Robert Mugabe of the Zimbabwe African National Union along with Joshua Nkomo of the Zimbabwe African People's Union. Both organization fought for the national liberation of Zimbabwe during the 1960s and 1970s., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Genesis of Zapu’s armed struggle

Sunday, 05 May 2013 00:00
Zimbabwe Sunday Mail

On April 18 2013, Zimbabwe celebrated 33 years of Independence. In this series of articles marking 33 years of freedom and democracy, researcher Tjenesani Ntungakwa delves into the history of Zimbabwe’s colonisation and the subsequent wars of liberation.

The demands of any struggle had demonstrated clearly that a required level of militancy needed to be attained in order to achieve the desired objectives. Invariably, every revolutionary upheaval had to deal with the obvious and subtle forces of contradiction.

In the case of Zimbabwe, moving towards a full-fledged nationalist movement was not only dependent on the events that took place in other countries, Zambia included, but it was also anchored upon a home-grown metamorphosis that saw some trade unions and other formations sowing the preliminary seeds of change.

Before the formation of Southern Rhodesia African National Congress (SRANC), in the mid-1950s, there existed a motley grouping of associations that purported to advance a worthy cause in one way or another.

Such tended to gather people together but never graduated into some meaningful and nationally capable idea. They were scattered in various parts of the country and did wield some level of lukewarm power among most of the black people.

An interesting case was the Action Committee which organised a bus boycott that affected the movement of commuters from three major African townships in September 1956. The protest was engineered by the committee’s leaders, James Dambaza Chikerema and George Nyandoro.

The mass stayaway was noted mainly in Harari Township, later renamed Mbare, as well as the Highfield Village settlement, later renamed Highfield.

The Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia, Garfield Todd, requested a meeting of the residents’ leaders to be convened by the Chief Native Commissioner, one E. S. Morris, to address the matter.

From then, it would appear that Chikerema and Nyandoro became inseparable friends until they both got involved in SRANC, National Democratic Party (NDP) and Zapu.

Nyandoro was actually chairman of the Highfield Residents’ Association. A different climate prevailed in Bulawayo where the Bantu Co-operative society chaired by Josua Nkomo had its annual general meeting in September 1956.

It was during the event that Nkomo gave an update of the society’s balance sheet and trading results for the period up to March 1956. The Bulawayo Residents’ Association (BURA), one of whose leaders in the early ’60s was Naison Khutshwekhaya Ndlovu, also became a lobby altar.

In the other parts of the country there emerged some outfits like the Landless People’s Movement. It had come up as a result of the complicated land-related upheavals that featured in the livelihood of those who lived in the affected areas.

Misheck Ntunduzakoseula Velaphi seemed to have embraced the ideas of the Landless People’s Movement.

Velaphi was among the Zapu cadres who brought some weapons from the Congo in preparation for the early guerilla incursions, likely to have been in September 1962.

At that time, Zapu did not have weaponry of Soviet origin such as AKs, Siminovs, Makarovs, Tokarevs, PK machine guns, LMGs, RPGs and the PPSH, colloquially referred to by ex-guerillas as “Upepetsha”.

The bulk of what Velaphi and his comrades brought in turned out to be largely French light armaments like Luger pistols and other models.

The various organisations that were dotted around the major centres in Rhodesia never really coalesced into “national muscle”. They remained as disparate pressure groups that could not go beyond a limited vision.

However, the important point to note is that there was also the militant push from trade unionism. Labour unionists and nationalists seemed to have been the two sides of one coin.

One could operate effectively based on the assured existence of the other. The list of union workhorses included such names as Aaron Ndlovu, Aaron Mloiswa Ndabambi, Paul Malianga, Gondo, John Mzimela, Joseph Msika, Jason Moyo, Francis Nehwati, Masotsha Ndlovu and some who came up later.

Ndabambi was active at the helm of the Railway African Workers’ Union (Rawu) from about 1951. It was registered in the three states of the Federation. In Northern Rhodesia (Rawu) was under the leadership of Dickson Nkokola.

Nkokola and Aron Ndabambi became great confidantes and finally agreed to form the Amalgamated Railway Workers’ Union. At that time, the railways had whites in almost all its management as well as clerical structures. Roy Welensky, the Federal Prime Minister, had been a train driver.

The job was generally preserved for European staff. It was that part of his personal history which made most of the pioneering Zimbabwean nationalists to frown upon him as an uneducated and narrow-minded agent of British imperialism. Nkomo must have joined the railways as a social worker in the late 1940s and became passionately acquainted with Ndabambi.

In an interview, the late Amos “Jack” Ngwenya explained that despite the daily eventualities that took place in the 1950s, there were already some people who had begun to deliberate upon the formation of a largely African nationalist party.

“It was an idea that was beginning to win a number of followers,” he narrated. Considering the likelihood of arrests and harassment, there was clear risk in taking that sort of route. On an altruistic note, there were some parties that seemed to have admitted Africans in their membership ranks.

The Capricorn Society and the Central African Party turned up as living examples of piecemeal multi-racial options in Rhodesia.

Leopold Takawira, who became the NDP’s and later Zapu’s external affairs secretary, had at one time been associated with the Capricorn Society. Given the background of government’s unpredictable reaction, it became necessary to search around for a “willing leader”.

Thus the loose coalition of those who believed in a nationally vibrant movement identified a list of potential personalities whom they would approach in due course. The listed ones were Nkomo, Stanlake Samkange, Enoch Dumbutshena and a man who owned some shops in Highfield, Salisbury.

Ngwenya argued that all three, except Nkomo, turned down the request to lead. Dumbutshena might not have liked what he probably considered to be the riff-raff following that such a move would attract.

The well-educated blacks were slowly finding their way into Rhodesia’s middle class and Dumbutshena might not have wanted to endanger his material chances. Having settled upon Nkomo as a torch bearer, a gathering at Cyril Jennings Hall in the mid-1950s pronounced the Southern Rhodesian African National Congress (Sranc).

Sranc became the first political organisation in Rhodesia whose membership was wholly African. Though it did not have any clear-cut restrictions on whites as had happened with the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa, it did have some notable faces from the Coloured and Asian communities.

Sranc struck the balance between a learning curve and crude nationalism. It started to build up on members. Some of its officials had to apply their experience in the trade unions whereby subscription fees were solicited from those who joined.

Towards 1959, the governing body of Southern Rhodesia called for a major clampdown on Sranc. In retrospect the operations of Sranc were never supported by any legislation. In other words, Sranc was an illegal initiative that had to be stopped.

Mass arrests followed in the Federation, netting some of the organisers of Sranc like Jane Ngwenya. Several characters in Sranc were rounded up until Nkomo saw no way out of the quagmire. He left the country for what the media referred to as “self-imposed exile” in England.

By the end of 1959, Rhodesia was as dead quiet as a disused cemetery. Sranc was almost rendered defunct. It was during that crisis that another cohort of black Rhodesians was quietly organising the beginnings of the NDP which was openly declared in January 1960.

The founding figures of the NDP were Michael Mawema, Nazario Marondera, Zebedia Mapfumo, Willie Musarurwa, Ariston Chambati and Sketchley Samkange. Moton Malianga and George Silundika also came into the picture.

Enos Nkala became the NDP’s secretary-general before the party’s first congress in October 1960. From the beginning of 1960, the NDP was the talk of the town.

The previous experiences during the wholesale detentions of 1959 had made the NDP’s support base realise that their predicament was centred on racist oppression. They began to acclimatise to the fact that self-determination would come at a cost.