Zimbabwe’s agriculture minister Perrance Shiri, a retired general who commanded an army unit accused of a notorious massacre in the 1980s, succumbed to coronavirus, the president said on Thursday.
Shiri, who was also involved in the ouster of longtime ruler Robert Mugabe in a 2017 coup, died on Wednesday aged 65.
The state-owned daily The Herald said President Emmerson Mnangagwa told mourners “it is confirmed that Minister Shiri died of COVID-19”.
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Local independent media had said Wednesday that Shiri had been quarantined at a private hospital after he was exposed to coronavirus by his driver, who reportedly died at the weekend.
Shiri became Zimbabwe’s first high-profile personality to die from the virus that is fast spreading in the country, which has a weak health system.
Zimbabwe has 2,879 confirmed virus cases, including 41 deaths.
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 in the newly independent Zimbabwe.
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Known as the Gukurahundi massacres, the operation claimed some 20,000 lives, according to the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe, a figure supported by Amnesty International.
Shiri served for years as commander of the air force before taking up a post as land and agriculture minister under Mnangagwa, who succeeded Mugabe.