Canaan Sodindo Banana, the first black president of Zimbabwe, died from cancer. He was 67.
The son of a Malawian migrant worker and a Zimbabwean woman, Banana earned a diploma in theology from Epworth Theological College. Ordained in 1962, he became a radical priest who published his own version of the Lord’s Prayer and encouraged Africans to resist white supremacy.
Banana joined the fight to oust the country’s white-only regime, and in 1975, was imprisoned for his political activities. When the country gained its independence in 1979, Banana was released and named Zimbabwe’s first black president. He served as a figurehead leader from 1980 to 1987.
Upon retiring from public office, Banana became a diplomat for the Organization of African Unity and the head of the religious department at the University of Zimbabwe. He spent a decade in relative quiet until a gay sex scandal caused him to flee the country and hide from authorities in South Africa.
After President Nelson Mandela persuaded him to return home, Banana was arrested, tried and convicted of 11 counts of sodomy, attempted sodomy and other “unnatural acts” with the men who staffed the State House during his presidential tenure. He was sentenced to 10 years incarceration, but only spent six months in an open prison; the rest of his sentence was suspended.
The scandal cost Banana his university post, his religious ordination and his popularity. Until his death, he continued to deny being gay or a rapist, declaring the charges were “a mortuary of pathological lies and a malicious vendetta of vilification and character assassination.”