Canaan Banana Biography

Canaan Banana, an eminent political leader of Zimbabwe, made history as the country’s first black President. With a background as a radical theologian and Methodist minister, Banana played a crucial role in the black liberation movement that brought an end to racism in Zimbabwe. Despite holding a ceremonial position, he was instrumental in ending ethnic violence and uniting political parties. However, his political career took a drastic turn when he was convicted of sodomy and sexually harassing individuals under his authority. This scandal led to his imprisonment and the stripping of his clerical rank.

Quick Facts

  • Died At Age: 67
  • Family: Spouse/Ex-: Janet Banana
  • Political ideology: Political party – ZANU
  • Died on: November 10, 2003
  • Place of death: London
  • Founder/Co-Founder: United African National Council

Childhood & Early Life

Canaan Banana was born on March 5, 1936 in Essexvale, Southern Rhodesia. His father was a migrant who had emigrated to Rhodesia (the earlier name of Zimbabwe). He acquired his early education from the missionaries at a local school and then pursued his ambition of becoming a teacher by enrolling himself at Tegwani Training Institute. In 1962, he attained his diploma in theology from the Epworth Theological College in Salisbury and was ordained as a United Methodist Minister. He also studied at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. from 1974 to 1975.


After attaining his degree, Banana took up teaching positions at various institutions such as Epworth Theological College, Kansai Industrial Centre, Wesley Theological Seminary, and University of South Africa. He also got involved in the country’s political affairs, serving as the chairman of the Bulawayo Council of Churches from 1969 to 1970 and as a member of the Southern Africa Urban Industrial Mission from 1970 to 1973. In 1972, he became a founding member and vice president of the African National Council led by Bishop Abel Muzorewa. He later joined ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union) led by Robert Mugabe. In 1980, he was elected as Zimbabwe’s first president and played a key role in the merger of ZANU and ZAPU (Zimbabwe African People’s Union) through the Unity Accord. He retired from his office in 1987 and took up diplomatic and religious positions.

Personal Life & Legacy

Banana married Janet Mbuyazwe in 1961 and had three sons and a daughter. He died of cancer on November 10, 2003 and was buried in Zimbabwe. Despite being a former head of state, Banana did not receive full state honors due to his tainted reputation.

Major Works

Banana made his presence felt in the arena of liberation theology with his book, ‘The Gospel According to Ghetto’. He also played a key role in the merger of ZANU and ZAPU, which brought an end to the massacre of innocent civilians.


After coming to power as the President, Canaan Banana passed a law according to which citizens were forbidden to make jokes about his name.

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