HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsGibson Sibanda: a tribute

Gibson Sibanda: a tribute

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I sit at my desk in Dakar, Senegal, shaken, wishing above all that I wasn’t so far away. It was my son Graham who first sent me the news, from Australia – thus the information highway. No one answering their phone in Harare or Bulawayo, no direct message – so finally I look on the Internet, and there it is. . .
I’m trying to write my tribute to Gibson right now, but the tears are finally coming, so I will pause to grieve.
I first met Gibson Sibanda properly at the Working People’s Convention at the Women’s Bureau in Hillside, Harare, in February 1999. He was chairing the meeting, as president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), which was the host organisation: I had been invited to attend as one of the two residents’ association representatives. I remember feeling somewhat out of place and overwhelmed by the very large number of trade unionists, who all seemed to know each other and had their own hierarchy, but Gibson made me feel welcome. As I got to know him better over the years, that quality of his — making strangers feel welcome and part of the group — was one of the things that made him stand head and shoulders above others. He was quietly spoken: slow to respond, as he was always careful to weigh his words so as not to offend – but he was a fiery public speaker, especially in siNdebele, and the crowds always loved to hear him speak. I soon discovered that we both had an education where languages played a major role – he had learned French at school, as well as Latin, I seem to recall, and I always admired his ability to address the crowds equally well in Shona, siNdebele or English.
That was one of the many attributes that marked him out as a truly national leader. He was ideal for his post in the Organ of National Healing – what a tragedy he could not live long enough to see our nation truly healed.
When the party was splitting, Gibson did everything he could think of to persuade Morgan Tsvangirai to rethink his position on non-participation in the Senate elections. It grieved him bitterly that his “Siamese twin” refused even to see him, at the time. We all know that the split was more to do with principles and leadership style than with the Senate issue. Later, with Morgan’s group participating fully in Senate, Gibson must have been more baffled and possibly bitter than the rest of us at the silent volte-face.
When his feisty wife Zodwa was struggling with her own cancer, he was stoic in his support, but truly inconsolable. His last years were indeed lonely, despite his family and his many friends and colleagues, for the two of them were made only for each other. May they rest in peace, together again at last.

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