In an unprecedented move, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai yesterday shunned the National Heroes’ Day commemorations at the National Heroes’ Acre and, instead held his own parallel function where he officiated at the burial of his political confidant and Public Service minister Eliphas Mukonoweshuro at Warren Hills Cemetery in Harare.
But MDC-T secretary-general Tendai Biti was conspicuous by his absence at the burial which was attended by almost all the party’s top hierarchy.
The late Mukonoweshuro challenged Biti for the secretary-general’s post and lost at the party’s third national congress held in Bulawayo in May.
In another first, MDC-T youths in Bulawayo also snubbed the national event at Nkulumane Provincial Heroes’ Acre and opted to hold their own commemorations at the party’s provincial offices.
At Warren Hills Cemetery, Tsvangirai described the late minister as a true national hero and said it was befitting he be buried on a day the nation was celebrating the lives of gallant sons and daughters who sacrificed their lives for the liberation of the country.
Mukonoweshuro, who was Tsvangirai’s close advisor and Gutu South MP, died in South Africa on Friday. His burial was attended by hundreds of people, among them Women Affairs minister Olivia Muchena, Youth Development, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment minister Saviour Kasukuwere, Tourism and Hospitality Industry minister Walter Mzembi (all Zanu PF) and the Deputy Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Retired Colonel Christian Katsande.
“Today is National Heroes’ Day, a day to commemorate those who fought to free Zimbabwe and it is befitting that today we are burying a distinguished person, a distinguished patriot, a person who showed commitment, courage and had a vision not only for the community, but the whole nation,” said Tsvangirai.
“. . . He should not be a party hero, he should be a national hero.”
Tsvangirai said it was unfortunate that the issue of heroism had become partisan, but said true heroes were identified by their work and character, adding no party or individual should be allowed to single-handedly determine the status.
He said his party had had its own national heroes, among them Mukonoweshuro and former national chairman Isaac Matongo.
“But, there were many other distinguished Zimbabweans who also deserved the status although they were not politicians. If Thomas Mapfumo dies today, where are you going to lay him to rest?” he asked.
Tsvangirai said Mukonoweshuro’s death had opened a big chasm in his political and social life, adding that the late minister was one of his close maternal relatives.
He, however, admitted he only got to know of the relationship after Mukonoweshuro’s death.
“He was one of my key advisors and he was unwavering in his support and loyalty, which is what any leader would want. Others will be envying my position wishing they were in my seat, but he was not such a person,” he said.
Tsvangirai said Mukonoweshuro was an advocate of dialogue and was one of the party’s negotiators when the party engaged Zanu PF in the failed 2004 talks.
The party’s youths in Bulawayo also unveiled their list of heroes and heroines — some of whom died after they were allegedly kidnapped and attacked by suspected Zanu PF supporters and security agents.
MDC-T provincial youth secretary Kunashe Muchemwa said his party youths were not against the celebration of all the heroes, but felt Zanu PF-organised celebrations were not inclusive.
The youths also presented families of departed party heroes and heroines with certificates of appreciation for the role they played towards democratisation of Zimbabwe’s political landscape.
Disadvantaged families of the departed heroes were given food hampers by the youth who promised to lobby for their future support in any way possible.
Nearly 300 people attended the celebrations.