Mabhena (86) died at his Four Winds home yesterday morning at about 6am. He had for long been fighting diabetes and high blood pressure.
In separate interviews, the politicians described Mabhena as a principled liberation fighter who had the Matabeleland region at heart.
Zanu-PF Politburo member, Dr Sikhanyiso Duke Ndlovu, said he learnt with great shock of the death of Mabhena.
“I was with him in Ntabazinduna in July when we buried Chief Khayisa Ndiweni. We were sitting next to each other during the burial service,” said Dr Ndlovu.
“However, on behalf of the people of Bulawayo, Matabeleland and the nation at large, I would like to pass my condolences to his wife and family.”
Dr Ndlovu said Mabhena never minced his words especially when it came to the development of Matabeleland.
“He was the first to voice his views against tribalism, unfair treatment and unequal distribution of resources,” said Dr Ndlovu.
“We must maintain the legacy that he left of equitable distribution of resources and fight discrimination against local people in jobs and business.”
Another Zanu-PF Politburo member, Cde Joshua Malinga, said he had good working relations with Mabhena.
“I worked with him very well particularly on the issues of the marginalisation of Matabeleland. He was a principled man and I have and will always respect him for that,” said Cde Malinga.
“He was a pioneer politician, having participated in the resistance of white minority rule in the 1950s when we were young boys.
“He stood by his word and was very active on the ground.”
The Professor Arthur Mutambara-led MDC yesterday described Mabhena as an illustrious son of the nation.
“Welshman Mabhena was a dedicated freedom fighter and revolutionary, he is one of the founding fathers of the liberation struggle,” said the party’s deputy national secretary for information and publicity, Mr Nhlanhla Dube.
“He was selflessly and tirelessly sacrificed for our country as he left the then lucrative teaching profession for the fight for majority rule.”
Mr Dube said Mabhena would be remembered as a straight talker and a fearless debater and a man who stood for the interests of the people he led than personal comforts.
“It was his passionate dream to see a government system that gives power to the people, a dream that we have tirelessly worked to see included in the new constitution,” he said.
“As a party, we believe that Mabhena lived an exemplary life of sacrifice, honesty, servant, politician and this undoubtedly qualifies him to be a liberation hero.”
Politician Mr Norman Mabhena said his brother was a veteran freedom fighter and played an instrumental role in escalating resistance to the colonial settler regime.
“He was a principled and brave fighter, a true vintage revolutionary of immense courage. A man of manifest simplicity and infectious humility,” he said.
Mr Mabhena said his brother spoke his mind no matter the consequences.
“He was indeed a political dynamite of rare quality,” said Mr Mabhena.
A close friend, Mr Phio Ngulube, described the death of Mabhena as a sad loss to the cause of the Matabeleland region.
He said Mabhena was always concerned about erosion of the Ndebele culture.
“I was working very closely with him in terms of issues to do with the culture of Isizwe Sika Mthwakazi. We always visited the late Chief Khayisa Ndiweni every week as we talked about issues concerning our region. Inhlanzi iqala ukubola ikhanda and isizwe sonke sibolile ngokufa kwabadala,” he said.
According to the late politician’s wife, Rebecca, Mabhena died soon after taking a morning bath.
“He died in the morning at about 6am. He was in and out of hospital but did not show any signs that he was dying,” said Mrs Mabhena.
“He woke up and took a bath as usual and then died afterwards. His death came as a shock to the whole family because no one imagined that he would die. He was acting normally.”
Mrs Mabhena said no funeral arrangements had been made as their children were based overseas.
“We have to allow them to travel back to the country so that a concrete programme can be drafted,” she said.
Born on 26 June 1924 at Zinyangeni in Nkayi, Mabhena attended Zinyangeni Primary School before proceeding to Inyathi Mission School for secondary education.
He later moved to Tiger Kloof in South Africa for further studies.
He later returned to teach at Inyathi Mission School before joining politics.
A shoemaker by profession, Mabhena was involved in politics and spent between 1962 and 1979 in jail or detention coming out with A Levels and the Fellowship of the Association of Certified Bookkeepers of South Africa.
The at-times controversial Mabhena was in 1985 elected Member of Parliament for Nkayi constituency on a PF-Zapu ticket.
At that time he was the secretary general of the party and in 1987 after the united Zanu-PF was born, Mabhena became the new Matabeleland North provincial chairman.
In 1990, Mabhena, who was the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, was appointed Minister of State for Political Affairs.
During that time he was a Zanu-PF Politburo member holding the portfolio of Secretary for Transport and Welfare.
He was later appointed Governor for Matabeleland North Province, a post he held until he retired in July 2000, when now Minister of Mines and Mining Development Obert Mpofu took over.
Although he lived under a cloud of speculation that he was joining MDC, Mabhena came out in 2006 and said he was not a member of the party, which he described as lacking an ideology that the people can identify with.
Mabhena is survived by three children, 12 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Mourners are gathered at Number 12 Amatja Road in Four Winds.