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Funerals for Zimbabwe Politicians Spark Debate Over National Hero Designation

ZANU-PF official Alice Nkomo, killed in a road accident the same day as three top MDC officials, has been declared a provincial heroine by the former ruling party and was to be laid to rest on Thursday in Bulawayo

Officials and rank-and-file members of both formations of Zimbabwe's Movement For Democratic Change set aside past differences on Wednesday to mourn three top officers of the MDC grouping of Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara who were killed in a highway accident in Midlands province on Saturday.

Correspondent Taurai Shava reported from the Midlands province capital of Gweru, where mourners converged for the burial of Lyson Mlambo, chairman of the party's national disciplinary committee.

Another Mutambara MDC member killed in the same crash, Ntombizodwa Gumbo, was buried in Mberengwa at the same time in ceremonies attended by the party's secretary general, Welshman Ncube, and Priscilla Misihairambwi-Mushonga, minister of regional integration and international cooperation.

Mutambara MDC agriculture secretary Renson Gasela was to be buried at his farm outside Gweru on Sunday, sources in the former opposition party said.

ZANU-PF official Alice Nkomo, killed in a separate road accident the same day on the Bulawayo-Plumtree highway, has been declared a provincial heroine and was to be laid to rest on Thursday in Bulawayo.

Spokesman Methuseli Moyo of the revived Zimbabwe African Patriotic Union or ZAPU, told VOA Studio 7 reporter Sithandekile Mhlanga that his party is urging President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF to accord hero status to deserving members of other parties as speedily as it did in the case of the late Alice Nkomo.

Mutambara MDC spokesman Edwin Mushoriwa said Gasela, who ran the Grain Marketing Board before he left ZANU-PF in the late 1990s, deserved recognition for that work and his defense of human rights.

Chief Whip Innocent Gonese of the MDC grouping led by Prime Minister Tsvangirai said his party has raised the issue in Parliament but ZANU-PF has not wanted to relinquish its control of the hero selection process.

For perspective VOA Studio 7 reporter Patience Rusere turned to two University of Zimbabwe professors, John Makumbe and Joseph Kurebwa, the latter arguing that ZANU-PF as an amalgam of the two national liberation parties has traditionally selected heroes and should continue to do so even under a unity government.

Makumbe disagreed, saying the designation of heroes should be a broader national process.

National heroes are buried at Heroes Acre in Harare, often with a eulogy by President Mugabe and until very recently most often without participation by Movement for Democratic Change officials who were accustomed to being denounced on such occasions as disloyal opponents of the Mugabe government.