UPDATED: ‘Shiri died of Covid-19’ . . . Burial set for today President Mnangagwa speaks to the late Cde Perrance Shiri’s sister, Eusebia Chifamba when he consoled the national hero’s family in Borrowdale, Harare, yesterday in the company of Vice Presidents Constantino Chiwenga (second from right) and Kembo Mohadi. — Picture: Believe Nyakudjara

Elita Chikwati

Senior Reporter

National hero, Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement Minister Air Chief Marshal Perrance Shiri (Rtd) died of Covid-19 and will be buried today in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, President Mnangagwa said.

Cde Shiri died early Wednesday.

He was 65.

Addressing mourners at the late ACM Shiri’s Borrowdale home yesterday, President Mnangagwa said test results had shown that the minister succumbed to Covid-19.

Among those paying respects were Vice Presidents Dr Constantino Chiwenga and Kembo Mohadi, ministers who included Cde Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, Cde Kazembe Kazembe, Cde Paul Mavima, Cde Sekai Nzenza, Ministers of State Cde Monica Mavhunga, Cde Ellen Gwaradzimba and Cde Mary Mliswa-Chikoka, service chiefs, Members of Parliament and Politburo members.

They joined family members at the sombre funeral wake as they paid respects to the family that gave Zimbabwe one of its most illustrious sons.

“The results came today and they indicate that Cde Shiri succumbed to Covid-19. This means his funeral and burial arrangements will no longer follow the normal procedures, but will be guided by the WHO guidelines,” said President Mnangagwa.

Ordinarily, the body of a national hero would be taken to his rural home, then pass through the historic Stodart Hall before a procession for interment at the National Heroes Acre.

However, under the Covid-19 pandemic rules, only 50 people will be allowed at the National Heroes Acre and traditional practices will be suspended in line with the WHO guidelines.

“We should follow the WHO guidelines which also include social distancing and sanitisation. There are few people who came here. In normal circumstances there would have been multitudes of people. Nevertheless, we stand guided by WHO guidelines and we should follow them,” the President said.

Unbeknown to everybody that Covid-19 , which has killed more than half a million people worldwide, would claim the life of one of Zimbabwe’s most recognisable and hardworking sons, the President said just last week on Tuesday he, and the late Cde Shiri discussed matters around food security, but “this Tuesday he did not show up. I enquired from the Chief Secretary who told me his driver had fallen ill and died and we thought he was in isolation”.

“In the evening they came to the State House when they were leaving. They said Minister Shiri should have reported to a health facility, but he later changed his mind and went home. His colleagues inquired and he assured them that he was well only to be called around 3am (on Wednesday) and that he was no more.”

The President said the death of Cde Shiri was a sad loss to the family and the nation at large because he was a hardworking minister who transformed the Ministry of Agriculture in a short period of time.

“We used to have a Minister of Lands, Minister for Agriculture, Minister for Water and Minister for Environment, but when we came into Government he had the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement because we knew he was a hard worker who delivered.

“His ministry was the only one with two deputies. Even though he was heading a huge ministry with so many responsibilities, Cde Shiri delivered,” he said.

He said during his time as minister, Cde Shiri had been given targets to boost agricultural productivity to ensure national food security and self-sufficiency.

“He was upon it and he had been one third towards achieving the target. This was the first season. We have two more seasons to go. Minister Shiri has been moving around farming areas touring agricultural projects. He was now spearheading the Smart Agriculture concept which was aimed at achieving high yields even under drought conditions. We had also concluded deals on irrigation equipment to aid agriculture. He had set a certain hectarage of cropping that should be supported by irrigation to ensure national food security. Now he is no more it is difficult to fill his gap,” he said.

The President saluted Minister Shiri for solving the issue of compensation of the white former commercial farmers that culminated in the signing of the historic US$3,5 billion Global Compensation Deed between Government and representatives of white farmers on Wednesday, a momentous event that he however did not live to witness.

President Mnangagwa said although there had been several sticking points in making a deal between the Government and the white former farmers, the late Minister Shiri played a key role that resulted in an amicable agreement.

The late Cde Shiri was not only a hardworking minister but his record as an illustrious soldier both before and after independence would see him being dispatched on different assignments, the President said.

“He was young. And that time they were four including Vice President Chiwenga and ZPCS Commissioner General Paradzayi Zimondi. We used to call them “Mutuma zvepedo” and they would run and execute whatever they would have been sent to do,” he said.

The President urged the Shiri family to find comfort in the illustrious history of their iconic son and father.

“We make our plans but it is God who has the final decision. We had our plans together with Minister Shiri but God had his own plans. Let us not despair.

A childhood friend of the late Cde Shiri, Vice President Chiwenga talked about how they grew up together, went to war together and fought the war together.

“When we were at school we were supervised by his elder sister Eusebia Chifamba. We had one key (key number 19) which unlocked every door at the school. We could have been mischievous but the only thing we did was to unlock the kitchen door to collect makoko esadza (maize porridge crust),” he said.

Vice President Chiwenga, whose nom de guerre was Dominic Chinenge, reverted to his birth name following the country’s independence in 1980, but the late Cde Shiri could not stand the treachery of one of his wartime namesakes, James Chikerema, and thus stuck to his guerrilla moniker Perrance Shiri.

“Minister Shiri refused to change his name from Shiri back to Chikerema because of what James Chikerema had done. James had sold out and this made Shiri to consider remaining with the name Shiri,” he said.

On their part the grieving Shiri family said they had lost a family pillar of strength and saluted President Mnangagwa and the Government for honouring Cde Shiri with a national hero status.

“We are happy as a family. It shows you also appreciate his works. To his family he was a pillar of strength where the whole family could lean on. We would have loved to mourn him the normal way but due to Covid-19 we will follow the WHO guidelines,” he said.

Cde Shiri is survived by four children, three daughters and a son.

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