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Zimbabwe Politician Sithole Dies

December 13, 2000

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ The founder of Zimbabwe’s ruling party, Ndabaningi Sithole, died from a heart ailment in a U.S. hospital, state television reported Wednesday. He was 80.

The Rev. Sithole (pronounced sih-TOH-lee) spent two months in the United States for medical treatment in Philadelphia, it said. He died Tuesday. No further details were given.

Ordained a Methodist minister in 1958, Sithole founded the Zimbabwe African National Union party in 1963.

The party was banned by the British colonial authorities in 1964 and Sithole spent the next ten years as a political detainee, alongside fellow black nationalist leader Robert Mugabe, now president of Zimbabwe.

Sithole lost the leadership of the party to Mugabe during an internal rift after the two were released from prison in 1974.

While in prison, Sithole was tried and convicted for plotting to assassinate Ian Smith, the last white ruler of Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was known before independence in 1980.

Sithole joined a transitional government of whites and blacks in 1979, but his small breakaway opposition group failed to win any seats in independent elections that swept Mugabe to power in 1980.

Declaring that his life was in danger from political enemies, Sithole went into self-imposed exile in Silver Spring, Md., in 1983, returning to Zimbabwe nine years later to re-enter the political arena.

He was elected a lawmaker for his tribal stronghold of Chipinge in southeastern Zimbabwe in 1995. Two years later he was tried and convicted for conspiring to kill Mugabe and disqualified from attending the Harare parliament.

He was granted the right to appeal, but no appeal was filed and the case was set aside as his health deteriorated.

Sithole’s small opposition group again won the Chipinge seat in this year’s parliament elections in June.

The author of three books on African politics, he is survived by his wife, Vesta, and five adult children.

No funeral arrangements have been announced. State television said arrangements were being made to fly his body home from the United States.

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