THE late Roman Catholic cleric and National Hero, Father Emmanuel Ribeiro was an upright man whose dedication to country and duty was unquestionable, President Mnangagwa has said.
Addressing mourners at the late cleric’s funeral service held at the St Mary’s Queen of Peace parish in Highfield, Harare yesterday, President Mnangagwa said the decision to accord Father Ribeiro National Hero status was unanimous.
Father Ribeiro, a renowned composer, novelist and nationalist, died on Thursday at St Anne’s Hospital and will be buried tomorrow at the National Heroes Acre.
“As Zanu-PF, especially those of my age who understand the contributions made by Father Ribeiro when we were in the war know that he was a key figure in the liberation of this country. When I heard of his death, I went to my Vice-President (Dr Constantino Chiwenga) and told him that I was thinking of making him a National Hero and he said he had the same sentiments.”
He said a unanimous decision to honour Father Ribeiro with a National Hero status was made following brief deliberations.
“We then told the national chairperson Cde (Oppah) Muchinguri to call for a Politburo meeting to discuss the decision. We put the matter to a vote, as is our culture and the decision was unanimous. There was not a single no,” added President Mnangagwa.
He reflected on his interactions with Father Ribeiro, who was a prison Chaplin during the time the President was on death row in 1962.
“There were four Chaplains, Father Ribeiro, Father Swift, Father Nyahwa and Father Mapondera. On a weekly basis they would come and pray with us as prisoners. On a weekly basis Father Ribeiro would come to see us in prison.
Among the four of them, only he would speak to us about politics and the liberation war, everyone else would stick to religious matters. This is where we connected,” he said.
The President said Father Ribeiro was an accomplished researcher and writer who was working on a ground-breaking research project on the country’s liberation history.
“Father Ribeiro was working on a research project in which he was tracking down families of freedom fighters killed in the liberation war. During the war, we were not using our real names, just nom de guerres, but that did not deter Father Ribeiro; he managed to track down the families of most of the fighters. He would take pictures of their families, record their stories and we were supporting him all the way. He brought the information and we have it now.”
Father Ribeiro was collaborating with researcher and author Phyllis Johnson on the project. In the book, Father Ribeiro was documenting the lives of freedom fighters executed by the colonialists in prison and at the war front.
President Mnangagwa said he and Father Ribeiro shared similar opinions on the need to rid the system of capital punishment.
The late cleric played a central role in having President Mnangagwa’s death sentence commuted to a life sentence because he was under-age. Head of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Harare, Archbishop Robert Ndlovu, said Father Ribeiro was a man of many talents, whose greatest virtue was compassion.
“Father Ribeiro was a soft but deeply knowledgeable person. He was a man of many talents, he loved his country.
One time he suggested that in order to instil discipline among priests, we should go to military service,” said Archbishop Ndlovu.
The Roman Catholic church supported President Mnangagwa and Father Ribeiro’s stance on capital punishment.
“Father Ribeiro was a human being who had feelings for others, he cared about others so much. As the Roman Catholic church, we are trying to campaign for the removal of the death sentence.”
In a statement last night, the Ministry of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage said Father Ribeiro would be buried at the National Shrine tomorrow.
“Today, the 19th of June 2021, the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Burials of National Heroes, sat for a meeting with representatives from the family of the late National Hero, Father Emmanuel Ribeiro and representatives from the Roman Catholic Church,” reads the statement.
“This follows yesterday’s conferment of National Hero Status on the late Father Emmanuel Ribeiro. Following consultations with the family and the church, it was agreed that the burial of the late National Hero Father Emmanuel Ribeiro be held at the National Heroes Acre on Monday 21 June 2021.”
Today, the body of the National Hero will depart for a mass at the St Mary’s Queen of Peace Parish at 2pm. On the day of burial, the body will be taken to Old Highfield for a mass before the funeral cortège leaves for the national shrine at 9:55am.