Zimbabwe’s agriculture minister, Perrance Shiri, an ex-airforce commander who headed an army unit accused of a notorious massacre in early 1980s, died on Wednesday aged 65, the government said.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who made the announcement, paid tribute to Shiri as a “true patriot” but gave no details about the cause of the death.
Shiri was commander of an elite North-Korean trained unit, the Fifth Brigade, that cracked down on a revolt in the western province of Matabeleland province in the newly-independent Zimbabwe.
Known as the Gukurahundi Massacre, the bloodbath claimed some 20,000 lives, according to the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe, a figure supported by Amnesty International.
Mnangagwa was state security minister at the time.
Shiri served for years as commander of the airforce before taking up a post as land and agriculture minister under Mnangagwa after a coup that ousted longtime ruler Robert Mugabe in November 2017.
Mnangagwa described Shiri as “a long time friend and colleague… a true patriot, who devoted his life to the liberation, independence and service of his country.”
According to an independent daily, NewsDay, Shiri had been quarantined at a private hospital after he was said to have been exposed to coronavirus virus by his driver, who died at the weekend.
Critics took to social media to vent their emotions.
“It’s tragic that Shiri has departed without facing justice over the Gukurahundi atrocities he committed in Matabeleland and Midlands Provinces in the 1980s nor telling the truth about those atrocities to help heal the nation. May God rest Shiri’s victims in eternal peace,” tweeted exiled former minister Jonathan Moyo, who served under Mugabe.