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Fast-Track Hero Designation for Late Sister of Zimbabwe's Mugabe Stirs Debate

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and deputies Arthur Mutambara and Thokozane Khupe joined Cabinet members and senior members of the judiciary Thursday evening in offering condolences to the Mugabe family

The designation of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's late sister Sabrina as a national hero in record time after her death on Thursday has renewed debate as to what makes a hero and who should make that decision.

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Ministers Arthur Mutambara and Thokozane Khupe joined Cabinet members and Supreme Court and High Court judges Thursday evening in offering their condolences to President Mugabe’s family following the death early that day of Sabina Mugabe at the age of 80.

The former member of parliament died at the Avenues Clinic. No cause of death was stated. Mr. Mugabe told mourners she had suffered a stroke in 1995 which obliged her to retire from active politics.

The ZANU-PF politburo declared Sabina Mugabe a national hero less than 24 hours after her death without consulting the other governing parties, yet again stirring controversy over the hero designation process.

Though that decision was unanimous, sources said some former members of PF-ZAPU who were absorbed into the combined ZANU-PF in 1987 were unhappy to see hero status for the president’s sister was declared so quickly.

Some noted it took weeks for the ZANU-PF politburo to confer hero status on the late Masala Sibanda, a retired army colonel and former freedom fighter, leading his family to bury him in Bulawayo in protest at the slight.

Timely designation as a national hero is usually followed by interment at Heroes Acre on the outskirts of Harare, where Sabine Mugabe is to be buried on Sunday with full honors.

The immediate conferral of hero status on Sabina Mugabe has also drawn complaints from political opponents of Mr. Mugabe who say that the process of designating national heroes must be nonpartisan.

ZANU-PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Sabina Mugabe deserved the honor. But National Constitutional Assembly Chairman Lovemore Madhuku said her main qualification was being Mr. Mugabe's sister, and that Zimbabweans have let ZANU-PF abuse the selection process.