Roman Catholic cleric, Father Emmanuel Ribeiro, has been declared a national hero.
A man of many talents, Fr Ribeiro died at St Anne’s Hospital in Harare on Thursday morning after a short illness.
He was 86.
The national hero status declaration was made by Defence and War Veterans Affairs Minister, Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri yesterday.
She was accompanied by Zanu PF acting national Political Commissar Cde Patrick Chinamasa, when she delivered the message to the Ribeiro, Mashonganyika and Makaka families in Harare.
She described Fr Ribeiro as a friend, a gallant son of the soil, a freedom fighter, great researcher and theologist par excellence.
“We came as Zanu PF family and Government of Zimbabwe sent by President Mnangagwa to pay our condolences and inform you of the honour bestowed on our friend, Fr Ribeiro after considering his role in the liberation of this country,” said Minister Muchinguri-Kashiri.
“Fr Ribeiro fought for the independence of this country despite being a cleric and he even continued to serve after independence. He had unpleasant experiences during the war as he prayed for prisoners before hanging.
“He was a friend to the prisoners and had a great influence. He also assisted former President Mugabe and national hero Edgar Tekere to cross to Mozambique. He represented President Mnangagwa when he was arrested during the war.”
Cde Chinamasa said he last saw Father Ribeiro on Monday when he came to his office to present some papers.
“He told me about some prison officers who died in prison and what should be done to them. I did not know this was my last day with him,” he said.
Minister Muchinguri-Kashiri then took the opportunity to teach mourners about the Covid-19 pandemic and the need for every citizen to protect him or herself and others through following the World Health Organisations guidelines that include washing hands, maintaining social distance and sanitising hands regularly.
Relatives and friends described the late national hero as friendly, unifier, generous, a novelist, a music composer and great historian into the liberation struggle history.
On Thursday, President Mnangagwa described the death of Fr Ribeiro as a great loss to the nation as he served Zimbabwe with distinction.
From serving in many rural parishes during the colonial era, Fr Ribeiro later on dedicated his life to catering to the spiritual needs of many freedom fighters, both those who were serving long prison terms and those who were unjustly condemned to death by the country’s erstwhile colonisers.
President Mnangagwa was among the condemned and only escaped the hangman’s noose because he was under-age.
“In the case of condemned former prisoners like myself, his figure became one of the only contacts we had with the outside world. Or the only and last human being one would see before one met one’s cruel fate at the hands of colonial authorities,” said President Mnangagwa.
“His religious chores as a prison chaplain thus brought him in direct contact with souls in acute distress. Indeed, it exposed him to horrid scenes of settler penal cruelty, scenes which haunted him to his last day in this life.
“I mourn his passing on as one of the few lucky ones he was able to rescue from the gallows, a development which makes his demise particularly poignant and quite painful to me personally.”
Fr Ribeiro who reconstructed the last moments of the famous Chinhoyi 7, including tracing their family trees across the country, was at the time of his death tracing final steps of numerous freedom fighters who fell prey to the cruel colonial penal system before independence.
Apart from contributing to the reconstruction of the national struggle narratives, Fr Ribeiro also put his life, along with other missionaries, on the line as he fought for the liberation of Zimbabwe
Together with the late Sister Aquina, late Moven Mahachi and Sekuru Tangwena, Fr Ribeiro played a critical role which ensured the late Cdes Robert Gabriel Mugabe and Edgar Zivanai Tekere absconded to Mozambique for purposes of leading the struggle after the assassination of Zanu Chairman, Cde Herbert Chitepo, then in exile.
Until the achievement of independence, Fr Ribeiro’s commitment to the liberation struggle was unquestionable.
Fr Ribeiro was also a music composer of repute.
He composed church hymns, which are part of sermons in the Roman Catholic Church to this day.
Critically, Fr Ribeiro assisted in the composition of the national anthem and as an artist was part of the team that designed the national flag.
Added President Mnangagwa: “He did a lot more than singing; he was an accomplished novelist who wrote in one of our local languages under the then Rhodesia Literature Bureau.
“Alongside late Archbishop Patrick Chakaipa and late Solomon Mutsvairo, Fr Ribeiro blazed the trail employing national languages for creative writing.
“It spoke highly of him as an author that his flagship novel ‘Muchadura’, became an abiding set-book in schools.
“Today we mourn the passing of this man of many talents.
“On behalf of the party Zanu PF, Government, that of my family and on my behalf, I wish to express my deepest condolences to the Ribeiro family.
“Above all, I tender my sincere condolences to the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Harare, His Grace Archbishop Robert Ndlovu and the entire membership of the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe.
“We keenly feel and share your pain and grief, praying that the Good Lord rests Fr Emmanuel Ribeiro’s soul eternally.”
Fr Ribeiro was born in 1935 in Chivhu and attended Kutama Mission, Gokomere, and Gweru Teachers’ College.
He studied Theology at Chishawasha Mission before enrolling for a Master’s Degree at Bloomington College of Music in the US.
Fr Ribeiro was trained at Chishawasha Mission from 1952 and was ordained on December 13, 1964.