Zimbabwe’s agriculture minister Perrance Shiri died from the COVID-19 infection, becoming the first senior government official to succumb to the pandemic, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Thursday.
Shiri, a retired general who helped plot the ouster of Robert Mugabe in a 2017 coup, died on Wednesday.
Shiri, who commanded the air force for 25 years until he joined the government in 2017, was admitted to hospital on Tuesday, two government sources said. He died in the early hours of Wednesday.
“Shiri was a true patriot, who devoted his life to the liberation, independence and service of his country,” Mnangagwa said in a statement.
The late liberation war veteran was declared a national hero and will be buried on Friday during a closed ceremony.
“Now that it is confirmed that Minister Shiri died of COVID-19, we will follow World Health Organisation regulations on how the funeral should proceed,” Mnangagwa said during a funeral wake at Shiri’s home in Harare.
Zimbabwe has recorded 2,879 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 40 deaths.
A liberation war veteran, Shiri had a chequered past. He commanded the army’s Fifth Brigade unit that carried out the 1980s massacres of thousands of civilians in western Zimbabwe as the government sought to quell an insurgency.
The army massacres, known as ‘Gukurahundi’, a Shona term meaning the ‘early rain that washes away the chaff’, remain a sore point for the people of the Matabeleland region, many of whom demand justice and reparations.
The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change accused Shiri of being among the security chiefs who organised violence against its members after Mugabe lost the first round of the presidential vote in 2008.