Zimbabwe’s first black president, Rev. Canaan Banana, was many things in his lifetime. One of them was a sadistic rapist.
At the 1997 murder trial of a man called Jefta Dube, the defendants lawyer made a chilling claim in mitigation. Dube didn’t deny killing a former friend and colleague, but claimed he had done so because the victim kept calling him “Banana’s wife.”
There was something to it. Dube claimed that he had been playing in the police football team, the Black Mambas, in 1983 when President Canaan Banana first spotted him. The largely ceremonial president, an ordained Methodist reverend and liberation hero, invited the younger man to State House for dinner.
That dinner with Mrs Banana and their three kids went well but for an odd event in the president’s office. The president, left alone with the man he had just given a job as an aide, brought out the drinks and switched on the music. It was country music, Dube remembered, that played in the room as the president asked him to dance. It was an awkward event, but Dube obliged, not knowing he was being courted. The thought did cross his mind when the older man pulled him even closer until he could feel his erect penis. He then felt a hand squeeze his waist before ruffling down, slowly, to touch his ass. Dube panicked and insisted on leaving.
As he walked past, the President spanked him and proclaimed, with a sly smile, “This is the food of the elders.” What Dube did not know that dark night in 1983 is that that was just the beginning and he wouldn’t be the only victim. President Banana finally cornered him in the State House Library in 1984 and offered him a Fanta. Dube got groggy, and drowsy, and fell on the carpet.
He woke up the next morning, still on the carpet, trouserless and covered with a duvet. He looked up and sure enough there was the president, dressed in a Mao jacket, standing over him. Grinning, as if he had just won the lottery and not raped a man, Banana told him “While you slept, we have helped ourselves.”
Dube’s confession of how Banana raped him repeatedly over the next three years shocked Zimbabwe, and brought many other victims from the woodwork. Nearly all the members of the State House football Team, the Tornadoes, had been raped or solicited by Banana at some point during his seven-year presidency. There were former students of the University of Zimbabwe, where Banana was Chancellor and, it turned out, Predator Number One.
There were policemen and soldiers, including an air force officer who punched him and threw him in a swimming pool when he tried to come on to him. Another one jumped through a window to get away from him. There were housekeeping staff such as cooks, gardeners, and aides other than Dube in Banana’s victims list. There was a job seeker whose day unexpectedly became a crime scene, and even a hitchhiker. The President was, it turned out, an equal-opportunity rapist.
President Banana took over power in 1983 as a largely ceremonial head of state. The real political power lay with the Prime Minister and the man who would oust him, Robert Mugabe. With little to do with his time and immense power, Banana turned to a sadistic hobby that he thought he could get away with. He was, after all, and as he told Dube, “The final court of appeal.” It was an illusion of power, one he used to intimidate his victims and probably also believed. He did wield some power of course, and he used it to intimidate and coerce his victims.
When Dube tried to get away from him, President Banana had him detained for a weekend, to get some sense into him. The allegations mainly covered his short-lived (compared with his successor) presidency. There was little, if any, mention of his possible transgressions in the 10 years between his ouster and Dube’s whistle-blowing, and none at all of possible consensual sex with some of the people who claimed to be his victims.
Banana’s lawyer did try make Dube’s case seem as if the aide had consented to any sexual encounter, but Dube insisted the sexual contact between them had always been forced. He did mention, however, a colleague enthusiastically picking Banana’s call in the barracks after he (Dube) managed to get away from him (Banana). In a country where homosexual contact was (and still is) a crime punishable under the law, none of it was seen as ever having been consensual.
Jefta Dube got 10 years for killing his friend, and blew the whistle on a serial rapist in the process. Banana was hurled before a court in 1998 and charged with 11 counts of sodomy. As it became clear he would be found guilty, as he sure was, he fled to Botswana, and then to South Africa. An aging Mandela convinced him to go back and face the system. In typical power men fashion, he got a ridiculous sentence that allowed him to go shopping and visit his friends, at least the few he had left. It became house arrest a short two years later.
Zimbabwe was shocked by the news that their first president was a rapist and a homosexual, but most of the powerful politburo already knew it. In fact, most of Harare had heard a rumor of his criminal ways during his presidency. Even his wife had known for many years, including one time one of his victims blatantly told her about it. That they had all done nothing, other than moving their own aides and officers from his horrendously horny grasp, is testament to their culpability.
They figured his transgressions were a small price to pay for his lack of ambition, which is the only reason he had been chosen for the post. They allowed him ridiculous things, even passing a law in 1982 that made it illegal to make jokes of his surname. One common joke, told and retold, was that when he arrived in London for the wedding of Prince Charles to Diana, Queen Elizabeth (or more believable, Prince Phillip), asked if he had come alone or in a bunch.
Canaan Banana was indeed alone when he died in 2003. Even his wife had left him by that time, fleeing while on holiday and seeking asylum in Britain in 2000. His attempts in the decade before the allegations, all aimed at making him an African statesman, came to naught. Banana’s legacy today is almost non-existent but for the dubious claim of being a serial rapist who once lived in Zimbabwe’s State House.
One story is good,
till Another is told.