1960 Founder member and Interim President, NDP.
1964 National Organising Secretary, ZANU.
1971 Founder member of ANC and National Organising Secretary.
1975 (Sept.) Chairman of Party Organisation, ZLC.
Michael Mawema was born at Gutu, Victoria District, on 13 July 1928. His father, Chigayo, who was a member of the Vagarwe clan originating in Mutambara, worked in the Native Affairs Department of the Government.
Mawema attended the Interdenominational School in Bulawayo in 1936-37, and then went to the Gutu Mission School where he passed Standard VI in 1945. In the following year he received a scholarship from the Beit Trust to undergo teacher training, and he studied during 1947 at the Morgenster Mission, obtaining his Primary Teacher’s Certificate at the end of the year. From 1948 to 1950 he taught at Cheswingo School in Gutu and then moved to Mzilikazi Government School, Bulawayo, where he remained until the end of 1951.
His first experience of politics was in 1951 when he became Private Secretary to Benjamin Burombo1He held this post for two years and then became Regional Secretary of the Railway African Workers’ Union.2 In 1954 he joined the old ANCongress and served as an executive member of the Bulawayo Branch until the merger with the Youth League in September 1957.
In January 1959 he was officially sponsored by the ANCongress to pay a three—month visit to Israel to study the working of co-operatives. While he was out of the country the state of emergency was declared on 26 February and on his return to Salisbury (Harare) he was questioned by the police but not detained. He was thus one of the few experienced politicians still at large when discussions took place later in 1959 on the possibility of founding a new party to replace the ANCongress. He played a leading role in these discussions and was appointed interim President when the NDP was founded in January 1960 (it being understood that he was holding the post only until Joshua Nkomo returned to Rhodesia).
During 1960 he travelled in Europe on speaking tours and addressed the Labour Party Parliamentary Group in the House of Commons. Subsequently he shared a platform with Christopher Chataway, Barbara Castle and Dr Hastings Banda at a public meeting in London. On his return to Salisbury (Harare) he attended the National Executive meeting on 21 September 1960 and was replaced as interim President by Leopold Takawira.3
When the NDP delegation at first supported the proposed new constitution (the ‘15 seats’) in February 1961 Mawema denounced the action of the leaders and was suspended by the National Council of the party on 12 February. He was, however, soon restored to grace when the NDP decided, a few days later, to reject the proposals.
In July 1960 Mawema had been given four years’ hard labour for being a member of an unlawful organisation (ANCongress) and for consorting (within NDP) with ex-members of an unlawful organisation. In the following year, however, he successfully appealed against the conviction and sentence in the High Court in Salisbury (Harare).
In June 1961 he joined with Patrick Matimba, Edson Sithole (then in detention) and others to found the ZNP (in opposition to the leadership of Nkomo). The new party did not, however, have an auspicious beginning, and Mawema was beaten and kicked by angry opponents at his first press conference on 11 June. When ZAPU was banned in September 1962 the ZNP developed into the PASU but this new body did not long survive the death of its leader, Paul Mushonga, in a car accident in December 1962.
Mawema remained in opposition to Nkomo and joined the newly-formed ZANU in August 1963, becoming its Organising Secretary at the congress the following year. The appointment was, however, quickly followed by his arrest and detention —— first at Wha Wha, later at Sikombela and finally, at Salisbury (Harare) Prison. In 1968 he was released from prison but restricted to the Gutu area for two years. On becoming ‘unrestricted’ he obtained employment in Salisbury (Harare) as an insurance salesman. Within a year he was earning a high income.
The visit of Sir Alec Douglas Home, the British Foreign Secretary, to Salisbury (Harare) in November 1971 found Mawema yet again in the position of being one of the few leading nationalists not in detention or restriction. When Edson Sithole was asked to nominate a second ZANU member to accompany him to a meeting with Sir Alec4 he chose Mawema — a selection which led naturally to the emergence of both men as founder members of the new ANC in December. With his considerable past experience in such matters, it was no surprise that Mawema was appointed Organising Secretary of the new body.
In July 1972 he disappeared suddenly from Rhodesia in circumstances that gave rise to considerable speculation over his personal affairs. He made his way to the United States where he attended Clark College in Worcester, Massachusetts, graduating B.A. with honours in 1974.5 He then moved to the Interdenominational Theological Centre in Georgia and Johnson C. Smith Seminary, where he obtained the degree of Master of Education with ‘high honours’ in 1975.
He returned to Africa in mid—1975 and was in Lusaka during the period of the Victoria Falls talks (August). On 1 September he was appointed Chairman of the Party Organisation Committee of the ZLC under the presidency of Rev. N. Sithole. Returning to the United States, he addressed the UN Committee on Non-Self-Governing Territories on 7 October, saying that the detente exercise had given “whites time to strengthen their military forces”.
In November Mawema addressed a memorandum to Bishop Muzorewa and the Rev. N. Sithole in the course of which he argued that the ZLC should be disbanded. “Muzorewa and Sithole,” he wrote, “have unilaterally taken power into their own hands and they have excluded everybody, even the freedom fighter, from the ZLC… They are microphone revolutionaries”6 In December 1975 he was reported to have journeyed to Mocambique to join Robert Mugabe.
Michael Mawema has held many posts, both political and non-political, including:
President of Midlands African Football Association, (1954);
Founder Member of Jairos Jiri Association:
President of Pan-African Students Union, U.S.A. (1974);
President of International Students, Johnson C. Smith Seminary (1975);
President of Southern African Liberation Committee, Georgia, U.S.A. (1973-75).
He was awarded the Edwin T. Bush Scholarship for International Leadership in the USA in 1974, and the Johnson C. Smith Achievement Scholarship Award in 1975.
In 1964 he addressed the OAU Liberation Committee and in 1972 he represented ‘Zimbabwe’ at the Non-Aligned Foreign Ministers’ Conference in Guyana. He has contributed many articles to journals and publications on aspects of African sociology, religion and politics. He states that he is a great admirer of Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere and Che Gueveira. He is married with a family.
1 Leader of the British African National Voice Association.
2 He held this post until 1959.
3 Nevertheless, Mawema holds Takawira in high esteem as a “comrade-in-arms”.
4 The delegation also comprised representatives of ZAPU (see entry on Cephas Msipa).
5 He had passed both ‘O’ and ‘A’ level examinations for the General Certificate of Education while in detention (1967-68).
6 Quoted in The Zimbabwe Star, 29 November 1975.