Elliot Gabellah was born at Ntabazinduna near Bulawayo in 1923. His parents were of Zulu origin. He received his primary education at various schools in Southern Rhodesia. After leaving school he attended the Domboshawa Training Centre near Salisbury (Harare) where he worked as an agricultural demonstrator from 1944 until 1950. In the latter year he left for South Africa where he lived for five years.
In 1955 he travelled to the United States. He studied for his Master’s degree in theology at a university in Indiana and remained on thereafter to work for his Doctorates in divinity and philosophy. He was also ordained in the United States as a Minister of the African Orthodox Church.
He returned to Rhodesia in 1961 and two years later was consecrated as the Patriarchal Administrator of the church in South Africa. Between 1965 and 1968 he studied homeopathic medicine at a university in Southern India. On his return he lived in South Africa for three years, becoming a member of the Zulu National Party.
He arrived back in Rhodesia in 1971 and soon afterwards joined the newly-formed ANC1 He gave considerable help to the organisation, both financially and in the provision of transport. In 1973, following the departure of the first Vice-Chairman and the detention of his successor, Naison Ndhlovu, he was appointed Vice-Chairman of the ANC.2
Elliot Gabellah was a prominent member of the ANC’s negotiating team during the talks with the Rhodesian Government which took place in 1973 and early in 1974. In June 1974 he was invited to travel with Dr Gordon Chavunduka to London for discussions with the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, and the Foreign Secretary, James Callaghan3 When the Lusaka agreement was signed in December 1974 he was appointed a member of the Central Committee.
During February 1975 he incurred criticism from Dr Edson Sithole for stating in public that Nibmar4 was not an essential prerequisite to a settlement. In june 1975, he reacted vigorously to rumours that he was in fact a supporter of ZANU.5
He attended the Victoria Falls talks in August 1975 as a member of the ANC’s negotiating team. When the Council split immediately after the conference he declared his support for Bishop Muzorewa.6 He refused to call a meeting of the National Executive when requested to do so by a number of members within Rhodesia. He also refused to attend the emergency meeting of the Executive held on 7 September, describing it as unconstitutional.
In the absence of Bishop Muzorewa from Rhodesia, it fell to Gabellah to deal with the situation arising out of the special congress held at Gwanzura Stadium, Highfield, Salisbury (Harare), on 27-28 September, at which Joshua Nkomo was elected ANC President. He finally decided to hold a ‘consultative meeting’ at the same venue on 26 October. This decision resulted in a large ‘rally’ in Highfield, the number of people descending ` on the township being greatly in excess of the limit of 6000 set by the police authorities for the meeting. In consequence the ‘consultative meeting’ never took place and the ‘gathering’ was brought to a close by the police within half an hour of the scheduled starting time. The large attendance, however, led Gabellah to declare that the public had clearly shown its support for Bishop Muzorewa and that Joshua Nkomo was “finished”.
On 2 November his car was stoned in Bulawayo but he himself was unharmed. On 9 November he summoned a meeting of the National Executive at which he called for a resumption of the talks broken off at the Victoria Falls in August. Following the meeting he visited Dr Banda in Malawi (13 November) and left Salisbury (Harare) on 19 November on a mission to Dar-es-Salaam,7 Britain and the United States. On 25 November he had a meeting with David Ennals, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, in London. He returned to Rhodesia on 9 December;
When a special Zambian secretariat arrived in Salisbury (Harare) on 10 December to assist in the forthcoming constitutional talks, Dr Gabellah accused Zambia of “meddling” in Rhodesian affairs.8 During the early months of 1976 Gabellah made a number of visits to neighbouring countries, including Swaziland, Mocambique and Botswana.
On 20 April he received threatening telephone calls at his Bulawayo home following the killing of three motor cyclists on the Fort Victoria (Masvingo)-Beit Bridge road on Easter Monday. Interviewed on South African Television on 24 April he said that the first knowledge he had of the killings was when he read about them in the newspapers.
It was announced on 15 October that Dr Gabellah would attend the Geneva Conference as a member of the ANC (Muzorewa) delegation.
1 He also set up in practice in Bulawayo as a homeopath and naturopath. He claims that by combining the tenets of homeopathy and traditional African medicine he has achieved a very high record of cures.
2 Because the Chairman came from Mashonaland, it was considered that the Vice-Chairman should be an Ndebele.
3 See entry on Eshmael Mlambo for details of these discussions.
4 Popular abbreviation for the British Labour Government’s assertion of ‘No independence before majority rule (in Rhodesia)’.
5 The Rhodesia Herald, 6 June 1975.
6 It is interesting to note that the run-up to the Victoria Falls conference was the first occasion when virtually all the leading Rhodesian African nationalists had met for a prolonged interchange of views. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that these discussions highlighted the differences in political
orientation between those who had remained inside Rhodesia and those who had been exposed during the previous decade to various international influences, and that these differences helped to precipitate the split.
7 Where he linked up with Bishop Muzorewa.
8 His outbursts provoked the Zambia Daily News to print a full page, double column editorial (17 December 1975) attacking him for blaming other people for his own failures.