The funeral of Air Chief Marshal Perrance Shiri (Retired) unfolded under unfamiliar conditions at the National Heroes Acre yesterday as the country buried one of its most illustrious sons who succumbed to Covid-19 on Wednesday.
Where thousands usually teem to pay their last respects to national heroes in the mould of the late Cde Shiri, only a few came as Government, in accordance to World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines on Covid-19, kept the numbers low to curb the spread of the contagion that has claimed more than half a million people globally.
Unlike his fellow comrades who lie at the National Heroes Acre, Cde Shiri’s body did not pass through Stodart Hall in Mbare, there were no choral groups, and only a selected few were allowed in at the top of the hillock where the country’s finest sons and daughters are buried.
Yesterday, the famous Mbare Chimurenga Choir was not there to sing liberation struggle songs and perform their dances. There were no church choirs or Apostolic sect members who normally compete with the Police Band on Christian hymns.
Over their military fatigues, the pallbearers wore personal protective equipment, complete with goggles.
Instead of a gun carriage, the body was in a Doves vehicle, which is unusual of national heroes who are buried at the national shrine.
But there was a 17-gun salute and a fly-past befitting an Air Chief Marshal who served at the top of the country’s Air Force for more than two decades.
It was a sombre occasion as Zimbabweans could only watch from their homes the interment of a revered soldier whose contribution to the country’s independence is in a league of true stalwarts of the liberation struggle.
Presiding over the solemn occasion, the President bade farewell to Cde Shiri, who was born Bigboy, Benjamin Samson Chikerema in 1955 in Chikomba District.
There was no laying of wreaths at the graveside as is the norm and his comrades in arms could only look or imagine from afar as the body of a beloved comrade was committed to mother earth.
The President, Vice Presidents Constantino Chiwenga and Kembo Mohadi, Cabinet ministers, Ministers of State, service chiefs, Zanu PF senior officials and representatives from Mashonaland Central Province formed part of the thin crowd that came to witness the burial.
The President described Cde Shiri as a great hero of the liberation struggle and a notable figure in post-independent Zimbabwe.
“We lost a patriot, a brave freedom fighter, a commander, a hardworking Minister of Government, a party stalwart and a disciplined and loyal cadre. We lost a great son of the soil.
“Bigboy Benjamin Samson Chikerema, better known as Comrade Perrance Shiri, is no more, snatched from us by the coronavirus. Shock, thus, grips us all, especially those who daily interacted with him in the course of discharging our duties,” he said.
President Mnangagwa said it was a painful time for the Chikerema family and those who associated and interacted with Minister Shiri both in wartime and peacetime, both in exile during the struggle, and here at home after our Independence.
“The war fostered bonds of blood, which forever made us a close family: hama dzeropa. Those bonds forged and sealed in struggle today snap and fail, as death divides us.
“We have been robbed; we are in pain, and share the loss with you, mhuri yekwa Shiri-Chikerema, vabereki vegamba redu. Please accept our deepest condolences,” he said.
He said during the second republic, Cde Shiri worked hard to ensure national food security through different projects and was spearheading the Agriculture Recovery Programme that encompassed the Pfumvudza Concept, mechanisation, modernisation, irrigation development climate-proofing of our agriculture.
“He was “Mutumwa zvepedo”, he understood that strategy without execution is no strategy. He has left us that value and work ethic. The lasting tribute we should give to him is to carry on, from where he left,” he said.
Zanu PF Mashonaland Central Provincial chairperson Kazembe Kazembe described Minister Shiri as a unifier, arbitrator and a dedicated cadre who was people-centric whose void will be difficult to fill.
“He had a vision for the province to improve the livelihoods of people of Mashonaland Central, particularly Kanyemba and Rushinga.
Family spokesman, Mr Nimrod Chikara said although they spent with him only 17 years before he left the country to join the liberation struggle, they were proud of their son.
“The loss is not only to the Chikerema family but the party and nation as a whole. Benjamin was groomed by Zanu PF. We are proud that he remained loyal to his country until the end,” he said.