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Prominent Zimbabwe’s Catholic Priest, Father Ribeiro Dies At 86

(AFRICAN EXAMINER) – Father Emmanuel Francis Ribeiro, one of the most famous Zimbabwean Roman Catholic Church priests who contributed to the country’s liberation struggle has died at the age of 86.

Fr Ribeiro, a theologian, music composer, educationist, writer, media activist and nationalist, died Thursday morning, hours before Zambia’s nationalist founding father Kenneth Kaunda also died later in the day in the neighbouring country.

Fr Ribeiro died at St Anne’s Hospital in Harare where he had been admitted. In the Zimbabwean political circles, he is famed for having been the patron of prisons in the country during the time when President Mnangagwa was jailed for 10 years for torching a Rhodesian train.

The priest was influential in advocating for President Mnangagwa, then aged 19 in the 1970s, to escape the guillotine as he was spared capital punishment as he two accomplices were hanged and buried at the prison.

He also headed a committee that wrote the current Zimbabwe national anthem and also contributed to designing of the country’s national flag.

He composed over 17 Roman Catholic Church songs. He wrote three vernacular shona nonels, one of them used as a set book in secondary school and two won prizes in competitions arranged by the

Rhodesia Literature Bureau.

In 1967 Fr Ribeiro chaired the Shona and Ndebele Writers’ Association. Besides helping save President Mnangagwa’s life in early 1970s, Fr Ribeiro was also vice president Constantino Chiwenga’s spiritual mentor for three years while they were studying at Indiana University, Bloomington campus in the Unites States.

He masterminded former president Robert Mugabe and nationalist Edgar Tekere’s great escape to Mozambique during the water with Rhodesia.

He also accommodated Mugabe and Enos Nkala, another nationalist when they had been just released by Smith government as outlaw political prisoners after 12 years on incarceration in 1975 and masterminded their escape.

As a member of the National Elders Forum (NEF) in 2019, he called for the removal of sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe ahead of October 25 which was declared by SADC as a day to protest against the sanctions.

Fr Ribeiro was born in 1935 in Chivhu. He attended Kutama Mission and Gokomere and Gweru Teachers’ College.

He studied Theology at Chishawasha Mission from 1952 and was ordained on December 13, 1964 before enrolling for a Master’s Degree at Bloomington College of Music in the USA.

 After his ordination in 1964, he worked in Mhondoro and Highfield in Harare. He became Prison Chaplain for Harare Central Prison from 1968 to 1983.

It was during this period that he met many Zimbabwe’s nationalists and was assistant chaplain-general of prisons at the time when Mnangagwa was in prison for bombing the Rhodesian locomotive at Fort Victoria railway station together with two others who were part of the Crocodile gang.

In the Catholic Church he will be remembered for, among other things, introducing vernacular songs and African musical instruments into the church in the 1960s, when Vatican Council II came to power.

At the time, all catholic mass services in Rhodesia were conducted in Latin and he led their localization into local languages.


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