Vesta Sithole, a former freedom fighter and wife of founding member of Zanu, the late Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole, passed away in Maryland in the United States last night after a long battle with cancer.
Her eldest son, Gwalugano Mwakalyelye, told VOA from Tanzania that his mother died of liver cancer which had spread to other organs of the body.
Mwakalyelye said funeral arrangements are underway and his mother, who died five days before her 70th birthday, will be buried in Zimbabwe at a date to be announced.
Commenting on her role during the liberation struggle of the 1960s, he said Sithole was a “silent accommodator” who took in many activists who came from Zimbabwe – then Rhodesia – to join guerillas and then go back to fight the Ian Douglas Smith regime.
“There are those who got stranded and those who got lost and some were still young to be involved in the fight … she accommodated them.”
Sithole was born in 1942 at Mutambara Mission Hospital in Chimanimani, Manicaland Province.
She joined Zapu led by the late Vice President Joshua Nkomo in the 1960s and left Zimbabwe for Tanzania at the age of 19 to join the armed struggle in Tanzania where she met and married her first husband, Jackson Mwakalyelye, in 1966.
Her husband died in 1972.
Sithole had by that time joined Ndabaningi Sithole’s Zanu party when it split from Zapu in 1963. She later married the Zanu leader in 1980.
She helped to recruit young men to train as guerillas and fight in the war of liberation and fundraised for the armed struggle.
Sithole was the author of a book entitled: My Life With An Unsung Hero – Memoirs of a Zimbabwean Woman Freedom Fighter which she said was meant to highlight the role played by her late husband in Zimbabwe’s liberation history.
National Healing Co-Minister Sekai Holland said she is very saddened by the death of her friend who was a committed freedom fighter.
Holland said Sithole was among a group of 12 women who were the first administrative staff members in the liberation struggle at a time when very few people understood the importance of getting involved in the armed conflict.
She said Sithole should be declared a national hero for her tireless solidarity work and sacrifice in fighting for the liberation of Zimbabwe.
Sithole spoke about those early days in an interview with her daughter - Voice of America journalist Ndimyake Mwakalyelye -for a Mother’s Day Special in 2010.
She told Ndimyake that “we had to cross the Zambezi River by boat … it was a small canoe which only carried about four people.
“I was praying to God to save me. I was praying for forgiveness from my mother. I was praying for everyone to forgive me because of the way I had left without telling anyone where I was going.”
She revealed that she “used to go to Zambia to try and woo people to join the armed struggle, to join the army – our ZANLA – because nobody was freely willing to come over to join us.”
In Independent Zimbabwe, Sithole unsuccessfully contested in the general elections in 1995 under her late husband’s Zanu-Ndonga party in Mbare West, Harare.
Zanu-Ndonga chairman Reketai Semwayo said she had a passion for freedom, justice and was a dedicated fundraiser for the party.