President Robert Mugabe yesterday bucked the trend of not declaring his critics national heroes, after he conferred the status on former Midlands governor, Cephas Msipa, who died in the early hours of yesterday.

Mugabe, who left for Madagascar before the announcement was made, has previously refused to confer hero’s status on those who would have crossed his path, with former Speaker of Parliament Cyril Ndebele, who was buried last week, being the latest victim.

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Many expected Msipa (85) to be declared a hero, but did not trust that Mugabe would confer the status so soon.

Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who announced the hero’s status at the late nationalist’s funeral wake, said Mugabe had directed that Msipa be declared a national hero.

“We had a chat with the President, and what we have resolved will stand. When we are talking as the presidium, the likes of (Zanu PF political commissar, Saviour) Kasukuwere will step aside. Yes, the procedure is to have the province recommend, but what we have resolved will not change,” he said.

Chronicling his history with Msipa, Mnangagwa said the late national hero expressed himself freely.

Earlier, Kasukuwere had outlined Zanu PF procedures for declaring one a hero.

“The province will make recommendations to the party and the party will deliberate on it. We hope this will be what is going to happen,” he said.

“He was a fearless fighter, teacher, respected and principled man, who would speak his mind without fear. We had been visiting him while he was in hospital and reflecting on our past with him, explaining hope and desire that Zimbabwe would always be a great nation. We have indeed lost a great man.”

In seeking that Msipa be declared a national hero, the Zanu PF Midlands provincial executive had written to the politburo chronicling his achievements.

“After consultations with the senior party leadership in the province, we, as Midlands province, are of the firm view that Msipa should be accorded the national hero status due to the selfless service he rendered to the nation before, during and after the liberation struggle for the country,” Zanu PF Midlands provincial spokesperson, Cornelius Mupereri, said in a statement.

“We are submitting the paper to the national leadership requesting for the status in which we have detailed Msipa’s professional, political and civic leadership history over the years.”

He chronicled Msipa’s history and how he rose through the ranks of both Zapu and Zanu PF.

“Msipa was elected into the central committee of Zanu PF soon after the Unity Accord, rising to the politburo until his retirement,” Mupeperi said.

“Msipa held various posts in government since independence. Starting as deputy minister of Sport and Recreation, he later became minister of Water.

“He was governor for the Midlands province from 2001 to 2008, when he retired from government, but he remained active in politics. Msipa was a philanthropist. He also served on various boards for private companies and parastatals. Msipa played various roles in a variety of civic activities,” Mupereri said.

“As a province, we have lost a great leader, a guide and a fountain of knowledge.”

Zapu leader, Dumiso Dabengwa, who worked closely with Msipa during the liberation struggle and in government, had earlier said he was sceptical Mugabe would accord Msipa hero’s status, although he conceded that the two were close.

“Msipa seemed to have a close relationship with the old man [Mugabe],” he said.

In an earlier interview, Dabengwa said former Zapu members were left holding the short end of the stick when it came to hero’s status.

“We have given up on wishing anyone of our current or former Zapu members being accorded hero status,” he lamented.

Dabengwa had said Msipa’s hero’s status, while expected, had been made difficult by his Zapu roots and that he seemed to be hobnobbing with axed Vice-President Joice Mujuru’s Zimbabwe People First party.

The Zapu leader described Msipa as a hardworking and honest Zapu member, “whose contribution to the struggle for independence and in government was immense”.

Msipa, a former PF-Zapu secretary-general, succumbed to chest infections at a private Harare hospital yesterday morning, triggering an outpouring of messages of condolences from across the political divide — with the majority describing him as a suitable candidate for the National Heroes’ Acre.

ZimPF top official and former Zanu PF spokesperson, Rugare Gumbo described Msipa as a hero.

MDC-T secretary-general, Douglas Mwonzora said his party would attend the ceremony if Msipa was accorded national hero status.

“We are saddened by the death of this true nationalist and patriot. He was a lone voice of reason in Zanu PF, who stood up to Mugabe,” he said.

“We, in the MDC-T and the whole nation, will miss his wise counsel.”

People’s Democratic Party leader, Tendai Biti, said: “The departure of Cephas Msipa will create a hole that will never be filled. He was a principled man, who lived a consistent life. Go well, Tata.”

Msipa’s son and family spokesperson, Cephas Jnr, said his father started feeling unwell two weeks ago in Gweru, before he was moved to Harare for treatment.

“He developed lung and abdominal infection. When he came to Harare, it was discovered that the lung infection had been pronounced,” he explained.

“The right lung developed pneumonia and he was put on antibiotics to try to control the infection. On Saturday, it became apparent that, while the infection was clearing, there was also an element of side effects. He started deteriorating before he passed on early this morning (yesterday).”

Msipa’s wife, Charlotte Sithabile, died in April 2013 and was buried at the Midlands Provincial Heroes’ Acre.

Mourners are gathered at number 77 Carrick Creagh, Borrowdale, Harare.

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