By Bridget Mananavire
In rare, heartfelt tributes to a departed local politician, Zimbabweans from across the country’s political and social divides united in praising much-respected Zanu PF elder Cephas Msipa, who died in Harare early yesterday morning on a tragic day for his family which also reported the death of his grandson in London.
The former Midlands governor was not only one of the few Zanu PF stalwarts to ever voluntarily retire from active politics, he was also probably the remaining voice of reason within the burning ruling party who could openly, and genuinely too, rebuke President Robert Mugabe.
Msipa, 85, had been in and out of hospital in recent months, before his death at the West End Clinic in the capital. And most dreadfully for his family, they learnt later in the day that his grandson, Lloyd Msipa Junior, had been found dead at his university residence in the UK.
In an emotional tribute, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC described Msipa as “a selfless hero”, who was not afraid to speak against all ills and Zanu PF’s misrule.
“He was a candid, fearless and straight-talking nationalist who was always ready to denounce such evils like tribalism, racism, corruption and sexism. Up until the time of his death, the late Msipa was vociferously speaking out against the excesses of political violence and intolerance.
“He was unwavering and solid as a rock when it comes to matters to do with patriotism, honesty, integrity, accountability and transparency. He relentlessly spoke against the emerging trend of rampant corruption, particularly amongst the ruling elite.
“As the nation mourns the sad passing on of a true and honest nationalist, the MDC would like the entire nation to take note of the virtues of selflessness and tolerance which epitomised the life of the late Cephas Msipa,” said party spokesperson Obert Gutu.
Former Zanu PF spokesperson and Msipa’s longtime friend, Rugare Gumbo, was also among the hordes who led tributes to the much-loved ruling party elder, whose death occurred at a time that he was trying to persuade 92-year-old Mugabe to follow his lead and retire in his own interest, that of his family and the nation.
“He was forthright and the one inimitable quality he had was that he criticised everyone he deemed to have lost direction. He was also a peacemaker who was instrumental in bringing about the Unity Accord between Zanu and Zapu in 1987.
“His criticism of Mugabe and Zanu PF did not start recently as many think. He had always been like that and at one point told Mugabe during a politburo meeting that he needed to listen to the people. He would always ask questions like ‘Is this what we fought for?’” the heart-broken Gumbo said.
Former State Security minister and close Mugabe confidante for decades, Didymus Mutasa, also described Msipa as “an honest man who contributed a lot to the country’s well-being before and after independence”.
“One can’t wish for a better man. I knew him and his family very well and his passing on is the end of an era,” he told the Daily News.
Former Finance minister and now leader of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Tendai Biti, said the death of the veteran nationalist was a big blow to Zimbabwe.
“The departure of Cephas Msipa will create a hole that will never be filled. He was a principled man who lived a consistent life. Go well Tata,” he tweeted on microblogging site Twitter.
Before Zimbabwe’s independence, Msipa led the Rhodesia African Teachers Association, leading to his arrest and detention at Gonakudzingwa and Whawha camps before he went into exile in 1974 as a senior Zapu official.
After independence, he worked in government, first as deputy minister of Youth, Sport and Recreation and later as minister of Water Resources and Development, before he became Midlands governor.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with the Daily News earlier this year, the much-respected Msipa said Mugabe’s 56 years in politics were long enough for a “normal human being to hang the boots”.
“My serious advice to him (Mugabe) is that he should rest now, as he has done so much for the country,” the once close friend of Mugabe of many decades said, adding that the nonagenarian — who is the only leader that Zimbabweans have had for the past 36 years — cannot rest after death.
“In a way, he has done a lot for this country, and really in all fairness we are punishing him. When will he rest, when he is dead?” he asked rhetorically.
“I feel sorry for him as a friend. I think he must just be given time to rest. We live in this world for a much shorter period than we realise. He really needs a rest. A race is run up to a certain point and there comes a point when you must rest.
“It’s good for him, good for his family and good for the party. We need new ideas. These can only come with leadership renewal. I would like him to rest,” the concerned Msipa emphasised repeatedly.
He also challenged some Zanu PF hardliners who were advocating for the nonagenarian’s further stay in power to be “human and stop punishing” him.
“We should all feel sorry for him. We are punishing him. Those who are saying he should continue, we don’t seem to care about him. I know some people want him to stay for their own protection.
“I also know some of them feel he is protecting them. He gave them certain positions and so they are afraid that if he goes they will lose those positions. It’s unfair for us to punish a man for all this time. Let him sit back and watch. It’s very important after all that hard work,” Msipa said.
“If it was to become possible for me to meet him, I would convince him to rest. I am talking about retiring. I am saying he has worked so hard, so much that he needs to rest now.
“There will be no other time except now. He can’t rest after death of course. They call that rest in peace, but I don’t know what that means,” he added.
Msipa also revealed at the time just before he left active politics that he had asked Mugabe to retire, an offer that was turned down.
“I went to see Mugabe with my two sons where I told him to retire. He told me that in politics you don’t retire, but that you rather die there. That’s his philosophy.
“So in a way he seems to be enjoying the position, but he must also think of rest, because he is punishing himself physically. We are all human beings and the fire in us burns out and you can’t go on trying to keep putting on some light when it’s burning out,” he said.
In his last interview with the Daily News in August this year, Msipa, also advised Mugabe and the ruling party to listen to the growing voices of dissent in the country, warning that failure to do so would be tantamount to negating the values of the country’s liberation struggle which cost the lives of so many Zimbabweans.
Reflecting on Heroes’ Day commemorations at the time, Msipa — who affectionately calls Mugabe “muzukuru wangu” (my nephew) — said his heart bled each time he was confronted by the grinding poverty afflicting the majority of Zimbabweans, which had seen many people turning to street vending to survive.
Msipa spoke as Mugabe and Zanu PF were facing their biggest challenges since they came to power in April 1980, with the ruling party torn apart by its seemingly unstoppable factional and succession wars, and the nonagenarian facing growing citizen unrest and calls from both within the former liberation movement and without to step down.
“When I move around in Harare, Bulawayo or Gweru people always ask me whether what is happening in the country is what we fought for. Indeed, is this what we suffered for? The fact that people are asking those questions tells me that something has gone wrong.
“I look around and see all these protests and I ask what is happening? Is this what we fought for?
“We were fighting for peace, harmony and prosperity but as it is people are getting poorer by the day. There is grinding poverty all over and that is why people are now demanding answers,” Msipa said with a tinge of regret in his voice. Daily News