rev_ndabaningi_sithole1960 Treasurer, NDP. 1961 Treasurer and National Chairman, ZAPU.
1963 President, ZANU.
1974 Member Central Committee, ANC.
1975 (Sept.) Chairman, ZLC.

Ndabaningi Sithole was born on 21 July 1920 at Nyamandhlovu, north of Bulwayo. He was the son of Jim Sithole (a member of the Ndau tribe from Gazaland) and Siyapi Tshuma of Nyamandhlovu. In 1930 his father, who was a builder and carpenter, moved to Shabani where he worked on the asbestos mines. Two years later the young child was sent to the Wesleyan School in Shabani but was forced to leave at the end of the school year because of shortage of money. During 1933 and 1934 he worked as a kitchen boy but continued his education by attending a night school.

In 1935 he was able to go to Dadaya Mission, where he studied under Garfield Todd, who was at that time the Superintendent. Sithole remained at the mission until 1939, helping at the dispensary during the holidays and passing Standard VI.

In 1939 he obtained a Beit Bursary of £10, tenable at Waddilove Training Institution for two years. He qualified as a primary school teacher and also taught at Sunday Schools under the instruction of Miss Marjorie Baker1 After leaving Waddilove he taught at various kraal schools and passed his National junior Certificate by correspondence. He later went to teach Standard V at Dadaya where he worked for his Matriculation Exemption Certificate in his spare time. In 1948 he became Assistant Method Master at Tegwani Training Institution, working under Miss Dora Warwick. While at Tegwani he did intensive Bible study, and became an accredited preacher for the British Methodist Church. At the end of 1950 he left Tegwani and joined the United Methodist Church. In 1953 he was appointed to the teaching staff at Mt Selinda American Methodist Mission and while teaching there obtained by correspondence the degree of B.A. with the University of South Africa.

His work at the mission so impressed the church leaders that in 1955 they sent him to the Newton Theological College at Andover, near Boston, Massachusetts. Here he studied theology for three years, and worked on a book on African Nationalism2 Returning to Southern Rhodesia in 1958 he was ordained at Mt Selinda Congregationalist Church and appointed Principal of Chikore Central Primary School. It was during the next year that Ndabaningi Sithole studied the surrounding political scene,3 and decided that the time was opportune for him to move into public life. In August 1959 he was invited – as a result of the publicity which had attended the publication of his book – to address the annual general meeting of the African Teachers’ Association in Fort Victoria (Masvingo). He saw in this invitation more than the chance to make himself personally known to a few hundred school teachers. On arrival he systematically lobbied the delegates and by the close of the meeting was President of the Association.

Whereas teachers employed by the Government were debarred from taking part openly in politics, no such handicap applied in his case. On 9 September he moved forward a further step by becoming a member of the multi-racial CAP. At this time there was no African nationalist party in existence4 and in any case there was a tendency among African intellectuals to stand aloof from the more crude manifestations of the movement. However, Sithole’s sojourn in the CAP did not last long. In January 1960 the NDP was formed and the leading figures in the new organisation set about recruiting the services of such men as Ndabaningi Sithole, Leopold Takawira and Herbert Chitepo. Their success in all three cases was a turning point in African nationalist politics in Rhodesia. From June 1960 (the date of joining) onwards it is possible to trace a more precise, carefully thought-out policy – and a more militant and radical stance – replacing the redress of grievances as the main objective of the movement.5 The moment was climactic also for the European-led liberalist parties. The ‘defection’ of so many of those who had been regarded as the best hopes for a multi-racial society seemed a symbol of the failure of the whole federal ideal.” 6

Sithole soon moved into prominence in the NDP. He was elected Treasurer soon after his admission and (in the absence of Joshua Nkomo overseas) it was clear that here was a recruit who was destined for high office. In December 1960 he was invited to form part of the NDP
delegation at the Federal review conference in London. Not long after the start of the conference, however, Joshua Nkomo and he walked out – much to the annoyance of Sir Edgar Whitehead, the Southern Rhodesian Prime Minister.7

By the following month, however, tempers had cooled and when the Southern Rhodesian constitutional conference convened in Salisbury (Harare) in mid-January 1961 both Ndabaningi Sithole and Joshua Nkomo were in their seats as official delegates of the NDP. Three weeks later the talks came to an apparently satisfactory conclusion, with both Nkomo and Sithole expressing their acceptance of the proposals8

The immediate adverse reaction from the NDP Executive shocked and surprised Sithole. It is indeed possible to observe, from this time onwards, both a hardening of his attitude towards white rule and a determination to secure for himself the leadership of the nationalist movement.9 In November 1961, although not a delegate, he was admitted to the NDP Congress as an observer and seized the opportunity (together with five others) to contest the election for the presidency. He lost to Joshua Nkomo, but- won the post of Treasurer of the Party.

Ndabaningi Sithole’s real opportunity came with the banning of ZAPU10 in September 1962. At that time he was attending a conference in Athens, where the news reached him that Joshua Nkomo had travelled to Dar-es-Salaam with the object of setting up a ‘government in exile’. He flew at once to Africa, joining with Enoch Dumbutshena, President Nyerere and Kenneth Kaunda in a chorus of appeals to Joshua Nkomo to return to Salisbury (Harare). In following this line there is no doubt that Sithole was acting in accordance with the wishes of most of the leaders of independent African states. Certainly the arguments put forward by him were sufficiently strong to persuade Nkomo to abandon whatever plans he may have had for an externally-based movement. Soon afterwards Nkomo flew back to Salisbury (Harare) where a restriction order from the government awaited him.

Sithole, however, did not follow the advice which he had tendered to Nkomo.  He remained instead in Dar-es-Salaam, from where he broadcast propaganda to the Africans within Southern Rhodesia. At the beginning of December he sent a message strongly urging Africans to boycott the impending general election12.

The advent of the RF to power in the country brought about a change in the general situation. During its electioneering campaign the RF had pledged itself to release all nationalist leaders in order to give them a chance to take part in normal political activity. Early in 1963 it carried out its promise, thereby providing the opportunity for the struggle within ZAPU over power and policies to reassert itself. For some time criticism of Joshua Nkomo’s leadership had been developing in those parts of the country where Takawira and Sithole had strong followings: Manicaland, Victoria District and the Midlands. Part of the criticism was no more than a manifestation of the internal power struggle; part, however, sprang from the frustrations of people who wanted quick results from their leaders.13

In April 1963 Joshua Nkomo called a meeting of the ZAPU executive in Dar-es-Salaam.14 Almost at once the differences between the leaders came to a head. In the following month both men – together with Robert Mugabe, J. Z. Moyo, Leopold Takawira and Washington Malianga – travelled to Addis Ababa to attend the conference that was to lead to the setting up of the OAU. During the meeting both groups lobbied delegates, but it was significant that two of the most important states – Ghana and Algeria – emphasised that the nationalist struggle must be carried on within Southern Rhodesia.

The ZAPU delegates returned to Dar-es-Salaam. It was not long, however, before it became apparent that the rift was unbridgeable and Joshua Nkomo left towards the end of June. In his absence Sithole and his supporters (who now constituted a majority of the ZAPU executive in Dar-es-Salaam) passed a resolution in early July deposing Nkomo from the leadership. The timing and the location of this drastic move have often been criticised. Joshua Nkomo, now securely back on his home ground was able to marshal his forces, denounce the dissidents as rebels, call a meeting at Cold Comfort Farm and form his own new group (the PCC). By contrast Sithole was out of the country, short of funds, and apparently guilty of the very offence with which he had charged Nkomo – that of trying to run an internal movement from an external position15

It was obvious that the nationalist cause was split from top to bottom16. Because of his precarious financial position Sithole spent several weeks travelling around Africa in efforts to raise cash and gain Pan-African backing for his breakaway movement. His eventual return to Salisbury (Harare) – on 28 July 1963 – was followed by the creation of ZANU (8 August) with himself as President and Robert Mugabe as Secretary-General.17 This polarisation was followed inevitably by a bitter struggle for the support of the African masses. ln the welter of stonings, burnings and assaults the real objectives of the nationalist movement were almost lost sight of.

The year 1964 was a year of disorders, bannings and restrictions. Joshua Nkomo was arrested in April and sent to Gonakudzingwa. Both ZANU and the PCC were banned in August and the bulk of the ZANU leaders – including the Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole – were arrested within the next few weeks.

ln May 1965 he was restricted to Gokwe, from where he emerged briefly in October of the same year to meet the British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. In the following year he was transferred to Salisbury (Harare) Prison where he was held in indefinite detention. Three years later he was tried, and convicted, on a charge of plotting to assassinate the Rhodesian Prime Minister, Ian Smith, and other Cabinet Ministers. The sentence was six years imprisonment.

While in detention Ndabaningi Sithole was never inactive. According to his subsequent claims he directed ZANU’s insurgent activities from his prison cell.18 By this period the last vestiges of toleration had disappeared from his make-up and all his thoughts were turned towards the acquisition of power19 Although not a martyr by nature, he came to the conclusion that his detention was a necessary step in his evolution as a leader. “We have got to go through this period of suffering. No suffering, no independence.”20 While in Salisbury (Harare) Prison he developed his thoughts on the philosophy of the struggle and in 1968 his first work, Afican Nationalism, was republished with an additional 10 chapters. He also wrote two new works, a novel entitled The Polygamist and Obed Mutezo – the story of an African Nationalist (Christian) martyr.

During 1970 a struggle for the leadership of ZANU emerged among the detainees in Que Que Prison.21 This resulted in the ‘deposition’ of the Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole and the ‘appointment’ of Robert Mugabe in his place. With the release of Sithole in late 1974 this move was to take on special significance. Robert Mugabe had been released earlier and had already been rebuffed in his attempts to persuade the northern Presidents that Sithole was no longer the true ZANU leader. But President Nyerere was taking no chances. Unity was the objective and Nyerere was determined to get all the relevant signatures on a document that would achieve this objective; Sithole was flown to Dar-es-Salaam, where it seems likely he was confronted with a stark choice: either promise allegiance to a unified ANC or face the acceptance by African Governments of Robert Mugabe as the true ZANU leader. If such were the alternatives, Sithole did not take long to decide. On 3 December he gave his word and a week later the Lusaka Declaration was signed.22

Although, as a signatory to the Declaration and a senior member of the ANC Central Committee, Sithole was committed to a policy of negotiation, he made it clear without delay that his basic stand was unchanged. “Our philosophy still remains the same: ‘African majority rule now’ ,” he said in late February 1975. “We cannot withdraw from that position. Even the fact that since my release I have associated myself with the non-violent struggle and agreed to attempt negotiations at the conference table this has been a disappointment to many nationalists inside and outside the country. They believe it is better to win a military victory which is a sure one, than to hold out any longer for talks.”23

The Rhodesian authorities soon revealed their attitude to Sithole’s behaviour. On 4 March 1975 he was arrested and brought before a special tribunal to answer charges which included ‘plotting to assassinate certain influential African politicians . . . rivals who . . . in your opinion consitute a stumbling block to the aims of ZANU 24. It was also alleged that since his release he had`’continued to persue the military aims of ZANU and of the Zimbabwe African Liberation Army`

The tribunal, which was headed by Mr Justice MacDonald, found on 2 April that his detention was fully warrented in that his continued adherence to a course of violence designed to bring about political change made it imperative to render him inactive.

Ndabaningi Sithole’s detention did not, however, last long. Three days later, at the instigation of the South African Government, he was released and flown to Dar-es-Salaam to attend a meeting of the OAU Foreign Ministers25

Following his departure from Rhodesia Sithole became progressively more militant. He attended the Victoria Falls talks on 25 August 1975, but his attitude showed that he believed the time for talking was past. Immediatly on his return to Lusaka he precipitated a split by having himself appointed chairman of the ZLC- thereby breaking a ruling of the ANC National Executive Committee that the military and political wings of the movement should be under separate leadership.

It was at this time also that he moved into close political alliance with Bishop Muzorewa, whose powerful personal following within Rhodesia seemed to provide the broad base that Sithole needed.

During October and November it became clear that Nkomo was taking a strong initiative inside Rhodesia and that a consitutional conference was a probable outcome of the preliminary talks between him and Ian Smith. In this situation Sithole worked hard to mobilise support in Africa and elsewhere for the condemnation of Nkomo as a ‘sell-out’. During a visit to Nairobi in early October he stated that “only armed struggle will bring down the oppressive white minority regime of Ian Smith”.26 On 18 November he was reported in The Times Educational Supplement as saying that Rhodesian African students were going “in droves to the UK because they feared forced labour and conscription into the army”. Yet his efforts, whatever their impact on outside opinion, seem to have done little to enhance his standing with the ZANU activists. The Africans’ student association in England had already shown that their loyalties lay with Robert Mugabe.27 In November, Africans undergoing military training in camps in Tanzania and Mocambique made it clear that they had lost all faith in both Sithole and Muzorewa. During the same month Michael Mawema accused both men of taking power into their own hands and of excluding “everybody, even the freedom-fighter, from the ZLC”.28 Worse still, he accused them of being “microphone revolutionaries”.

Despite these strictures, however, Ndabaningi Sithole continued to propagate his view that there was no alternative to bloodshed. In his booklet In Defence of a Birthright29 he argued that detente was synonymous with reconciliation, but claimed that it was only the armed struggle which had brought about the release of the detainees and that no reconciliation was feasible between them and the Smith Government. In an interview at this time30 he showed no enthusiasm for President Kaunda’s stance on the talks then taking place in Salisbury (Harare).

Doubts about Sithole’s continuing importance in the struggle were increased by rumours in early 1976 that he had been expelled from ZANU.31 On 15 April he told a fact-finding mission from the UN Decolonialisation Committee that ‘there was a growing view among black Rhodesians that the country was no longer a British colony’ and urged the UN ‘to stop recognising Britain as the authority in Rhodesia’. He also said that he was ‘certain it would take a long time to achieve majority rule because the liberation struggle was “equally matched” by a determination of the whites to preserve their power’.32

In early May he circulated to his supporters a letter in which he said that “ZANU as we had conceived it in 1963 . . . became constantly subjected to a process of tribalisation or regionalisation …” so that it lost its national character with the result that “unprecedented kidnappings and killings within ZANU took place and culminated in the assassination of . . . Herbert Chitepo“.33” He went on to analyse the tribal composition of both the political and military wings of ZANU and concluded that the proportion of Karangas in leading positions was advancing steadily ‘at the expense of the Manyikas and Zezurus’.

When the invitations to the Geneva Conference in October 1976 were sent out by the British Government the name of the Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole was not included. He at once protested at this omission and maintained that he had the support of the ‘Front-Line’ Presidents in demanding that the decision be reversed. On 18 October it was announced that an invitation was being sent to him but this act did little to clear the air. Sithole maintained that he would attend only as leader of the ZANU delegation — a stand that provoked Robert Mugabe to say that Sithole was suffering from ‘political insanity’.34 It was reported in March 1977 that the Rev. Sithole and Bishop Muzorewa were planning to work ‘arm-in-arm’ and that the two men were in Malawi having talks with President Banda. 35

Ndabaningi Sithole married his wife, Canaan (a school teacher), at Dadaya Mission in 1946. They have six children, two boys and four girls. One of his married daughters lives in Boston, Massachusetts, and others are studying overseas.

Ndabaningi Sithole remains the great enigma of the nationalist movement. He has shown unwavering determination in the pursuit of power; he has revealed in recent years a strong penchant for violence; his capacity for intrigue and political manoeuvre make even his political colleagues nervous. Yet this same man has at times shown in his writing an attitude towards the needs of his countrymen which can only be described as reasonable and far-sighted.

He is acknowledged as an intellectual – a gifted and eloquent speaker who was perhaps the first black man in Rhodesia to give expression to the philosophy underlying the nationalist struggle. Because he wears the title of a churchman and because his appearance and demeanour exude an air of grooming and controlled dignity, he can in private discussion quickly dispel the doubts of white men who have previously dubbed him ‘Public Enemy No. 1’. Yet some of his public outbursts – particularly when he is speaking outside Rhodesia – rank among the most hair-raising in a movement that is not slow to use words as weapons. Perhaps the answer to the enigma lies in the strength of the man’s intellect. He confesses freely that politics and the pursuit of power are inseparable. Clearly he doubted the willingness of the Rhodesian Government ever to make the concessions that would satisfy his aspirations. And thus he turned to violent warfare as the only means whereby to achieve his ends. Yet he knows full well that war is unpredictable in its outcome. He knows, too, that he himself might not survive at the top in the aftermath of bloodshed. He admits, moreover, that the economy of Rhodesia needs the white man and that “Rhodesia is a unique problem, requiring a unique solution”.36 Perhaps because of this deep understanding he has failed to convince the ZANU extremists that he is a sincere, fanatical revolutionary. As recently as February 1975 he said in private discussion: “It may surprise you to learn that the young men in my party regard me as a moderate and a has-been”.37 Possibly in these words lies the key to the enigma that is Ndabaningi Sithole.

AmaNdebele kaMzilikase (Longmans, Green, 1956).
African Nationalism (Oxford University Press, 1959, 1962, 1968 (2nd Edition)).
The Polygamist (Hodder, London, 1973).
In Defence of a Birthright (published in Sweden, 1975).
Obed Mutezo (Oxford University Press, Nairobi, 1970).

1 At Waddilove he impressed one of his teachers, W. M. Tregidjo, both with his eloquence on the subject of racial discrimination and with his “arrogant determination to be subservient to no one”.
2 African Nationalism – first published by Oxford University Press in 1959.
3 This was the period when the ANC was banned and several hundred nationalists were in detention (1959).
4 Although Willie Musarurwa and others were busily engaged in laying the foundations of a successor to the banned ANCOngress.
5 Nathan Shamuyarira.
6 It is, however, interesting to note that Ndabaningi Sithole was among 72 Africans who attended the National Convention in October-November 1960. This gathering, which met in Salisbury (Harare) under the Chairmanship of Sir John Kennedy, a former Governor of Southern Rhodesia, was an attempt to hammer out a multi-racial structure for the country.
7 See entry on Joshua Nkomo.
8 These included the creation of two rolls: A Roll (50 seats) and B Roll (15 seats)
9 According to N. Shamuyarira.
10 ZAPU had been formed on 18 December 1961 – immediately following the banning of the NDP. –
11 He had appointed Ndabaningi Sithole as Director of External Affairs, with authority over all ZAPU’s external missions.
12 “Have nothing to do with the next elections. You will be committing suicide if you vote.”
13 Particularly at a time when newly-independent states were emerging all over Africa
14 See entry on Joshua Nkomo.
15 ln fairness it must be noted that there was a very strong likelihood that he would have been arrested on various allegations of subversion had he returned to Salisbury (Harare).
16 Despite all efforts by Garfield Todd, Clutton-Brock and others to effect repairs.
17 The basic aim of the new party was shown in one of its slogans: “Confrontation not Circumvention”
18 One of the charges against him in March 1975 was that he was the `Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army which has been and is responsible for terrorism in Rhodesia’ (The Rhodesia Herald, 16 March 1975).
19 In September 1975 he told D.M.M. that he was preparing a book about power, in which he concluded that everyone in politics was power-hungry, but that this was the only way to bring about reforms.
20 N. Shamuyarira: Crisis in Rhodesia, p. 227.
21 See entry on Robert Mugabe.
22 In an article which appeared in London and Johannesburg shortly afterwards he was at great pains to reassure Europeans in Rhodesia: “Because of his many skills, the white man, apart from influencing the affairs of an independent Zimbabwe generally, has many roles to play in the life of this country.” The Star, Johannesburg, 17 February 1975.
23 Interview with the authors, 27 February 1975.
24 Named as Joshua Nkomo, Bishop Muzorewa and Dr Gabellah (The Rhodesia Herald, 25 March 1975).
25 It is interesting to note that, during his trial in Salisbury (Harare) in October 1975 John Mutasa alledged that Ndabaningi Stihole had been the leader of a national terrorist recruitment ring and that in February a meeting had taken place in Mocambique at which a group of Frelimo had discussed “the whole question of terrorist recruitment with the Rev. Ndabinigi Sithole” (To the Point, 31 October 1975).
26 The Rhodesia Herald, 9 October 1975.
27 In a newsletter circulated in mid-1975. V
28 Quoted in The Zimbabwe Star, 29 November 1975.
29 Published in June 1975.
30 Interview with D.M.M. at Kilimanjaro Hotel, Dar-es-Salaam, 12 December
31 Africa Confidential, 27 August 1976.
32 The Rhodesia Herald, 16 April 1976.
33 Africa Confidential, 9 July 1976.
34 The Rhodesia Herald, 19 October 1976.
35 The National Observer, 12 March 1977. ,
36 Interview with D.M.M. in Lusaka, September 1975.
37 Interview with the authors, February 1975. I