RENOWNED Bulawayo water activist Arnold Payne has died.
He was 76.
Payne died at Mater Dei Hospital in the city on Monday night after being admitted at the institution last Friday.
He had been in and out of hospital after suffering a stroke about 18 months ago.
His younger brother pastor Leslie Payne said the family was saddened to lose their brother, who was the eldest out of six siblings and the first to die.
“It’s very sad to lose him. He was like a rock to the family, like the Rock of Gibraltar. We will miss him,” said pastor Payne.
His long-time friend and former Roman Catholic archbishop of Bulawayo Pius Ncube, who was among mourners at Payne’s Trenance home yesterday, said the outspoken activist was a hero, especially in his campaign for the people of Matabeleland to access water from the Zambezi River.
“He walked from Victoria Falls to Bulawayo with a wheelbarrow containing a drum full of water from Zambezi River and people said he was just doing it for Matabeleland North, but he then proceeded to Gwanda where he emptied the drum,” said Ncube.
“There was talk that he should present the issue to Parliament and he walked more than 400km to Harare pushing a wheelbarrow.
“All this he did for the people and never got any cent for it. He is really a hero; a straight talker, who was not liked by politicians. Even up to now, politicians are still dragging their feet in providing water for Matabeleland and Bulawayo.
“Although I am now living more than 300km from Bulawayo, I will continue pushing for this cause and encourage human rights defenders to pursue the issue until it comes to fruition,” Ncube said.
Harare-based activist Hopewell Gumbo said he was pained by Payne’s death and described him as a fighter for the right to water for the poor and marginalised in Zimbabwe.
“Payne lived the latter days of his life in trenches of the struggle to access water to dry Matabeleland,” he said. “While many will remember him for pushing a wheelbarrow to Harare from the Zambezi River, you needed to ask him what water meant to him in order to understand his struggle.
“Payne leaves a legacy of consistency and show of dedication, one that could be misconstrued for insanity by those that do not share the values for social justice.”
Payne pushed a wheelbarrow carrying 210lt of water from the Zambezi River to Bulawayo and then Gwanda in 1992 in a symbolic gesture to raise the urgency of the crisis to authorities to speed up implementation of the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project.
Payne was born in the Mtshabezi area of Gwanda district on January 8 1938. Mourners are gathered at 7 Verbena Road, Trenance North.
Burial arrangements will be announced in due course. He is survived by his wife Sheila and six children.