Zimbabwe's former opposition Movement for Democratic Change party and many Zimbabweans were on Tuesday mourning the death of of Gibson Sibanda, a veteran labor activist and co-founder of the MDC who died late Monday at Mater Dei at hospital, Bulawayo, after a long battle with cancer.
At the time of his death, Sibanda was vice president of the MDC formation of Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, which in 2005 broke away from the larger formation now led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. He was a special adviser to the National Organ on Healing and Reconciliation.
His passing seemed likely to revive the political debate over the designation of national hero status. His party has asked President Robert Mugabe to ask that he be granted national hero status. This would allow his remains to be interred at National Heroes Acre in Harare.
But reports late Tuesday said Mr. Mugabe declined to confer hero status on Sibanda, instead giving him a "state assisted funeral," meaning he will probably be buried at his rural home.
Hero designation has always been in the hands of the ZANU-PF Politburo, and other parties including the MDC and the revived Zimbabwe African People's union or ZAPU have demanded ZANU-PF make the designation process more inclusive reflecting the multi-party political reality.
During the 1970s liberation struggle Sibanda was welfare secretary for PF-ZAPU in Matabeleland and was detained on a number of occasions by the Rhodesian authorities of the time.
Mutambara told VOA Studio 7 reporter Blessing Zulu that Sibanda’s qualifications as a national hero cannot be questioned. Speaking for the Tsvangirai MDC formation, Lucia Matibenga, designated governor of Masvingo province but not yet sworn in, said Sibanda was apolitical.
ZANU-PF Chief Parliamentary Whip Joram Gumbo said Sibanda was an asset during his terms in the parliament because of his talent for building consensus.
Sibanda co-founded the MDC with now-Prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai in 1999, becoming vice president of the party which remained in opposition for a decade until its two formations became part of the current national unity government put in place in February 2009.
The MDC split into two factions in 2005, nominally over the question of whether the party should take part in elections for a new senate, though internal divisions contributed significantly.
Sibanda, who was a widower, is survived by four children. Funeral arrangements were being made.