Harare (New Ziana) – The late national hero Father Emmanuel Ribeiro was a trail blazer, who heeded God’s call to utilise his talents in the fight and development of his country before and after independence, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Monday.
He said this at the historic burial of Father Ribeiro who became the first ever cleric to be interred at the National Heroes Acre.
President Mnangagwa relived Father Ribeiro’s war time heroics including saving his life after being placed on death row by the colonial regime and helping the late former President Robert Mugabe escape to Mozambique when he was being hunted by the settler regime.
“Today’s solemn occasion is special in that we gather to lay to rest a distinguished servant of God in the Roman Catholic Church who also stood out as a unique fighter for the freedoms of our people and our once shackled country. He was and remains special in our hearts.
“I am personally pained by his demise for our lives and fates intersected under extremely difficult and unenviable circumstances, those circumstances knit us together after he saved me from the gallows with his sheer compassion and goodness and astuteness. Allow me to say thank you Farther Emanuel Ribeiro for agreeing to be an instrument of God’s saving grace,” he said.
“My personal encounter with the late national hero Father Ribeiro was in circumstances of penal incarceration at Salisbury Maximum Prison in the 1960s. Through his spirited intercession which included legal representation, my death sentence was commuted to 10 years imprisonment in isolated cells, together with Fathers Swift, Nyahwa and Mapondera, he became my link with humanity and with society from which I had been removed. Although my fate was painful, I was one of the lucky few to be spared the gallows,, my colleagues in the crocodile gang and many other captured freedom fighters and collaborators who came after us were brutally hanged.”
President Mnangagwa also thanked the Catholic Church for agreeing to the burial of Father Ribeiro at the National Heroes Acre.
He said the late priest deserved the honour, because he worked tirelessly and used his diverse talents to nurture the souls of many people in Zimbabwe.
“The decision to honour him in this very special way was befitting and unanimous. I am aware that the Roman Catholic Church has its own burial arrangements for personages such as the late Father Ribeiro, yet the Church, along with the Ribeiro family, accepted government’s request to have our beloved national hero rested here. Thank you Archbishop Robert Ndlovu and the entire Roman Catholic Church. Government does not take this gesture for granted. You have given us one of your own so that we rest him together with his liberation war compatriots,” he said.
President Mnangagwa described Father Ribeiro as a man of many talents in reference to his role in the arts sector.
Father Ribeiro wrote several prominent Shona novels and composed many Church hymns for the Catholic Church and also contributed to the design of Zimbabwe’s national flag, among other attributes.
“He had outstanding musical prowess particularly in the area of church music. In his quiet yet effective way he subtly challenged church ethos,” he said.
“He knew the power of music, for him the Catholic Church in Africa or any church at all had to express and to fulfil its mission in the African context.”
He added; “Through such far reaching acts, the late father Ribeiro and his peers showed the way. Today some of our churches have truly transformed the value of our African music instruments and ways of worship.”