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”.
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.
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.