Canaan Banana

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Canaan Sodindo Banana
Canaan Banana.jpg
Canaan Banana in Eighth Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement
1st President of Zimbabwe
In office
18 April 1980 – 31 December 1987
Prime Minister Robert Mugabe
Preceded by Josiah Gumede
(Zimbabwe Rhodesia)
Succeeded by Robert Mugabe (Executive)
Personal details
Born Canaan Banana
(1936-03-05)5 March 1936
Essexvale, Southern Rhodesia
Died 10 November 2003(2003-11-10) (aged 67)
London, United Kingdom
Nationality Zimbabwean
Political party ZANU
Spouse(s) Janet Banana
Children 4
Occupation Clergyman, politician

Canaan Sodindo Banana (5 March 1936 – 10 November 2003) served as the first President of Zimbabwe from 18 April 1980 until 31 December 1987. A Methodist minister, he held the largely ceremonial office of the presidency while his eventual successor, Robert Mugabe, served as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe.

During his lifetime, Banana brought together two of the country's political parties, the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU), became a diplomat for the Organisation of African Unity, and headed the religious department of the University of Zimbabwe. His later life was complicated by charges of sodomy, a crime in Zimbabwe, which he denied and was later imprisoned for.

Early life

Banana was born in 1936 in Esiphezini Communal Area, near Essexvale (now Esigodini), Southern Rhodesia. His parents were a Ndebele-cultured mother and a Sotho father who had emigrated to Rhodesia. He was educated by missionaries in a local school and later studied at a teacher training institute.[1]

He married Janet Mbuyazwe[2] in 1961, and they had four children together, Michael Thabo, Nathan Sipho, Martin Mhambi Salaam and Nobuhle Beauty. He took a diploma in theology at Epworth Theological College in Salisbury and was ordained as a United Methodist minister in 1962. He was a student at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. in 1974 and 1975. Becoming involved in politics, he denounced Ian Smith's practices as a prime minister, took part in the rising[3] transnational black liberation ideo-religious movements, and came to be vice-president of the African National Council.[1]

He wrote a book entitled The Gospel According to the Ghetto, and a personalised version of the Lord's Prayer.[4]

Presidency of Zimbabwe

When many Council members were arrested in the late 1960s, Banana and his family fled to the United States and did not return until 1975. Banana was arrested on his return but was released a year later, kept under house arrest, and then allowed to participate in Abel Muzorewa's plans for the country. However, he abandoned that effort and joined ZANU (led by Robert Mugabe), which was dedicated to overthrowing the Smith administration. Returning to Rhodesia in December 1976, Banana was arrested once more for his support of ZANU; upon the appointment of Christopher Soames as British governor, he was released from prison.[5]

Under the country's new constitution, Banana became the first president in 1980.[1] In 1982, a law was passed forbidding citizens from making jokes about his name.[5][6] In 1987, his largely ceremonial[7] post was taken over by Mugabe, who made himself executive president. Banana then became a diplomat for the Organisation of African Unity and head of the religious department at the University of Zimbabwe. He played a large role in bringing the two major groups of independence fighters, ZANU and ZAPU, together to form the Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front, a merger that took place in 1988.[citation needed]

Sodomy charges and imprisonment

In 1997, Banana was arrested in Zimbabwe on charges of sodomy, following accusations made during the murder trial of his former bodyguard, Jefta Dube.[8] Dube, a policeman, had shot dead Patrick Mashiri,[9] an officer who had taunted him about being "Banana's homosexual wife".[10] The charges related to allegations from the state prosecutor that Banana had misused his power while he was president to coerce numerous men in positions of service (ranging from domestic staff to security guards, and even members of sports teams for whom he had acted as referee) into accepting sexual advances. Banana was found guilty of eleven charges of sodomy, attempted sodomy and indecent assault in 1998. He denied all charges, saying that homosexuality is "deviant, abominable and wrong", and the allegations made against him were "pathological lies" intended to destroy his political career.[7] Janet Banana later discussed her husband's alleged homosexuality and confirmed it, even though she considered the charges against him to be politically motivated.[11]

He fled to South Africa whilst released on bail before he could be imprisoned, apparently believing Mugabe was planning his death. He returned to Zimbabwe in December 1998, after a meeting with Nelson Mandela, who convinced him to face the ruling. Banana was sentenced on 18 January 1999 to ten years in jail, nine years suspended, and was also defrocked. He actually served six months in an open prison before being released in January 2001. His wife sought political asylum in Britain in October 2000, under a pre-existing accord.[5] His son Michael Thabo and Michael's wife Caroline Banana were the subject of a 2013 BBC documentary Britain on the Fiddle investigating fraud from the state in the United Kingdom.[12][13][14]


On 10 November 2003, Banana died of cancer,[15] in London, according to a report delivered by the Zimbabwean High Commissioner. The Guardian, a London-based newspaper, has claimed that Banana had travelled to South Africa, where he eventually died, to receive appropriate treatment for his cancer; however, this assertion relies upon uncorroborated testimonial evidence.[1] He was buried in Zimbabwe in late November 2003. President Robert Mugabe called him "a rare gift to the nation" in a radio address.[16] Banana was buried without the full honours that are traditionally reserved for former heads of state.[5] The Politburo's Secretary for Information and Publicity, Nathan Shamuyarira, told state radio that "they (the politburo) could not afford Banana hero status as a matter of principle."[17]


  1. ^ a b c d "Canaan Banana." Biography Resource Center Online. Gale, 2004.
  2. ^ "The Rev Canaan Banana". The Independent. 12 November 2003. Archived from the original on 17 October 2010. Retrieved 11 August 2016. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Obituary: The Rev Canaan Banana, The Guardian, 12 November 2003
  5. ^ a b c d "Canaan Banana". Telegraph. London: Telegraph Media Group Limited. 11 November 2003. Retrieved 2008-06-26. 
  6. ^ "Canaan Banana, clergyman, politician and rapist, died on November 10th, aged 67". The Economist. 27 November 2003. Retrieved 2016-06-27. 
  7. ^ a b McNeil Jr, Donald G. (27 November 1998). "Zimbabwe's Ex-President Convicted of Sodomy". The New York Times (Archives). Retrieved 2007-07-08. 
  8. ^ Mark Steyn (17 November 2003). "Zimbabwe's Banana left legacy of disgrace". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 22 December 2015. Retrieved 10 August 2016. 
  9. ^ Against the Grain: Memoirs of a Zimbabwean Newsman, Geoffrey Nyarota, Zebra, 2006, page 92
  10. ^ Zim's presidential rape scandal, Mail and Guardian, 28 February 1997
  11. ^ Taylor, Rebecca. 'They say that power corrupts – and it does'. The Guardian. 2002-01-23.
  12. ^ "BBC One - Britain on the Fiddle, Episode 1". BBC. Retrieved 23 July 2015. 
  13. ^ Utton, Tim. "Britain goes on the fiddle". Daily Mail. London. 
  14. ^ "Banana son's 'lucky' wife faces UK jail - Nehanda Radio". Nehanda Radio. Retrieved 23 July 2015. 
  15. ^ Canaan Banana of Zimbabwe dead. BBC News. 2003-11-10. Retrieved 2008-07-24.
  16. ^ Zimbabwe's first black president, hit by scandal. The Globe and Mail. 2003-11-12. Retrieved 2008-07-24.
  17. ^ Zimbabwe Information Centre Archives of November 2003. Retrieved 2008-07-01.

External links

  • The Guardian article on Janet Banana
Political offices
Preceded by
New creation
President of Zimbabwe
Succeeded by
Robert Mugabe
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