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Frail Zimbabwe Vice President Dies at 80

September 20, 2003

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ Vice President Simon Muzenda, a longtime loyal aide of Zimbabwe’s autocratic leader Robert Mugabe, died Saturday, state radio reported. He was 80.

The report said Muzenda died at the main Parirenyatwa hospital in Harare, but gave no cause of death. He had become increasingly frail in the past year and all but withdrew from public life, rarely carrying out his official duties as the more senior of two vice presidents.

Muzenda, a gruff, one-time carpenter, was one of the least educated politicians in the ruling elite but was rewarded for his loyalty with high office that brought him wealth and status.

He was frequently the target of ridicule over his humble origins and often clumsy politicking.

During campaigning for parliamentary elections in 2000, Muzenda told supporters of the ruling ZANU PF party in his home district in southern Zimbabwe that the party was so popular there that ``if we put a baboon as a candidate, people will vote for it.″

His campaign in parliamentary elections a decade earlier was marred by police agents’ shooting of an opposition candidate standing against him. Muzenda was not implicated in the shooting.

Muzenda had been receiving medical treatment in China but returned home in July, when he was admitted to the coronary care unit for the critically ill at the hospital.

Though Muzenda’s death left Mugabe without a trusted associate, it was not expected to change the political landscape in the troubled southern African country. Zimbabwe is in the middle of its worst economic and political crisis since independence from Britain in 1980.

The radio quoted Mugabe mourning what he called ``a great loss indeed to the nation.″

Mugabe, 79, who led the nation to independence, has been under increasing pressure to step down and was not expected to name a successor to Muzenda anytime soon.

Born Oct. 28, 1922 in the Gutu district of southern Zimbabwe, Simon Vengayi Muzenda was educated at a church mission school and later obtained a diploma in carpentry in neighboring South Africa.

For his political activism against colonial rule, he spent most of the decade 1962-72 in prison or under colonial restriction orders curtailing his movements.

He fled into exile in neighboring Zambia and then to Mozambique, joining Mugabe in reorganizing the ZANU party and its guerrilla war against the white government of Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was then known.

After independence, Mugabe, then prime minister, appointed him deputy prime minister and foreign minister. Mugabe became executive president in 1987, naming Muzenda his first vice president.

Funeral arrangements were not announced.

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