Fungi Kwaramba — PRESIDENT Mnangagwa has described the death of Roman Catholic cleric Father Emmanuel Ribeiro, the man who saved him from the gallows during the liberation struggle, as a great loss to the nation as he distinctively served Zimbabwe and the freedom cause during his long and illustrious life.
A man of many talents, Fr Ribeiro was a novelist, a music composer, and a passionate researcher into the liberation struggle history.
He died yesterday in Harare at St Anne’s Hospital after a short illness. He was 86.
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.
The President, who was among the condemned and only escaped the hangman noose because of being under-age, reminisced on how the late Fr Ribeiro frequented prison cells to pray with the nationalists giving them hope and infusing faith in the eventual triumph of black Zimbabweans.
“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.
“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,” the President said.
The late 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.
“A good many of these he had vainly tried to save without success in each case weighing down on his conscience.
“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,” the President said.
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
“Alongside the late Sister Aquina, late Moven Mahachi and Sekuru Tangwena, Father Ribeiro played a key 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 Cde Herbert Chitepo — chairman of our party then in exile. Until the attainment of independence in 1980, his commitment to the liberation struggle was unwavering,” the President said.
A devout Catholic, Fr Ribeiro was also a great music composer of church hymns which to this day are part of sermons in the Roman Catholic Church.
He assisted in the composition of the national anthem and as an artist was part of the team that designed the national flag.
“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,” said the President.
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.