Elita Chikwati, Harare Bureau
The funeral of the late Air Chief Marshal Perrance Shiri (Retired) unfolded under unfamiliar conditions at the National Heroes Acre yesterday as the country buried one of its most illustrious sons who succumbed to Covid-19 on Wednesday.

Where thousands usually teem to pay last respects to national heroes in the mould of the late Cde Shiri, only a few came as Government, in accordance to the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, kept the numbers low to curb the spread of the contagion that has claimed more than half-a-million people globally.

Unlike his fellow comrades who lie at the National Heroes Acre, Cde Shiri’s body did not pass through Stoddart Hall in Mbare, there was no choral groups, and only a selected few were allowed in at the top of the hillock where the country’s finest sons and daughters are buried.

Yesterday the famous Mbare Chimurenga Choir was not there to sing their liberation struggle songs and their unusual dances. There were no church choirs or Apostolic sect members who normally compete with the Police band on Christian hymns.

Over their military fatigues, the pallbearers wore personal protective equipment, complete with goggles.

Instead of a gun carriage, the body was in a Doves vehicle, which is unusual of national heroes who are buried at the National Heroes Acre.

But there was a gun salute and fly past befitting an Air Chief Marshal who served at the top of the country’s Air Force for more than two decades.

It was a sombre occasion as Zimbabweans could only watch from their homes the interment of a revered soldier whose contribution to the country’s independence is in a league of true stalwarts of the liberation struggle.

Presiding over the solemn occasion, the President bade farewell to Cde Shiri, who was born Bigboy Benjamin Samson Chikerema in 1955 in Chikomba District, Mashonaland East Province.

There was no laying of wreaths at the graveside as is the norm and his comrades in arms could only look or imagine from afar as the body of a beloved comrade was committed to mother earth.

The President, Vice-Presidents Constantino Chiwenga and Kembo Mohadi, Cabinet Ministers, Ministers of State, service chiefs, Zanu-PF senior officials, representatives from Mashonaland Central formed part of the thin crowd that came to witness the burial of the late Cde Shiri.

The President described Cde Shiri as a great hero of the liberation struggle and a notable figure in post-independence Zimbabwe.

“We lost a patriot, a brave freedom fighter, a commander, a hard working Minister of Government, a party stalwart and a disciplined and loyal cadre. We lost a great son of the soil.

“Bigboy Benjamin Samson Chikerema, better known as Comrade Perrance Shiri, is no more, snatched from us by the coronavirus. Shock, thus, grips us all, especially those who daily interacted with him in the course of discharging our duties,” he said.

President Mnangagwa said it was a painful time for the Chikerema family and those who associated and interacted with Minister Shiri both in wartime and peacetime, both in exile during the struggle, and here at home after our Independence.

“The war fostered bonds of blood, which forever made us a close family: hama dzeropa. Those bonds forged and sealed in struggle today snap and fail, as death divides us.

“We have been robbed; we are in pain, and share the loss with you, mhuri yekwa Shiri-Chikerema, vabereki vegamba redu. Please accept our deepest condolences,” he said.

He said in the Second Republic, Cde Shiri worked hard to ensure national food security through different projects and was spearheading the Agriculture Recovery Programme that encompassed the Pfumvudza Concept, mechanisation, modernisation, irrigation development climate-proofing of our agriculture.

Zanu-PF Mashonaland Central Provincial chairperson Cde Kazembe Kazembe described Cde Shiri as a unifier, arbitrator, dedicated and people-centric cadre whose void will be difficult to fill.

“He had a vision for the province to improve the livelihoods of people of Mashonaland Central particularly Kanyemba and Rushinga,” he said.

Family spokesman, Mr Nimrod Chikara said although they spent only 17 years with him before he left the country to join the liberation struggle they were proud of their son.

“The loss is not only to the Chikerema family but the party and nation as a whole. Benjamin was groomed by Zanu-PF. We are proud that he remained loyal to his country until the end,” he said.