Canaan Banana

Additional notice on the first president of independent Zimbabwe
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The Independent Online

Rupert Cornwell's obituary of Canaan Banana [12 November] is accompanied by a picture showing a rather grim and humourless man, and concentrates on the disaster of his later years, writes the Rev Ben Hopkinson, rather than the younger, courageous person who was a leader of the reawakening of African consciousness and opposition to Ian Smith and his gang.

For me and my family he will always be the smiling, humorous, open-faced Canaan we came to know in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I was with the Church in Botswana, and worked closely with him on an initiative of the All Africa Conference of Churches, helping to develop the churches' response, theologically and in practice, to urbanisation and the growth of industry. For our Southern Africa area, this was inevitably intertwined with the politics of freedom.

Botswana, though deeply rural, with a barely nascent industry, was the free country in which people from all races in neighbouring countries could meet and confer and we held two conferences on urban-industrial ministry (one of which had to be based at an Agricultural Training Centre). Canaan Banana played a key role in their organisation and running, showing his skill at concentrating on the nub of a subject, as well as his commitment to listening to the voiceless and ensuring that economic development was in their interest.

One morning, there was a knock on the door and I opened it to find Canaan on the doorstep. He had fled Rhodesia and hitched a lift to my place. My children were thrilled to see him, but I had to decide how to help this refugee forward on to the road that eventually took him to the presidency - and the end which has been so sad for an individual of such real and innate goodness.