Gordon Chavunduka was born at St Augustine’sMission, Penhalonga, on 16 August 1931. His parents (Solomon and Lilian Chavunduka) came from Wedza. His father was originally an agricultural instructor but subsequently became a farmer and a priest of the Anglican Church.
Chavunduka started his schooling in 1940 at St Faith’s Mission, Rusape. After passing Standard IV in 1944 he was sent by his father to Inanda School, a day school in Durban, where he studied for two years. Returning to Southern Rhodesia he attended St Augustine’s Secondary School from 1947 to 1949, obtaining his Junior Certificate. He then went to Goromonzi School for one year to sit for the General Certificate of Education ‘O’ level examinations.
Between August 1951 and june 1954 he was a student at the Alvord School of Agriculture near Chipinga. It was during these three years that he absorbed the influences that have since guided his life and career. He says that E. D. Alvord was “a great·man”. He was a very hard taskmaster.
“Although I was his favourite pupil, for a long time I hated him. Once I went to him and said I wanted to leave. He refused to listen to me. It was only later that I realised how much he had given me. He taught me the need for discipline in my approach to life and to work.” After receiving his Diploma in Agriculture Gordon Chavunduka joined the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and was sent as an Agricultural Supervisor to the Experimental Station at Msengezi. He also wrote articles for The Harvester1 in which he criticised the condition of African farming. He believed that the Land Husbandry Act was excellent in concept2 but that the training given to persons such as himself was on far too high a technological level to provide any communication with, or motivation for, ordinary peasant farmers.
The articles in The Harvester caught the attention of Prof. J. G. Mitchell, Professor of Sociology at the University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in Salisbury (Harare). Prof. Mitchell wrote to Chavunduka, pointing out that he was admirably equipped to train as a sociologist and inviting him to work with him at the University College. This was a turning point in Chavunduka’s life. He resigned from the Civil Service and moved to Salisbury (Harare). While at the University he obtained his General Certificate of Education ‘A’ level by external study with the University of London. Chavunduka went to the University of California (UCLA) in 19623 and studied there until 1964, graduating B.A. He found Los Angeles an exciting place. There he met people from all over the world and these contacts served to strengthen his own beliefs and views.
After finishing his degree course he felt a strong desire to pursue his studies further and he wrote to Prof. Mitchell for advice. Prof. Mitchell advised him to go to Manchester University, where he studied successfully during 1965 and 1966 for a Master’s degree4 Towards the end of 1966 he returned to Rhodesia to take up an appointment as Lecturer in Sociology at the University College of Rhodesia.
Between 1968 and 1972 he worked for a Doctorate of Philosophy with the University of London,5 spending the last year of this period in England. He returned to active politics in 1969, becoming President of the NPU at the congress held in Rusape in June. The banning of ZAPU and ZANU and the detention of almost all the earlier nationalist leaders had left a large political gap and the NPU was able to attract to its ranks most of the eight African MPs, including the then leader of the opposition, Percy Mkudu. The new party, however, suffered a severe jolt the following year when seven of the eight African seats at the General Election went to the Centre Party candidates.6
When the ANC was formed in December 1971 Chavunduka was overseas working on his Ph.D. thesis. He returned to Salisbury (Harare) late in 1972 and was at once invited to become a member. Some months later, when John Chirisa was arrested and detained, Chavunduka was asked to take over his position as Secretary-General of the ANC.7 In this capacity he was invited by Eshmael Mlambo to join him in England for talks with the British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, in June 1974. The object of these discussions was to clarify the image of the ANC which had been clouded by the apparent willingness of Bishop Muzorewa to ‘settle’ with Ian Smith, the Rhodesian Prime Minister, on the basis of six extra seats in Parliament.
Gordon Chavunduka was heavily involved in the various negotiations and discussions which took place during the succeeding 12 months. In early June 1975 the unwillingness of certain sections of the ANC to attend the congress which it was his responsibility to organise led to his offering his resignation. It was, however, not accepted.
Following the talks at Victoria Falls in August 1975 (at which he was one of the ANC’s Political Secretaries), and the split between the two wings of the nationalist movement, Chavunduka maintained his allegiance to Bishop Muzorewa (saying that “Nkomo will discover he has no popular support”). When an emergency meeting of the Executive Committee of the ANC was called by Samuel Munodawafa, the National Chairman, for 7 September he refused to attend, stating that the meeting was unconstitutional.
In his Christmas message8s he said that “the activities of Nkomo and his friends began to make it impossible for the President and himself to maintain order and the smooth functioning of the party”. In the same message, in his capacity as Secretary-General of the ANC (Muzorewa), he maintained that those “who have suffered and died so that their country might be free” were making the only real contribution towards majority rule. “Many people (have) suffered and (have) died, and this (has) not happened to give Nkomo a political position.”9
On 26 January 1976 in discussions with David Ennals, Minister of State at the British Foreign Office, Chavunduka denounced the negotiations then in progress between Joshua Nkomo and lan Smith as ‘talks between two minorities’.10
On 21 September 1976 Dr Chavunduka said that attempts by the Rhodesian Government to reach a settlement with Nkomo ‘will not be tolerated’.11 On 15 October 1976 it was announced that Chavunduka would be a member of the delegation from the ANC (Muzorewa) to the Geneva Conference. Chavunduka was charged in January 1977 with allegedly encouraging a crowd of 500 people at Dombotomba Township, Marandellas (Marondera), on 28 February 1976 to sing a subversive song, and with making a subversive statement. The long period between the alleged offence and the trial led, somewhat naturally, to conflicts in evidence, and the magistrate found the case against Dr Chavunduka unproven.12” He resigned as Secretary-General in March 197713 and will concentrate on research work for the Council.
Gordon Chavunduka married in 1960 and has four children – two girls and two boys. His hobbies are football and boxing. He reads widely in the field of sociology.
He has been a member of the University Senate since 1973 and was President of the Association of University Teachers of Rhodesia in 1973-74. He is also a member of the Institute of Herbal Medicine (SA). Dr Chavunduka describes himself as “a reluctant politician”, saying that he has joined political movements only at the request of other people. He is a very hard worker and one of the few nationalists who does not begrudge time spent on essential paper work.14
Social Change in a Shona Ward (UR. 1970).
Traditional Healers and the Shona Patient (in preparation).
Papers in various scientific journals.
African National Council (Occasional Papers, Nos. 1 and 2, 1975).
1 A paper for African farmers published by African Newspapers Ltd.
2 He also freely admits that the mishandling of the implementation of the Act gave the African nationalists a “golden opportunity” to rouse the people against the Government, an opportunity they were quick to take even though the legislation was designed to be in the people’s long-term best interests. (Interview with the authors, November 1975.)
3 He had been awarded a scholarship by the Rockefeller Foundation.
4 The subject of his thesis was ‘Urbanisation in Africa’.
5 For this thesis he chose the subject ‘The Interaction of Traditional and Scientific Medicine in Africa’.
6 He attributes this failure to the feeling among the voters that no purely African party could muster sufficient voting strength to defeat the Government. Others, however, have argued that the CP’s organisation was far superior to that of the NPU.
7 At this time he was unmistakably in favour of ‘a peaceful path to majority rule, embodying the creation of a black middle-class which could ensure the continuance of civilised standards` and the ‘long-term security of white Rhodesians’. (See Sherwell,Jawing it instead of Warring it, p. 16).
8 The Rhodesia Herald, 24 December 1975.
9 Compare these words with those in footnote 7.
10 The Rhodesia Herald, 27 January 1976.
11 The Rhodesia Herald, 22 September 1976.
12 The Rhodesia Herald, 15 January 1977.
13 The Rhodesia Herald, 30 March 1977.
14 An impression gained by the authors in the course of an interview in November 1975.