1960 Mabvuku Branch Organising Secretary, NDP.
1963 Chairman, Salisbury (Harare) District and National Councillor, PCC.
1971 -73 Deputy Publicity Secretary; Deputy National Organising Secretary, ANC.
1973 Secretary-General, ANC.
1976 Acting National Organising Secretary, ANC (Nkomo).
John Chirisa was born on 2 January 1929 in Chikanya’s village, near Kwenda Mission, in the Charter District. His parents were poor and his father (who was one of the early taxi drivers in Salisbury (Harare)) impressed upon his young son that he would have to find by himself the money needed for schooling. And so John worked as a labourer on local farms for a shilling a day until he had saved enough.
He attended Kwenda Mission School from 1942 to 1945, receiving great encouragement from the headmaster, Herbert Mano. In mid-1945 John’s mother died and his elder sister took him to live with her in Selukwe (Shurugwi). He attended the Methodist Church School until 1946 when he moved to Salisbury (Harare) Government school (now called Chitsere) where he studied from 1947 to 1949. At this school he was taught by Enoch Dumbutshena who was impressed by his abilities and helped him to obtain a place at Goromonzi High School. He stayed at Goromonzi for two years. He had no money for school fees but was given a scholarship through the efforts of A. P. Knottenbelt.
After leaving Goromonzi he joined St Mark’s Boarding School as a combined teacher and boarding master but remained there for only a year before joining the African Daily News in 1954. He remained with African Newspapers Limited for 10 years as a linotype operator.
Chirisa joined the re-formed ANCongress in 1958 but played no active part. However, when the NDP was formed in January 1960 he became Organising Secretary for the Mabvuku Branch. Following the banning of the NDP in December 1961 he at once joined ZAPU and was elected a committee member of the Salisbury (Harare) District. He remained with Joshua Nkomo after the major split of july 1963 and was appointed Chairman of the Salisbury (Harare) District and a National Councillor in the PCC.
He was detained in 1964 and sent to Wha Wha for a period of three months. He was again arrested in 1965 and sent to Gonakudzingwa for a year. His release in August 1966 was short-lived for he was re-arrested within two months and again sent to Gonakudzingwa. On this occasion he remained in restriction for nearly four years, being released in August 1970. During this period in restriction he passed his General Certificate of Education ‘O’ level and in 1969 gained ‘A’ level passes in British Government, Politics and Economics. He joined the ANC on its formation in December1971 and as Deputy Publicity Secretary played an important part in building up African resistance to the Smith/Home constitutional proposals. Following the detention of Josiah Chinamano in January 1972 Chirisa was transferred to the Treasurer’s office. From here he moved into an administrative post, becoming Deputy National Organising Secretary – and subsequently Secretary-General for a short period in 1973. In these capacities he was heavily involved in the preparation of proposals for constitutional change. In 1973 he was detained on an indefinite basis and confined at Wha Wha Restriction Camp. He employed his time studying for the Intermediate stage of the LL.B. degree.
He was released on 26 January 1976 to enable him to join Joshua Nkomo’s negotiating team for the constitutional talks then in progress in Salisbury (Harare). He was subsequently appointed Acting National Organising Secretary.
John Chirisa is married, with four sons and three daughters, the eldest being 16 years old. He is a fervent admirer of Joshua Nkomo on whom he bestowed the nickname Chibwechitedza – the Mighty Rock and Lion of Zimbabwe. He looks back with pride on the years which he spent alongside Nkomo in Gonakudzingwa and regards him as the ‘Father of Nationalism’. He takes a great interest in journalism and in the study of the Shona language. Because of this he has been greatly in demand as an interpreter.