1961 Organising Secretary for the NDP, Southern Province
1962 Representative of ZAPU in USA.
1964 Deputy Secretary-General, ZANU.
1971-72 Deputy Secretary-General, ANC.
1972 Principal Overseas Representative, ANC.
1973 Representative of ZANU in USA.
1977 Deputy Secretary for Information and Publicity, ZANU (Mozambique)
1979 Delegate and Party Spokesman, ZANU, at Lancaster House
1980 MP for Victoria
1980 Minister of Local Government and Housing, Zimbabwe
Eddison Zvobgo was born on 2nd October, 1935 at Mtilikwi near Fort Victoria (Masvingo) in the Victoria Province of south-eastern Rhodesia. His parents were members of the African Reformed Church and his father was a minister while his mother was also a staunch churchwoman. Eddison was brought up in the Dutch Reformed Church. He completed his early schooling at the Waddilove Institute near Marandellas (Marondera) in 1951. From 1952 to 1956 he attended Tegwani Secondary School, the Methodist Mission School near Plumtree. Here he obtained his Matriculation Exemption Certificate. After the pattern of almost every nationalist leader in Rhodesia, he then followed a teaching career, spending a year as a teacher at the Howard Institute in 1957 and at Mbizi Government School in Highfield in 1958.
He received a Percy Ibbotson Memorial Scholarship In 1959 and proceeded to Pius XII University College in Roma Basutoland (now Lesotho) By the end of 1960 he had completed 2 years of his B.A. in Hisory, Political Science and Shona. He was declared a Prohibited Immigrant by the South African Government because he had edited a student paper in which he had campaigned for the Basutoland Congress Party. This party was in conflict with the Catholic Church which at that time shared views about the BCP with the Nationalist Party of South Africa. His political career was begun, when, unable to return to Lesotho, he joined with others in Highfield in Salisbury (Harare) to form the NDP which was launched on the 1st January 1961, and in March he became the organising secretary for the Southern Province. Most of the senior leaders including George Silundika, were involved. When massive arrests and detentions began Silundika, Zvobgo, and others continued to campaign for the party.
After Nkomo returned to the country, Eddison was appointed representative for the party in the United States. He travelled to New York in July 1961 and began to petition support for the party. He had won an award under the African Scholarship Programme for American Universities (ASPAU) and set out on the dual task of student and spokesman for the NDP . Just prior to his trip to the United States, he had married his wife, Julia, on May 1961. (Julia became a member of the first Zimbabwe Parliament). In the U.S.A., he went to to study at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. He had not yet completed his first B.A. and, because of the different systems, was obliged to work through the University of South Africa for his finals. His exam papers were flown to the U.S.A by the South African Embassy and he wrote the examination in Washington. In this way he successfully completed his B.A.
On the 12th December 1961, the NDP was banned and within nine days ZAPU had been formed. Eddison was re-appointed American representative and continued his task, shuttling between Boston and New York, visiting the United Nations Colonialism Committee to petition on behalf of ZAPU. His method of operation was to pass on word of the activities of the ZAPU Central Committee and record the instructions from Leopold Takawira which had followed meetings held at home. Dr Zvobgo remembers that Sir Edgar Whitehead was very angry with him because he had given him “a rough time” during an appearance at the UN. For Eddison had stated that only the armed struggle would resolve the situation.
Following the ban on ZAPU, he was recalled home for consultation. He was only seven credits short of the 122 that he needed for his degree, but was back in Salisbury (Harare) in March 1963. On his return he found that ZANU and the PCC had now taken the place of the banned ZAPU.
At home he went on a tour describing scholarships and educational opportunities abroad. Shortly after his arrival, at a meeting in Highfield held at Takawira’s house, it was decided that the National Executive of ZAPU should depart en masse to Zambia and Tanzania. It was Eddison’s intention to go back to the US for “the Fall”, but while still in Lusaka he was told simply, “You are not going back, it makes not sense”.
Dr. Zvobgo recalls that things looked very bad at this point for the party. They had been misinformed by their leader, he says, that President Nyerere had requested them to come to Tanzania. They discovered the mistake when they arrived there. Ndabaningi Sithole and Robert Mugabe were upset and they, with others, decided to oppose Nkomo’s leadership. At this stage they needed organisers. In Dar-es-Salaam they found that the split in the National Executive was very clear. A meeting was arranged at Sir Stewart Gore-Brown’s farm in northern Zambia the same week. Further developments included a threat from Nyerere to deport Joshua Nkomo if he refused to return to Salisbury (Harare). Without further notice Nkomo did so. He had been advised by some of his supporters not to attend the farm meeting because the purpose of the meeting was to depose him.
In May 1963 Eddison Zvobgo returned to Salisbury (Harare) with letters from Takawira, Mugabe and Sithole instructing various friends to launch what was to be known as “the new movement”. It was not possible to hold a meeting to depose Joshua Nkomo from outside. When Eddison arrived at Salisbury (Harare) Airport he was searched and material on (banned) ZAPU-headed paper was seized by the authorities.
“They let me go that night and I went to Highfield where I distributed the letters from the National Executive in Dar-es_salaam and then returned home to my wife’s uncles house. Meanwhile some pro-Nkomo people and received a message from Dar reporting my mission was to depose Nkomo. A group led by James Chikerema caught up with me in the early hours of the morning. I was apprehended by them an Chikerema produced a revolver, threatening to shoot me. I was taken to Chinamora’s house in Highfield where I had been earlier while the searched for the letters which I had already distributed. they went to Julia’s uncle’s house and again searched.
“By 9 a.m. various youths had learned what had happened and encircled the house and compelled Nkomo to have me released. At 10 a.m. Nkomo called a conference and claimed that his lieutenants – Sithole, Mugabe, Takawira, Malianga and others – had been subversive and were to be suspended from the Party. Of course I was dismissed as Chief US Representative, which was really meaningless. the following morning, Mugabe, Takawira and Sithole issued a statement from Dar-es-Salaam suspending Nkomo. That was the beginning of the split. This dispute in the leadership has only been resolved by the elections of 1980.”
“On August 8th we launched ZANU at the house of Enos Nkala in Highfield. I was pleased to have written both the Constitution and the Policy Statement for ZANU. We announced this at the first press conference at which the Reverend Sithole, Nkala and myself and others were named as executive members of the Party. On this occasion I acted as press officer. Sithole was the first president, Takawira vice-president, Mugabe secretary general, and Nkala treasurer. At home we started to campaign without full strength because Mugabe and Takawira had had to skip bail, and leave the country. They had been charged in connection with their activities in the former ZAPU Party.
“We organised for the holding of a conference in Gwelo (Gweru). Meanwhile Mugabe and Takawira had returned and had been jailed. We bailed them out and the campaign continued from October to December. The Central Committee chose 21st to 23rd May 1964 for the Congress which we held in Gwelo (Gweru). One of the resolutions at this Congress called upon the Central Committee to organise for armed struggle. It was a secret resolution but within hours the police were aware of it.
“On 23rd May I made a speech – ‘Colonialism is Violence and the only way to meet violence is by violence’ – and was arrested. I was sentenced to twelve months in prison without the option of a fine. The party continued to campaign and in August was banned. At this time I was on bail at Nyanyadzi. The police caught up with me there and arrested me. I was finally driven by the police to Wha Wha where all the Party officials, including Sithole and Mugabe, were gathered.
“In October I lost my appeal and was brought to Salisbury (Harare) Prison and when other charges were brought up, of my being found with ZAPU documents I received 18 months’ sentence without the option of a fine. I finally became a hard labour prisoner in Salisbury (Harare) Prison. On 11 July 1965 I was released at the completion of my sentence. My wife and friends were waiting outside the prison to meet me but, as I was led out of prison, the Special Branch people were also waiting to serve me with a Restriction Order. My wife had only a glimpse of me before I was whipped off again.”
“I was taken to Sikombela near Zhombe in the Midlands. I arrived there on July 18th to find all of the other members of the Central Committee there. I was settling to build my little hut with 50 others in a little compound (How I would like to re-visit the place now!) . Meanwhile my wife who had been teaching in the Victoria province and decided to transfer to be near me. She arrived in time to see me but on November 8th we rose in the morning to find the entire camp surrounded by the Rhodesian Army (this was 3 days before UDI) . We could not understand it. Julia, my wife, was in my hut with our baby. They broke down the door, we were stripped naked and herded to some open ground. At about 9 a.m. the Officer Commanding the Midlands came out to read a list. Included in the list were Mugabe, Tekere, Zvobgo, Mudukuti, Malowa, Mudavanhu and Shirihuru. We were herded onto a truck and driven to Que Que without a thing being said. The rest remained and included Leopold Takawira. the Eight of us arrived in Que Que and were put aboard a plane to Salisbury (Harare).
“At New Sarum Air Base we found a black maria truck waiting for us. We were driven to Salisbury (Harare) Prison and only inside the prison were we served with detention orders. My order read as follows:
‘To Eddison: X11851 Victoria.
Greetings. Whereas under the terms of section 50 of the Law and Order Maintenance Act, certain powers are vested in me and whereas certain information has been placed before me and whereas due to confidential information which I cannot reveal; and whereas I am satisfied you are likely to commit acts of violence throughout Rhodesia. Now therefore I hereby order that you be detained in Salisbury (Harare) Maximum Security Prison until this order is revoked or otherwise varied by me.
God Save the Queen.
Minister of Justice, Law and Order.’
Meanwhile Julia was left in Zhombe. She came up to Salisbury (Harare) to visit. Three days later we discovered that UDI (the Abomination) was proclaimed. I was in prison until 1971.”
While in prison Zvobgo studied for the University of London’s law degree LL.B. and graduated in 1970. He then began reading for the Bar examinations which he passed in 1971 while still in detention.
“Released on 21 November 1971 I was restricted to a four-mile radius of Highfield and had to report daily to Mbizi Police Station. The radius was eventually extended to a ten-mile radius from Salisbury (Harare) Post Office, and the reporting requirement was dropped.
“Organisation to fight the Anglo-Rhodesian proposals in 1971-2 began with a meeting in Chinamano’s store 1. Present were Edson Sithole, Michael Mawema, Chinamano and others. We drafted the constitution of an organisation and consulted with those in Salisbury (Harare) Prison. Chinamano consulted with his party members in Gonakudzingwa. On the question of who was to be chairman, we considered Chief Reyayi Tangwena, but he was too occupied with his own struggle for his people’s land. We hit on the idea of asking Bishop Muzorewa. I went on the delegation to see him and he asked for time to pray before accepting. They launched the ANC operating from Advocate’s Chambers in Amato Building where I and Eddison Sithole had our offices.”
Eddison Zvobgo was appointed Deputy Secretary- General of the ANC in December 1971. In the words of his friend, Eddison Sithole, “he didn’t have a chance to refuse. We immediately involved him in the new organisation”.
Eddison Zvobgo recalls that while in prison he and Robert Mugabe had decided to study law. He finished all the required Law courses with the University of South Africa in 1968 be (he says) he had a complete blockage with the learning of Afrikaans and was not able to pass without this subject. He switched to the University of London and obtained his LLB in 1970. He took his Bar examinations in prison and passed. Not being able to present himself in person he had to wait until he was free (within the ten-mile radius restriction) in February 1972 before he was admitted to the Rhodesian Bar. His application for admission had been opposed by the Rhodesian Bar Association and the Attorney General’s Office and had to go to trial. His opposition claimed that he was not a fit person to go to the Bar since he had urged others to break the law and shown contempt for the Law. They were over-ruled by Mr Justice Beck, and Zvobgo was admitted.
“After the thunderous ‘No” to the Pearce Commission I knew that they would detain me again and I left for Britain. Julia had left in 1968 to study in Surrey. I arrived at London Airport and saw my two children Karina and Eddison whom I had not seen for the last seven years. I returned to my studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy 2 in Boston.”
In 1972 and 1973 Eddison obtained an MA LD and in 1974 and 1975 he went to Harvard Law School where he obtained an LLM while doing his Ph.D. thesis on “The contribution of African Liberation Movements to Guerrilla War Theory”. (In essence, he says, this is the history of Rhodesia from the formation of the ANC (Congress) to 1975 and covers the Rhodesian Nationalist movements.) From mid-1975 he was teaching at Lewis University College of Law in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. His wife was given a grant by the UN and studied for an advanced diploma in domestic science, (specialising in Food Technology) in the United States.
Eddison Zvobgo was appointed Principal Overseas Representative of the ANC on his arrival in America. However, in August 1973, he resigned from the ANC saying that he was still Deputy Secretary-General of ZANU and that this organisation was “waging an heroic armed struggle”. His fear was that Bishop Muzorewa, not being “an experienced negotiator”, might be insufficiently ruthless to hold his own in discussions with Ian Smith, the Rhodesian Prime Minister. “Whites,” he said, “must be led down the garden path … Morality does not come into it.”3
He arrived in Lusaka in October 1976 to prepare for the Geneva Conference. After Geneva he finished his last term of teaching, resigned and made his way to join the armed struggle in Mozambique.
He went straight into the publicity for the Party and ran the “Voice of Mozambique” on its behalf. He remains Deputy Secretary for Information and Publicity to this day. He attended the Lancaster House Conference as a delegate and the spokesman for ZANU (PF) and finally returned to Rhodesia on 13th January 1980 to organise the campaign, win his seat for ZANU (PF) in Victoria and to be appointed Minister of Local Government and Housing in the Zimbabwe Government.
Eddison Zvobgo is married with three children. While in detention he wrote a number of poems, using the pseudonym “Muzeze”.4 These were published in a volume called Madetembere.
The following review of Dr Eddison Zvobgo’s post-independence career was written by Diana Mitchell and appears in her 2021 memoirs
DR EDDISON ZVOBGO
Pre-eminent among the maKaranga was the very suave and sophisticated, American educated (at Tufts) lawyer, Dr Eddison Zvobgo. Until the purges (figuratively speaking) began, Zvobgo was ZANU (PF)’s top legal adviser and the chief architect of Mugabe’s 1987 constitution. He was later blamed for assigning too much power to Mugabe – the Presidential Powers Act enabled the ruling party’s leader, in the name of this notorious piece of legislation to do exactly what he liked. Robert Mugabe was not averse to invoking it in his own selfish interests. Zvobgo was ‘hoist with his own petard’ which is about all you could say after the unfortunate Doctor of Laws was ultimately and ungratefully shoved several steps down the political ladder. Some even believe that this ‘shove’ became – almost literally – the case, especially when Zvobgo’s legs were broken in a motor accident. Car accidents seemed in Zimbabwe as in other tyrannies, a convenient way of ‘de-selection’ of former friends or the dispatch of enemies because it is so difficult to prove them one way or the other.
Zvobgo’s unquestioned loyalty to Mugabe in the first fifteen years of Independence afforded him no protection from his rivals in the power group. His massive, loyal following in the Masvingo Province of the maKaranga represented too much political competition for that Zezuru son of a carpenter, Robert Mugabe, and his client kinsmen and cronies. Other Karangas, more loyal but less popular than Zvobgo (Governor Hungwe, for example), more cravenly subservient, were positioned in the Masvingo Province, ready to monitor any rearguard action Zvobgo’s large following might attempt. The Eddison Zvobgo that I knew was a highly sophisticated, witty and intelligent lawyer. I first met him a couple of years before I set out on my odyssey in pursuit of the life histories of the nationalist leaders. He was supporting African National Council (ANC) leader, Bishop Abel Muzorewa whose star had arisen ever so briefly in the Rhodesian political firmament. He had skilfully steered the naïve little American Methodist churchman away from falling innocently into the hands of the Rhodesians and the British Government over the 1971 Pearce Commission’s ‘test of acceptability’. This was for a proposed settlement of the constitutional dispute arising out of Ian Smith’s illegal Unilateral Declaration of Independence.
In 1972, after a formal and extraordinarily polite meeting in the Bishop’s Reliance House office in Salisbury’s Moffat Street (now Leopold Takawira Street), which I had arranged between the Centre Party’s leadership and Muzorewa along with his ANC executive, I walked back into the city centre beside a jaunty Zvobgo who was swinging a cane. I asked him why the ANC would not accept the ‘half loaf’ that the British settlement proposals offered un-enfranchised Rhodesian Africans. Striking the stone pavement with his cane he shouted, “My children and grandchildren will beat on my grave with sticks if I sell them out on this one!” This ‘striking’ Shona tradition called ‘kurova guva’, made the motives of the men resisting what they called the half loaf rather than real power so much clearer for me. I knew then that these were the real politicians and that, hitherto, we had been dealing with supplanters only, in our ignorant, Eurocentric way.
Shortly after the end of the liberation war hostilities when Independence was achieved, Zvobgo and I were to meet again at a luncheon party hosted by Helga Patrikios, a medical librarian, and a sincerely civic-minded woman of Irish-German extraction. She had led a brave effort to liberate the brainwashed or fearful minds of our suburban white sisters by helping to run an organization called ‘Women for Peace’ during the war years. Over lunch, while leaning back in his chair beneath the canopy of a brilliant mauve bougainvillea, Zvobgo faced an admiring audience of Helga’s ‘liberal’ friends, myself included.
Eddison Zvobgo was in his element. He had the assembled guests in stitches as he described his first days as the Minister of Justice in an office at the Government’s Milton Buildings (since renamed Kaguvi Buildings). “I invited my old father, a simple peasant – who had never visited the city of Salisbury, let alone entered a government minister’s office – to come to town and take tea with me. When my white secretary entered the room carrying the tea tray, the old man nearly had a heart attack. He absolutely refused to believe that I was in charge”.
This reminded Eddison of an earlier post-Independence encounter with one of his former white ‘masters’. He recounted the tale with undisguised glee: “On my first day at work as a Cabinet Minister, I presented myself to the old white Commissionaire (a sinecure in the colonial era for retired white men) standing guard at the foot of the stairs leading to my office. He shouted ‘Hey, boy! You are not allowed to go up these front stairs in this building. Get along around the back!’ I informed him, politely, that I was actually his new Minister. The poor man, realising that his job was on the line, nearly turned himself inside out apologizing. I felt sorry for him and put my arm around his shoulder as we walked together up the stairs. I told him that we were all equals now and that the old days were past and all was forgiven. He cheered up so much that he quite forgot himself and whispered conspiratorially as we parted ‘It’s very good to meet you, Minister and I am sorry again for my mistake, but you know what these kaffirs are like!” Eddison Zvobgo burst into laughter at the recollection. He was one of the very few black men I ever met who could utter that pejorative word without extreme rancour.
1 Amon Jirira claims that his meeting was held at his house in Highfield.
2 This forms part of Tufts University.
3 The Guardian, August 1973.
4 The law did not permit the names of detained nationalists to be used in print