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Zimbabwe's First President Dies - 2003-11-11

Zimbabwe's first president, Canaan Banana, has died of cancer in London. He was 67 years old. The former president will be remembered for his political career, and also for an incident that spoiled it.

Announcing Mr. Banana's death, President Robert Mugabe described the former president as one of the makers of the nation.

Mr. Banana became president at independence in 1980, a position he held until 1987 when he made way for Mr. Mugabe. Until then the presidency was a ceremonial post. But that changed when Mr. Mugabe took over from Mr. Banana and became executive president.

Mr. Banana is credited with mediating the unity agreement between Zimbabwe's rival liberation movements, Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF and the late Joshua Nkomo's PF-ZAPU.

Following independence, the two organizations had a major falling out which led to some former PF-ZAPU liberation fighters taking up arms against Mr. Mugabe's government. During the ensuing fighting thousands of members of Mr. Nkomo's ethnic group, the Matabeles, were killed.

The late former president's mediation led to the signing of a unity agreement in 1987.

Mr. Banana's fortunes took a negative turn when former male employees accused him of raping them during the time he was president. Mr. Banana denied the charges, but he was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in jail. He served one year, and the rest of his sentence was suspended.