Kuda Bwititi, Harare Bureau
He has the demeanour of the perfect gentleman — stern, firm and assuring.
Nicknamed Mr Perfect in military circles, a few can deny that as General Constantino Chiwenga pursues his new assignment, the Zimbabwe Defence Forces could not have been left in better hands than those of General Phillip Valerio Sibanda.
Those who worked with him during the liberation struggle and have acquainted themselves with him post-Independence know the qualities he brings to his latest appointment.
A senior ex-Zapu cadre who spoke to our Harare Bureau last week was all smiles as she gave insights into the General’s early life in the struggle, including his inclination to become a pastor.
Cde Jane Lungile Ngwenya, one of Zimbabwe’s most senior surviving nationalists, said she was proud of Gen Sibanda’s elevation and his role in fostering national cohesion.
“ . . . I particularly recall Sibanda because I had known him earlier as a Zipra combatant. And now that he is General of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, memories of his younger days are now flooding back to me.
“He was a pure gentleman. Even at a young age, you could tell that he was destined for leadership. His demeanour and countenance made him stand out among others.
“I also know that during his younger days, he had aspired to be a pastor. This showed that he had qualities of diligence and leadership.”
Cde Ngwenya said soldiers such as General Sibanda are some of the unsung heroes who played a key role during the 1987 unity talks.
“I know that during these talks, the military were crucial in ensuring that there was peace at the end,” she said. There were commanders such as Valerio Sibanda who were very sober during these talks and stood firm in telling our leaders that they needed to sign the accord. It was not only him; there were others, too.”
Gen Sibanda is a decorated liberation fighter who joined the armed struggle in 1973.
His Chimurenga name was Ananias Gwenzi and he rose to become one of Zipra’s commanders. He also served as a member of the Zipra High Command and also as Chief of Reconnaissance for the wing’s military intelligence.
At Independence in 1980, Gen Sibanda joined the army and rose through the ranks, becoming Major-General in 1994.
Gen Sibanda headed the United Nations Mission in Angola as the Force Commander charged with peace and national reconciliation (1995-98).
He was elevated to Zimbabwe National Army Commander in 2003.