Eshmael Mlambo was born on 5 November 1932 in Belingwe. His parents were members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church who, although simple peasant people themselves, had great ambitions for their children’s education. His mother, although not highly educated, had been a teacher for four years before she married in 1930.
Eshmael was the eldest of six children. He went to the local mission school run by the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church at Langeni. On completing Standard III he moved to Mnene Mission School where he finished his primary schooling (Standard VI) before going to train as a teacher at Musume Teacher Training College at Belingwe in 1952.1
For 10 years (1952-62) he was a teacher, combining this career with part-time study to gain a secondary education for himself. Eventually he obtained a Matriculation certificate through the South African Department of Arts and Sciences and then won a scholarship to enter the University of Rhodesia ‘A’ level class in 1963.2
From 1964 to 1966 he studied for a B.Sc. Econ. degree, his academic career broken only by a short spell of detention in Khami Prison following student demonstrations at the time of UDI. In mid-1966 there were further demonstrations at the university and a number of students, including Mlambo, were issued with detention orders. Mlambo decided to evade the order and quickly left the country without completing his degree studies. He made his way to England and shortly afterwards obtained his degree at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Soon afterwards he was awarded a scholarship to study in America. He studied for his Master’s degree at Colorado State University, specialising in his thesis on international relations and international economics with special emphasis on the effects of sanctions on Rhodesia’s international trade. Because of the subject matter of his thesis Mlambo was offered a temporary post with the United Nations doing research on Rhodesian monetary questions. He produced several papers on the subject for the Decolonisation Department of the Secretariat.
At the end of 1968 he returned to England where he soon realised that his excellent academic achievements did not fit him for employment. He therefore enrolled at the University of Brunel where he obtained his Diploma of Public Administration and Management in 1970; he also gained an M.Sc. (Econ.) degree at London University with a thesis on the effects of economic sanctions against Rhodesia on the economy of Zambia.3 After leaving the university he worked for two years as an administrative assistant with the London Borough of Bromley.
During this period Mlambo carried out a great deal of research into political affairs in Rhodesia. As a result he had several articles published in The Times. Articles written by him also appeared in Scandinavian newspapers, in Germany, Holland, Malaysia, Australia and New Guinea.
In 1970 he published his first book. It was a slim volume of only 50 pages (“call it a pamphlet if you like”) entitled Rhodesia – The British Dilemma. Building on this foundation he made a collection of all his researches to date and turned the whole into a book published in March 1972 entitled Rhodesia – The Struggle for a Birthright. The publication of this book coincided with the visit of the Pearce Commission to Rhodesia, with the result that it sold well and was widely read. It was, however, banned in Rhodesia but only after some 2 000 copies had been sold elsewhere.
The publicity caused by this book led to an increased number of radio and television engagements, not only in England 4 but also in Finland and Denmark.
Mlambo’s direct involvement in politics began when he was appointed as the ANC’s representative in Europe in December 1971. In the following year he accompanied Bishop Muzorewa to the United Nations and helped him in the preparation of his speeches. Mlambo’s contacts in Europe and America proved invaluable and led to interviews with US Congressmen and with David Newson, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. After Muzorewa had returned to Rhodesia Mlambo continued his task in London, working with Judy Todd until her marriage.
In June 1974 the controversy over Bishop Muzorewa’s alleged acceptance of Ian Smith’s offer of six extra African seats in Parliament came as a considerable shock to Mlambo and others of the ANC working overseas. He was at that time working at the OAU in Addis Ababa 5 and he decided to try to correct what he regarded as the wrong image of an ANC prepared to settle for so little. He based his campaign on the thesis that the Bishop had failed to confide in his Executive and that he had mistakenly taken advice from a visiting American, Prof. Hutchinson.
“We sought”, says Mlambo, “an interview with Harold Wilson, and in the process invited Dr Gabellah and Dr Chavunduka to join us in the UK. The meeting was very helpful to the ANC – we re-dedicated ourselves to our goal of majority rule, using the publicity which followed as a means to project to a wider audience. We re-emphasised that no solution to the problem would work without the release of detainees. We called for the release of Nkomo and Sithole and insisted that they participate in future discussions.
“This trip by Gabellah and Chavunduka was of immense interest to Zambia. We met Mark Chona in London. He explained Zambian disappointment and wished us well prior to our talk with Mr Wilson and Mr Callaghan. We obtained insight into the Zambian attitude – they were glad that the ‘six seats’ had been turned down. Chona said he was impressed by Muzorewa’s work and hoped he would reorientate towards majority rule”.
This was the beginning of a continuous contact between the Lusaka authorities and Mlambo in London. It led to discussions between the Zambian and British Governments, as a result of which a document was produced which became the basis of the Foreign Secretary, Callaghan’s meeting with Vernon Mwaanga in Geneva in September 1974. This document stressed the importance of change coming about by constitutional means but added that ‘confrontation’ would follow if constitutional efforts failed.
Eshmael Mlambo at first supported Bishop Muzorewa, believing that – although he was a weak politician – he represented the type of leadership wanted by the people. Mlambo has no tribal affiliations in his attitude towards leadership but supports the man whom he believes is doing the right thing. Thus it was that he began to move away from Muzorewa after December 1974 (regarding him as a ‘compromise’ acceptable only among the leaders themselves) and adhered to Joshua Nkomo – “a leader of the people”. He visited Salisbury (Harare) for the congress in September 1975 and retained his post as ANC Representative in Europe.
In December 1975 he was transferred by the OAU to its Geneva Office where he has special responsibilities in negotiations with the EEC and UNCTAD. He now lives in London, to which city he commutes each week from Geneva.
In January 1976 he again visited Salisbury (Harare) and participated in the discussions between the Government and the ANC.
It was announced on 13 October 1976 that Eshmael Mlambo had been appointed Economic Adviser to the ANC (Nkomo) delegation to the Geneva Conference.
Eshmael Mlambo is young by comparison with many of his colleagues in the ANC and is bound to play an important role in the future of the country. He is an energetic worker – spending many hours on the tedious paper work so essential in politics. During his visit to Salisbury (Harare) in September 1975 he headed the secretariat that prepared the way for the congress that elected Joshua Nkomo as President of the ANC.
He begins work at dawn and often puts in two hours of hard work before breakfast. He is of medium, powerful build and has a very marked scar on his forehead – the result of a childhood accident. Apart from his interest in research and writing, he enjoys table tennis and jazz (he joined with friends who had a jazz band in Ethiopia and frequents music clubs in London to sustain his interest).
He is married with three children. His eldest son is at school in Nairobi (at the old Duke of York High School, now renamed Lenana High School). His second son, having previously studied at an American secondary school in Ethiopia, is now at school in England. His youngest child, a daughter, “stays with us at home and keeps us laughing”.
Eshmael Mlambo is registered as a Ph.D. student at London University, his subject being ‘The Influences of Economic Considerations on Botswana Foreign Policy’. He is also working on a sequel to his book Rhodesia: The Struggle for a Birthright.
Rhodesia: The British Dilemma (London, 1970).
Rhodesia: The Struggle for a Birthright (C. Hurst & Co., 1972).
Zimbabwe Now (a collection of informative articles about Rhodesian politics and economics written in conjunction with Dr Claire Palley, Ariston Chambati and Richard Hall).
No Future Without Us (London).
1 Before the mid-1950s African children in the rural areas obtained their primary education mainly through the missions, since Government primary schools were almost non-existent. They tended to start late – about 10 years old – and therefore were old enough to train as primary school teachers
themselves after only seven or eight years schooling. The lure of a teaching career was two-fold: it not only carried prestige and chances of further advancement, it also enabled the young student to remain at school an extra year because Standard VI was a combination of tuition and of teaching
2 These classes later ceased as opportunities for ‘A’ level study increased at normal schools.
3 He extended this study to cover Zambia’s role in the political development of southern Africa. He regarded – and still regards – this role as vital, declaring that if Zambia makes a decision the rest of Africa follows.
4 Including a duel of words with Noel Robertson (formerly in the Rhodesian Internal Affairs Ministry) and a former Rhodesian Editor, Malcolm Smith.
5 He had joined the OAU as a permanent official in 1972.