Sithole, who distinguished himself in the liberation struggle,died in 2000 and was buried at his rural home in Chipinge despite protests from several Zimbabweans who were convinced that he deserved to be honoured as a national hero.
But in a letter written to Tsvangirai, ZANU-Ndonga petitioned the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader to take a leading role in convincing the two leaders of the coalition government to appraise the hero status of Sithole. At the time of his death Sithole was facing charges of plotting to kill President Robert Mugabe, charges which he denied.
“As you already know Honourable Prime Minister, ZANU Ndonga’s position is that the treatment that the late Reverend Sithole got when he passed on, was not reflective of the role that he played in the struggle for the liberation of this country. The fact that Reverend Sithole played a significant role is not an overstatement as you also echoed similar statements at his burial at Freedom Farm in Mount Selinda Chipinge on the 18th of December 2000. We would therefore be grateful if you were to give us feedback on this issue and kindly request you to pursue the subject if nothing has been done to date,” read part of the letter written by ZANU-Ndonga national chairman Reketayi Mushiwokufa Semwayo.
Semwayo said Tsvangirai had pledged to look into reviewing the hero status of Sithole during a meeting he held early last year with the (MDC) leader.
“At this meeting which we held in the presence of Deputy Prime Ministers Thokozani Khupe and Professor Arthur Mutambara you promised to look at the issue in consultation with President Robert Mugabe,” said Semwayo.
The granting of hero status has been a contentious issue in Zimbabwe. Hero status is the highest honour that an individual can be accorded in recognition of his or her contribution to the struggle and success of a nation, whatever field it may be.
Since independence in 1980 more than 80 heroes and heroines have been interred at the country’s national shrine, situated just outside Harare’s city centre.
But the national hero’s status bestowed on some of the men and women buried at the shrine has reignited debate about what constitutes heroism and the relevance of the National Heroes Act, which gives the President, in this case Robert Mugabe, exclusive authority to designate national heroes.
Some Zimbabweans argue that Zanu (PF) has usurped the Act and reduced patriotism to party loyalty, allegiance and service. Presently, the Zanu (PF) politburo, the party’s supreme decision-making organ confers the hero status.
Since 1980 not even one member of the opposition has been buried at the national shrine, vindicating critics who argue the honour is a preserve for Zanu (PF) members.
Besides Sithole, James Chikerema, another veteran of the protracted liberation struggle and a relative of Mugabe was laid to rest in Zvimba, his rural home, after “differing with the ZANU-PF party in a major way.”