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Last Updated: Monday, 10 November, 2003, 21:17 GMT
Canaan Banana of Zimbabwe dead
Canaan Banana and Mrs Banana in 1998
Canaan Banana fled shortly before his trial began but later returned
Zimbabwe's first black president, Canaan Banana, has died.

Mr Banana - who held office from 1980 to 1987 - had been ill with cancer. He was also a former Methodist minister.

Zimbabwe was gripped by his trial in 1998, in which a string of male former employees claimed he had sexually abused them.

He denied the charges, which he said were politically motivated, but he was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years jail, nine of which were suspended.

"Dear Zimbabweans, I announce with deep sorrow and sadness the death today of Comrade Canaan Sodindo Banana, the first president of our independent nation of Zimbabwe," said a message from President Robert Mugabe read on state television.

"He joins a proud list of makers of our nation," Mugabe said.

Canaan Banana held office at a time when the presidency was a largely ceremonial post.

In 1987 he ceded the presidency to the then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe.

A former professor of theology and diplomat, he was 67-years-old. He leaves four adult children and a wife with whom he separated in 2000.

Peace broker

Correspondents say Banana's trial for sodomy damaged a reputation earned as the man who brokered the unity deal that ended the Zanu-PF/Zapu schism in 1987.

He had been put forward as a possible mediator in peace talks in 2000 between Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF, of which he was also a member, and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

He was also involved in attempts to end fighting in Liberia in the 1990s.

The trial was thought to have been an embarrassment for Mr Mugabe, who holds virulently anti-homosexual views.

His erstwhile close ally was convicted of 11 counts of sodomy, attempted sodomy and indecent assault involving bodyguards, gardeners and cooks employed at State House.

Shortly before the trial was due to begin, he fled Zimbabwe, sparking a manhunt, before he was finally persuaded to return following the intervention of then South African President Nelson Mandela.

During a 17-day trial in June 1998, witnesses described how Mr Banana had invited them into his library where they played cards, had drinks and listened to music.

The president then insisted on teaching the men to dance, whereupon he groped and propositioned them.

Jefta Dube, a former aide who first made public the sexual allegations against Mr Banana, was given a 10-year jail sentence for murdering a policeman who allegedly called him "Banana's wife".

Banana sex appeal rejected
29 May 00  |  Africa
Mandela meets fugitive ex-leader
03 Dec 98  |  Africa
Manhunt for Banana in Botswana
27 Nov 98  |  Africa

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