Originally published on Advocate.com November 19 2003 1:00 AM ET
Zimbabwe's government has refused a hero's burial to the country's first black president, Canaan Sodindo Banana, citing his conviction for homosexual offenses, officials said Tuesday. President Robert Mugabe's elite policymaking body, the 30-member politburo, decided Monday that Banana would not receive a state funeral at Hero's Acre cemetery outside the capital, Harare. The politburo "could not accord Banana hero status as a matter of principle," spokesman Nathan Shamuyarira told state radio. Banana set a "bad example to youth" with his 1998 conviction for homosexual offenses against junior statehouse staff, Shamuyarira said.
Banana will instead receive a state-assisted funeral "befitting a former head of state," with full military honors in his birthplace, Esigodini, outside the western provincial capital of Bulawayo, he said. The date has yet to be announced.
Banana, who served as the country's ceremonial president from March 1980 until the end of December 1987, died last week in London after a long illness. He was 67. Mugabe paid tribute to him, calling him a "rare gift to the nation."
Exposure of Banana's alleged crimes embarrassed the regime in 1997, coming within months of Mugabe's denunciation of homosexuals as "lower than pigs or dogs" and his appeal to Zimbabweans to turn homosexuals over to police. The country's high court heard evidence that Mugabe's politburo was party to a 17-year cover-up of Banana's activities. Banana was eventually sentenced to 10 years imprisonment but served only six months in a newly constructed "open prison," which allowed him shopping trips to Harare. He continued to deny that he was gay and denounced the allegations as "a mortuary of lies."