Obituary: Edgar Zivanai Tekere, Zimbabwean liberation war icon

• Edgar Zivanai Tekere, Zimbabwean liberation war icon. Born: 1 April, 1937, in Nyang'ombe, Rhodesia. Died: 7 June, 2011, in Mutare, Zimbabwe, aged 74.

Edgar Tekere, who has died at the age of 74 after a long battle with prostate cancer, was a fearsome and flamboyant Zimbabwean liberation war icon who was close to Robert Mugabe before becoming one of his most outspoken critics.

Tekere's star was at its height on 18 April, 1980, when, at his invitation, reggae legends Bob Marley and the Wailers sang at Zimbabwe's independence celebrations before 100,000 people. Marley's numbers included the anthem Zimbabwe, which had inspired black guerrillas in their fight against Ian Smith's white minority Rhodesian government.

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The lyrics of one verse of Zimbabwe went: "To divide and rule could only tear us apart; In everyman chest, mm - there beats a heart. So soon we'll find out who is the real revolutionaries; And I don't want my people to be tricked by mercenaries.'

At the time, Tekere was secretary-general of the newly- ruling Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu) and a senior cabinet minister in then prime minister Mugabe's first government. But within a year Tekere and Mugabe were tearing apart.

In December 1980, Tekere and seven of his bodyguards went looking for supporters of the rival Zapu (Zimbabwe African People's Union) outside Harare, the national capital, but, failing to find them, went on to a nearby farm and shot dead white farm manager Gerald Adams.

In a hugely controversial trial the white judge, John Pitman, convicted Tekere of murder. But his two assessors, both non-white, overruled the judge - the first time in the history of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe that this had happened - saying Tekere had acted in "good faith" and was entitled to indemnification under a law that, ironically, Smith had enacted to protect his security forces during the Bush War.

Tekere had acted in "good faith", genuinely believing that the state's security interests were being served when he shot dead Adams instead of black opponents, said the assessors.

Nevertheless, Mugabe sacked Tekere from the government and within another year had taken over Tekere's secretary- general role.

Tekere became such an outspoken critic of Mugabe from within party ranks that he was expelled. His criticism of burgeoning corruption within Zanu's ranks and of Mugabe's attempts to create a one-party state stirred huge controversy.

He said Mugabe was building a nation in which the people "live mostly in fear of their own government, of a state machinery born out of the forces of liberation but now, regrettably, more associated with ruthlessness and naked force … a one-party state was never one of the founding principles of Zanu and experience in Africa has shown that it brings the evils of nepotism, corruption and inefficiency."

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Tekere subsequently founded the opposition Zimbabwe Unity Movement, which won two seats in parliament but which fell apart after its supporters came under physical assault by Mugabe supporters, with several being killed.

Edgar Zivanai Tekere's father was an Anglican missionary who founded a series of Anglican churches among the black majority. Tekere, educated at a series of Anglican mission schools, left the church as an adult, saying: "I dislike the Anglican church. My father suffered persecution by the Church because of my activities (during the period of white rule]. I was considered a terrorist by the colonialists."

In 1963, at the age of 26, Tekere helped found Zanu in Rhodesia. The party was banned the following year and Tekere was imprisoned for the next 11 years alongside Mugabe. On release in 1975, the two men crossed illegally - with the help of Roman Catholic missionaries and tribal chiefs - into Mozambique, which had become the base for Zanu's guerrilla war against the white government.

Tekere supported Mugabe in bloody internal battles for the leadership of the exiled Zanu guerrilla movement. In his autobiography, published in 2007, Tekere alleged that Mugabe - at 87 still today the president of Zimbabwe after 31 years in power - was in exile a physical coward with little appetite for war.

"Although he was the commander-in-chief of our forces, he would sit in his office waiting to receive military briefings from me," wrote Tekere. "He never took the initiative himself, unless pushed." Tekere also criticised Mugabe for being cold, hard-hearted manipulative and cunning.

Tekere had been fighting cancer for more than two years when he died. "In his final days he was in and out of hospital, physically broken and with poor vision," said Zimbabwe journalist Gift Mambipiri. "He was financially ruined and survived on handouts from friends. He drank and smoked heavily." A debate broke out within the Zanu government's top levels following Tekere's death about whether or not he should be buried in Heroes Acre, a cemetery created by North Korea and reserved for top Zanu officials, on the outskirts of Harare.

Tekere had told friends he did not want to be buried "among thieves and killers", but against his last wishes he was laid to rest yesterday at Heroes Acre surrounded by those whom he had criticised.

Tekere is survived by his wife Pamela, son Zachariah and daughter Maidei.