1959 Member of ANCongress.
1960 Founder Member of NDP and Secretary for Salisbury (Harare) District
1961 Secretary, Salisbury (Harare) District Council, ZAPU.
1963 Chairman, Nkoba Branch, ZANU.
1964 (May) Deputy Secretary for Youth and Culture ZANU.
1975 Secretary for Central Committee ZANU
1977 Secretary-General ZANU
1979 Delegate to Lancaster House, ZANU
1980 M.P. for Mashonaland Central.
1980 Minister of Manpower, Planning and Development, Zimbabwe.
Edgar Tekere was born on I April 1937 in the Umtali (Mutare) District. His father was an Anglican priest and young Edgar received his education at various mission schools in the Eastern Districts of Rhodesia.
In 1958 he moved to Salisbury (Harare) where he obtained employment in a religious bookshop. His interest in politics had already been fired by reports of the activities of the ANYL which was led by James Chikerema. It was thus a natural move for him to join the re-constituted ANCongress which took the place of the ANYL as the focal point of nationalist aspirations.
In February 1959 he was detained for two months following the declaration of a state of emergency. He became a member of the NDP after its formation in January 1960. When this party, too, was proscribed (December 1961) he was banned from attending public gatherings for three months and from entering the Tribal Trust Lands indefinitely. He says that after the NDP Congress of October 1961, he was a spokesman for the overthrow of the leadership. He wanted more drastic measures in opposing the system even then.
He joined ZAPU (which was founded in December 1961) and was elected Secretary of the Salisbury (Harare) District Council. With the Nkomo/Sithole split of July 1963 he joined the newly-formed ZANU and became Chairman of the Nkoba Branch in Gwelo (Gweru). By May 1964 he had been appointed Deputy Secretary for Youth and Culture and Chairman of the Gwelo (Gweru) District Council.
He moved between Salisbury (Harare), Gwelo (Gweru) and Bulawayo, working for change to the political system.
For his political activism, Edgar Tekere served more than 10 years in prison. He was detained in October 1964 but won his release with a successful court action against the Minister of justice. This did not, however, change his physical status, since he was at once re-arrested.
He was detained at Salisbury (Harare) Prison from November 1965 until May 1974. At that point the ZANU prisoners were moved out to make way for ZAPU restrictees1 Edgar Tekere was transferred, first to Connemara Prison and later to Que Que, until 30 December 1974, this enabled him to travel to Lusaka for the talks leading to the unification of all nationalist parties under the ANC. During his restriction in February 1965 he was a member of the ZANU delegation that was allowed by the authorities to meet Arthur Bottomley, British Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, for discussions on the issue of Rhodesian independence. He was also a member of the ZANU delegation which conferred with Harold Wilson, the British Prime Minister, in Salisbury (Harare) in October 1965.
He was released, with other senior nationalists, to participate in the ill-fated Victoria Falls Bridge Conference in 1975, during the period of so-called detente. He says his paper for his release from prison was not delivered to him until he was mid-flight, on his way home from Lusaka.
Recalling his earliest political consciousness, he believes that it was the actions of a Rhodesian member of Parliament, Dr Alexander which spurred him into political agitation and activism. His secondary school St. Augustines in Penhalonga, had a measure of freedom of speech in school debates and he had participated in these and had his say. When Dr. Alexander heard the arguments of the schoolboys and and witnessed their resistance to the system, he had returned to Salisbury (Harare) and raised the question in Parliament of allowing “subversion” in this, the first African secondary school in the country, and the school had been threatened with closure as a result.
After his release he returned to Lusaka in early 1975 and was actively engaged in the recruitment of young Africans for military incursions into Rhodesia. In mid-1975 he and Robert Mugabe moved to Mozambique, entering the country on March 5th 1975. Herbert Chitepo had been murdered on 18th March, the external wing of ZANU was leaderless and in disarray after the Zambian Government had imprisoned or detained all but four of the officials, and the two men went out to “regain control of the armed struggle,” says Tekere.
From his Mozambique base, Edgar Tekere travelled in various parts of the world, seeking assistance for the Party. He went to North Korea, China, Yugoslavia, Romania, Iraq and Syria. On his return he stayed mainly in military camps and was involved in the building of the bush camps into proper, orderly barracks. They had started out as mixed camps for Frelimo and the Zimbabwean freedom fighters, and there was a great deal to be done in moving operational bases and receiving recruits coming over the border. The Nyadzonya camp was taken over after Frelimo moved out towards the end of September 1975.
After the conclusion to the Lancaster House talks in London, Edgar returned home to participate in the mammoth task of preparing for an election barely six weeks after the return of the organising officials of ZANU PF. He says that the people of the country were not interested in a surfeit of rallies, they were more concerned with being taught how to vote. The Central Committee sat down and decided to cut down on the rallies and to concentrate on the handling of the educational programme for voting by secret ballot.
Mashonaland, the constituency in which he won his own parliamentary seat, had a clean sweep and Edgar Tekere was appointed as Minister of Manpower, Planning and Development.
As Party Secretary-General, Edgar Tekere has a doubly difficult role. It is his task to re-organise and reshape the party for the new conditions of peace, and, at the same time, attend to the needs of national planning as Minister of Manpower, with no Deputy-Minister to assist him. But he is confident that with the help of specialists from the United Nations and some expert committees, the programme for the country’s restructured economy will soon be successfully underway.
In 1976, Edgar Tekere married Ann Mujeni, a young Zimbabwean who had been employed at the University of Rhodesia and who slipped out over the border to join and share the struggle with the Freedom Fighters.
The following review of Edgar Tekere’s post-independence career was written by Diana Mitchell and appears in her 2021 memoirs
Mutare (formerly Umtali) is the largest of the Eastern districts towns – large enough to get city status. The beautiful, evergreen Vumba mountain range along the border with Mozambique seems to hold the city in a bowl of light. This is the first impression you get as you descend from Harare’s five thousand feet plateau towards Zimbabwe’s eastern border. I had known the area since my school days when my father was posted there by the Rhodesia Railways. It seemed to be uncannily quiet. This memory wafts back because that is where I first learned how sound is carried on the still air. One hot, sunny afternoon, my stepsisters and I were standing beside our house at the foot of a small hill near an empty Umtali street when we heard the sound of an axe chopping regularly into a log of wood. We could see no woodcutter, so where was he? Looking up to the top of the hill we spied a man with his axe rising and falling as he chopped. The sight and then, moments later, the sound of that axe, carried on the quiet air were entirely ‘out of sync’. We marvelled at that little encounter with the science of sound, for the first time in our young lives.
We, the former ‘white liberals’ working for multiracial objectives had slogged on for a few years after Independence before our efforts fizzled out. Our high-minded efforts during the ‘struggle’ years had yielded nothing but a polite nod from black friends. We received no formal recognition at all from the triumphant ZANU (PF) when Independence came.
It was to be many years before Edgar Tekere, the top ZANU (PF) Manyika ‘chef’ led a credible, black-led opposition party that was to stand against the might, to say nothing of the cruelty of the ruling ZANU (PF) party. He was the most unexpected turncoat, a former close ‘comrade’ of Mugabe. It was he, the leader of ZUM who first made the critical break – beyond student riots and other manifestations of the public discontent – with his party, countering the most blatant corruption of Mugabe and his favoured friends,
But I wander from my story. Edgar Tekere, the returned warrior, who had figuratively cried on my shoulder on his return from the battle front in Mozambique, seemed to have got over his weariness and his crazed or post-war traumatic stress disorder. He had escaped the consequences of his murder of an unfortunate white farm manager in August 1980.
Some years before the end of the guerrilla war Nick McNally (later to become a judge in Zimbabwe) addressing his Rhodesian, mostly white audiences, had made an important prediction: “The Indemnity Act of the Rhodesian Front ruling party will come back to bite us. Its intention is to protect our military (mainly white) soldiers against charges of killing our ‘enemies’ who are in fact, our fellow Rhodesians”.
It was this same Nick McNally who used the Indemnity Act to defend Edgar Tekere when, after the hostilities had ended, had killed the white farmer. In essence McNally argued that Tekere in a hallucinatory, post-war, stressed moment had seen that unfortunate farmer as ‘the enemy’ – and the case was won, Tekere was indemnified! He escaped punishment – hanging still being the law at the time.
And then Tekere went home to Mutare. He proceeded, one peaceful Sunday morning, to frighten the good folk of Mutare almost out of their wits. The newspaper report on his attack on the white churchgoers, dragging their priest out of the door made me fear for his sanity. His drinking seemed to be destroying him. His alcoholism was not yet treated – or at least that is how I viewed his antics.
Later, after an encounter with him when he came to Harare to look in at the latest computer technology exhibited at the Sheraton hotel I thought he seemed cured. There was no doubt about that when he challenged Mugabe’s vaunted ‘one-party-state’ philosophy in 1989. I cannot recall if this came at precisely the moment the Soviet Union, Mugabe’s model of totalitarianism, collapsed. Tekere not only stood against Mugabe for the Presidency in 1989, but formed and led an opposition party he called the Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM). He and his ZUM party put on a brave show in opposing Mugabe and his ZANU (PF) in a general election. They lost, claiming that the poll was rigged; they certainly had some good people, including the popular Masipula Sithole (a younger, more respected, academic brother of Ndabaningi) in their ranks. But Tekere himself, running for the Presidency was not, in the general view, sufficiently cured of his aberrant post-war behaviour. He had, after all, murdered an innocent farmer when that was not yet the standard practice for Mugabe’s out of control war veterans.
Edgar Tekere was a clever man and an enigmatic, charismatic character. This challenge to his former leader came at the same time as serious student unrest erupted at the university and in the same year that the USSR fell apart. If there was a time that marked the beginning of the end of Mugabe’s popularity, this was it. Tekere’s main platform was the fight to avoid a one-party state in Zimbabwe. His and his party’s defeat made it clear that this was the first of many un-free, unfair and downright ‘cooked’ results, coming out after many of his party candidates’ successful campaigning in Manyika province. It was generally believed that pro-ZANU (PF) rigging by the Registrar General’s office was going to be the pattern for all future electoral contests.