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Muzorewa: Cheated out of history

By Owei Lakemfa
ABEL TENDEKAYI Muzorewa, retired Methodist Bishop walked away from history 32  years ago when he signed the Salisbury Accord. This ill-advised step consigned him to the dustbin of history. So when he passed away last Thursday, April 8, at 85, not a few might have asked, Muze who?
Yet he had played important roles in the struggle against White minority rule in Zimbabwe (then called Rhodesia). At a point in the liberation struggle when the nationalists were mainly in jail, underground or in exile, Muzorewa, rose to mobilise the populace and give them hope.

From the pulpit, he encouraged them not to despair, not to accept their situation and that apathy was no option. He told the African majority: “Don’t sit down and cry, but cry while you’re running”.

To the Ian Smith White minority regime, the Church was essentially a political organisation, and Muzorewa its political leader who was organising resistance and sabotage from the sanctuary of the Church. But Muzorewa argued that the duty of religious leaders is to serve the people even if the law forbids it.

He told religious leaders that it is part of their Christian duty to oppose unjust laws. He declared: “If religion just means to go to church and pray, then it is a scandal”.

Born on April 14, 1925, he was ordained in August 1953 and consecrated Bishop of Rhodesia in the United Methodist Church at Masera, Botswana in 1968.

Two years later, he was banned from  entering the Tribal Trust Lands in the country where 75 per cent of his flock lived.

In the early 1970s, Muzorewa and Reverend Canaan Banana established the United African National Council (UANC). He did not see himself as a politician, rather, he believed that racism was ungodly and that it can be brought down by passive resistance.

Many Blacks joined his UANC  and his national stature grew. His fall began with the breakdown of the negotiations in Geneva between the minority regime that had declared a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from motherland England, and the local and exiled nationalists.

Fearing a bloody end to minority rule, and perhaps acting on the advice of Britain, the Smith regime decided to accede to the primary demand of majority rule based on ‘One Man, One Vote’

Muzorewa, took this on the surface. Another leader who accepted this was Ndabanigi Sithole, the veteran guerrilla leader who had returned from exile.

Sithole, a father of nationalism in the country had on January 1, 1960 founded the  National Democratic Party (NDP) to which all the main anti-colonial leaders, including Robert Gabriel Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo had belonged. A third signatory, was Jeremiah Chirau, a traditional chief who supported White minority rule.

This threesome and Smith signed the March 3, 1978  eight-point Salisbury Agreements. They provided for a new constitution which included a declaration of human rights, an independent judiciary and Public Service Board and dual citizenship which would enable the Whites retain their British citizenship.

Other agreements included police and security forces being free from political interference, guaranteed pension, 28 of the 100 seats in parliament reserved for Whites and the rest for Blacks, and that the constitution cannot be amended without the consent of the White bloc of parliament.

A Transitional Government made up of the four signatories was established with Smith remaining as Prime Minister while the chairmanship rotated.

There was also a ministerial council of 18 divided equally between the races. Amnesty was granted, and guerrillas wishing to join the security forces being free to do so. The execution of people for political or “terrorist” offences were halted, and 700 out of the official 950 political prisoners were freed.

The two main guerrilla movements, ZANU led by Mugabe and ZAPU the Nkomo -led one, were unbanned. Racial segregation in social arenas, including hotels and theatres were scrapped.

Smith was quite optimistic and said: “Our assessment is that once the agreement is made there will be gradual winding down(of the war) and that in time terrorism will wither away”.

Muzorewa could not see that the agreement and the follow up actions were bound to fail because the two main exile-based nationalist movements, ZANU and ZAPU,  and the supportive African countries were not party.

Secondly, there was no real transfer of power as the Whites remained in effective control of the armed forces, police, politics and the  economy. In some cases, envoys sent out by Muzorewa  and other internal leaders to parts of the country to explain the agreements and appeal for ceasefire, were seized and executed as traitors.

When the elections were held, Muzorewa had 67 per cent of the votes, winning 51 of the 72 Black seats, Sithole won 14 per cent and 12 seats, Kayisa  Ndiweni from Ndebele won 11 per cent and nine seats while Chirau won no seats.

The British Conservative Party led by Margaret Thatcher said the elections were democratic and acceptable. The United States Senate by a vote of 75-19 declared the elections free and fair, and the dawn of majority rule. But the Jimmy Carter administration, Africa and the rest of the world rejected the elections and Muzorewa’s government was not recognised internationally.

An all inclusive Lancaster House Agreements followed, and in the internationally supervised elections that brought true independence to Zimbabwe (on April 17, 1980) Mugabe won 63 per cent, including 57 of the 80 Black seats in parliament, Nkomo 23 per cent and 20 seats, and Muzorewa, the British and White favourite, won eight per cent  and three  seats.

With this, Muzorewa whose initial struggles can be likened to the  heroic roles played in neighbouring South Africa by Bishop Desmond Tutu and the unforgettable Reverend Allan Boesak, faded away. His star dimmed, and the former nationalist hero went down in history mainly as a collaborator of the White minority regime.

In 1985 and 1996 he lost parliamentary elections. He was a simplistic and naive politician who could not decipher when he was being used by the minority White regime. That cost him his place in history.


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