Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Wednesday eulogized his former comrade in arms, the late Edgar Tekere, who died Tuesday of cancer at the age of 74, signaling the likelihood that Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF will designate him a national hero.
In a statement issued by Mr. Mugabe's office, the president offered words of consolation to Tekere's family and described the former freedom fighter as fearless, temperamental, and a man who did not hesitate to take risks for his cause whatever the price.
He said Tekere’s death after a long battle with prostate cancer evoked memories "of the hard and arduous road we walked together, right from the painful days of restrictions, detentions and imprisonment at the hands of racist Rhodesians."
Alluding to their differences over the years, Mr. Mugabe noted that Tekere pursued a "different vision in national politics" though his patriotism remained unshaken.
Earlier Wednesday the ZANU-PF provincial leadership in Manicaland province urged the national party politburo in Harare to designate Tekere a national hero.
ZANU-PF Secretary for Administration Didymus Mutasa said the politburo decision as to granting Tekere hero status, qualifying him for burial at the National Heroes Acre shrine in Harare, would be announced on Thursday. Mutasa, like Tekere from Manicaland, said he hoped that the liberation icon would be buried at Heroes Acre on Saturday.
Tekere was the first secretary general of what until 1987 was known as ZANU, becoming ZANU-PF upon its merger with the PF-ZANU party of rival liberator Joshua Nkomo.
Tekere's family said Wednesday that it was proceeding with private funeral arrangements in case the ZANU-PF politburo did not oblige the request from Manicaland.
ZANU-PF Central Committee Member Esau Mupfumi said Tekere should be honored for his role in liberating Zimbabwe from minority rule. Others have paid tribute to Tekere for his persistence in calling for Zimbabwe to be a multi-party state.
The MDC formation of Prime Minister Tsvangirai called Tekere a “gallant liberator of the people of Zimbabwe” even after Zimbabwean independence in 1980.
"His contribution to the fight for freedom and democracy in Zimbabwe ... is undeniable," the MDC said. "We demand that Mr Tekere receives due recognition."
Mr. Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara visited the Tekere home in Mutare on Wednesday, but ZANU-PF supporters blocked the prime minister's convoy, forcing him to walk to the house where he was jeered and prevented from speaking.
The family later complained to ZANU-PF officials who apologized for the incident.
Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa said Tekere's death was a blow to the nation, adding that "Two-Boy," his nom de guerre, was a vibrant revolutionary.
Mutambara, a member of Tekere's Zimbabwe Unity Movement party while still a student at the University of Zimbabwe, described Tekere as a nation builder. He said Tekere was a source of inspiration to both young and old during and after independence.
Pamela Tekere, his widow, told VOA Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira that her husband deserves to be interred at Heroes Acre for his selfless acts in the liberation struggle.
She expressed shock at how many had shown up to say goodbye to the icon.
Family spokesman Steven Kada says the Tekeres would have liked to lay him to rest in the Saint Mary’s Anglican Church cemetery where his parents and son are buried.
But Kada said this would not be possible because the cemetery is controlled by Nolbert Kunonga, the former bishop of Harare who does not allow non-ZANU-PF parishioners to be buried there. Kada said that if ZANU-PF does not designate Tekere a national hero, he will be buried on Friday in Yeovil Cemetery in the Manicaland capital.