamisa said Mr. Mugabe's refusal to declare Sibanda a national hero was motivated by "cruelty, contempt and revenge."

In a recent interview with VOA in Harare, Sibanda recalled his detention in the former white-ruled Rhodesia and his eventual release when former Prime Minister Ian Smith and Abel Muzorewa were leading a transitional government as peace talks to end the civil war began in London in 1979.  

SIBANDA:  "I was charged with high treason with some other guys, and subsequently, and came to the high court and we defended successfully.  And we were discharged, but soon after being discharged we were served with indeterminate detention until 1979, during the Smith-Muzorewa coalition.  That is the one which reviewed our detention orders, but the talks were already under way."

Education minister David Coltart says in 1997 Sibanda led the biggest anti-government demonstration he had ever seen in Zimbabwe.

"Gibson Sibanda deserves to be recognized as a national hero, because for the last 40 years he has persistently and consistently fought within the country for the promotion of human rights and for a new democratic Zimbabwe," explained Coltart.  "He did so against the white minority government and he has done so for the last 30 years.  He was also president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and during his tenure, he was responsible, with others, for building it up to a very powerful organization.  So, on that basis alone he should be declared a national hero."

Priscilla Misihairabwi, the deputy-secretary general of the smaller MDC faction said hero status is confined to members of Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF Party.  She said Mr. Mugabe should tell taxpayers, who fund state funerals, that they have been supporting "a ZANU-PF burial society."

Mr. Mugabe's sister, Sabina, who political historians say played no role against white rule nor any significant part in post-1980 independent Zimbabwe was declared a national hero and buried with a state funeral last month at Hero's Acre.

Mr. Mugabe told the pro-ZANU-PF daily newspaper, The Herald, he regretted Sibanda's death and the state would assist with his private burial.

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