Re­trac­ing a hero’s life and death

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - Isaya Muriwo Sit­hole

THISis the sec­ond con­tri­bu­tion in a three-part se­ries on the life and death of Dr Ed­son Sit­hole.

The first ar­ti­cle was pub­lished by The Sun­day Mail on Oc­to­ber 14, 2018. This week we lo­cate the life and cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the death of the na­tional hero within the broader con­text of the na­tional and re­gional pol­i­tics of the time and the dy­nam­ics that were at play im­me­di­ately prior to, and at the time that Dr Sit­hole (pic­tured) met his fate.

When the African Na­tional Coun­cil was formed on De­cem­ber 16, 1971, Dr Sit­hole was ap­pointed the party`s pub­lic­ity sec­re­tary.

At the time that the An­glo-Rhode­sian Set­tle­ment pro­pos­als were an­nounced, there was no vi­able African po­lit­i­cal party within the coun­try.

This state of af­fairs had ob­tained since the ban on Zanu and the PCC (Zapu) and the sub­se­quent in­car­cer­a­tion of most na­tion­al­ist lead­ers in 1964. As such, while ex­iled lib­er­a­tion or­gan­i­sa­tions (Zanu, Zapu and Frolizi) were en­gaged in guer­rilla ef­forts along Rhode­sia`s north­ern bor­ders, a na­tion­al­ist vac­uum ex­isted in­side the coun­try.

The Pearce Com­mis­sion, which was test­ing the ac­cept­abil­ity of the pro­pos­als, would have con­ducted its in­quiry in the midst of this vac­uum had the African Na­tional Coun­cil not have been formed at the op­por­tune mo­ment.

So con­fi­dent of a “yes” vote was the Rhode­sian govern­ment that it even re­leased sev­eral Zanu and Zapu na­tion­al­ists from prison in the lat­ter part of 1971, in­clud­ing Dr Sit­hole.

The be­lief had been that seven years of im­pris­on­ment and de­ten­tion had soft­ened their at­ti­tudes.

This mis­take was later re­peated at the end of 1974 to pave way for dé­tente as we shall see.

As things hap­pened, it is th­ese Zanu and Zapu lead­ers from prison and de­ten­tion who im­me­di­ately re­acted to the Pearce Com­mis­sion ex­er­cise by form­ing the African Na­tional Coun­cil to mo­bilise African opin­ion against the An­glo-Rhode­sian con­sti­tu­tional pro­pos­als.

Among those who be­gan pre­lim­i­nary dis­cus­sions on the for­ma­tion of the ANC were, from Zanu, men like Michael Mawema, Ed­son Sit­hole and Ed­di­son Zvobgo and, from Zapu, were men like Josiah Chi­na­mano, Cephas Msipa and Arthur Chadz­ingwa.

They then de­cided to set up a bal­anced (Zanu-Zapu) na­tional ex­ec­u­tive based on the prin­ci­ple of par­ity.

It was agreed that the leader of the pro­posed coun­cil should be a non-con­tro­ver­sial per­son­al­ity, prefer­ably some­one who was nei­ther Zanu nor Zapu, but some­one of na­tional stature, in­flu­ence and re­spectabil­ity.

Names were thrown about and dis­cussed, but a con­sen­sus was reached on Bishop Abel Ten­dekai Mu­zorewa, who was ap­proached and agreed to lead the cam­paign against the An­glo-Rhode­sian Set­tle­ment Pro­pos­als dur­ing the Pearce Com­mis­sion from Jan­uary to March 1972.

And “No!” was the ver­dict passed on the An­glo-Rhode­sian Set­tle­ment Pro­pos­als.

On June 20, 1974, Dr Sit­hole was ar­rested and de­tained at Ga­tooma (Kadoma) prison for al­legedly tor­pe­do­ing an agree­ment said to have been reached be­tween the African Na­tional Coun­cil and the Rhode­sian govern­ment.

On Septem­ber 14,1973, the ANC and the rul­ing Rhode­sia Front (RF) jointly an­nounced that they had agreed on a set of prin­ci­ples which could lead to a so­lu­tion of Rhode­sia`s prob­lems.

Th­ese prin­ci­ples were based essen­tially on the prin­ci­ple of “par­ity”.

Dr Ed­son Sit­hole, who was the ANC pub­lic­ity sec­re­tary, an­nounced: “We are will­ing to have an in­terim sort of ar­range­ment, one where the Euro­peans will not dom­i­nate the Africans or the Africans the Euro­peans - in other words, some form of par­ity. But we won’t ac­cept less than par­ity.”

Se­cret ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Bishop Mu­zorewa and Smith con­tin­ued dur­ing late 1973 on into 1974, and then, it was an­nounced that Ian Smith`s govern­ment had of­fered Mu­zorewa a deal that in­cluded six more African seats added to the ex­ist­ing 16 seats in Par­lia­ment, mak­ing a to­tal of 22.

The of­fer promised a pro­gres­sive six-seat in­crease af­ter ev­ery spec­i­fied pe­riod of time.

When Bishop Mu­zorewa brought the “pack­age of­fer” to an ANC ex­ec­u­tive meet­ing in High­field, it was sum­mar­ily re­jected.

A few days there­after, Dr Ed­son Sit­hole, the ANC pub­lic­ity sec­re­tary who an­nounced the re­jec­tion, was ar­rested and de­tained by the Smith regime.

Bishop Mu­zorewa and other ANC of­fi­cials de­cried this and other ac­tions of the Smith regime, but to no avail.

The Smith regime be­lieved, and per­haps cor­rectly so, that it was Dr Sit­hole`s mil­i­tancy that was hold­ing Mu­zorewa back in the ne­go­ti­a­tions, as Sit­hole also dou­bled up as Mu­zorewa`s le­gal and con­sti­tu­tional ad­vi­sor in the early phases of the ne­go­ti­a­tions.

By the mid­dle of 1974, it had be­come clear that na­tion­al­ist guer­rilla pres­sure against the Smith regime could nei­ther be con­tained nor wished away in­def­i­nitely.

Fur­ther, the sud­den col­lapse of the Por­tuguese em­pire in Africa came as a night­mare to the Smith and John Vorster regimes, for the Mozam­bique bor­der with Rhode­sia and An­gola`s bor­der with Namibia were now open to na­tion­al­ist guer­ril­las.

The bal­ance of power was chang­ing at a very fast pace. Smith and Vorster re­alised that un­der th­ese changed po­lit­i­cal par­a­digms, it would en­hance their for­tune if they de­vised a for­mula that would yield a cease­fire.

So it was that Vorster set in mo­tion a pol­icy of dé­tente, aimed at good neigh­bourli­ness with some in­de­pen­dent African states to the North. The in­ten­tion was to ar­rest the rev­o­lu­tion, at best to si­lence guer­rilla guns in Zim­babwe with­out Smith`s yield­ing much to African de­mands.

A ma­jor ob­jec­tive would be to fore­stall the pos­si­ble use of Zim­babwe as a rear base for lib­er­a­tion move­ments in South Africa.

Dé­tente is a French word which means “re­lax­ation of strained re­la­tions”.

In the South­ern African con­text it meant the re­lax­ation of strained re­la­tions be­tween white mi­nor­ity regimes in Rhode­sia and South Africa and their African neigh­bours which came to be known as the “front­line states”, be­cause they were the ones clos­est to the spot of con­flict.

Th­ese were coun­tries which, be­cause of geo­graph­i­cal prox­im­ity and for psy­cho­log­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal rea­sons, were in­volved in ef­forts — diplo­matic and/or mil­i­tary — to achieve ma­jor­ity rule in Zim­babwe, Namibia and South Africa.

Ken­neth Kaunda, then Pres­i­dent of Zam­bia, re­sponded pos­i­tively to Vorster`s feel­ers on dé­tente.

On Oc­to­ber 26, 1974, in a veiled in­vi­ta­tion to Vorster, Kaunda of­fered his “good of­fices to any­one who wished to use them to pur­sue peace­ful change in South­ern Africa”.

This was a very dan­ger­ous time for many na­tion­al­ists be­cause a lot of hypocrisy and dou­ble-deal­ing char­ac­terised the whole dé­tente pol­icy.

It was a time when Zim­babwe’s lib­er­a­tion move­ments were di­vided and there was in­ter-party and in­tra-party ri­valry which the en­emy ex­ploited along tribal, re­gional and even ide­o­log­i­cal and per­sonal lines. Ef­forts at unity were also un­der­way. Ken Flower, di­rec­tor of the Rhode­sian spy or­gan­i­sa­tion, in his book “Serv­ing Se­cretly”, notes that Kaunda was not sin­cere to the pol­icy of dé­tente just as he was to his phi­los­o­phy of hu­man­ism. The strug­gle had reached its height and it was clear to both the na­tion­al­ists and the Rhode­sian Front that ma­jor­ity rule was im­mi­nent. It was a time when the Rhode­sian Front was be­com­ing pro­gres­sively bru­tal, us­ing mur­der­ous tac­tics against po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents, es­pe­cially those na­tion­al­ist lead­ers per­ceived as mil­i­tant, ob­struc­tive, rad­i­cal and/ or “trou­ble­some” and, there­fore, an ob­sta­cle to the pol­icy of dé­tente.

There was also a temp­ta­tion on the part of the na­tion­al­ists to seal se­cret and clan­des­tine po­lit­i­cal deals among them­selves and with the en­emy, thus en­dan­ger­ing the lives of and some­times phys­i­cally elim­i­nat­ing those who dis­agreed.

The dé­tente pol­icy crys­tallised the sit­u­a­tion and made it more com­plex.

This was the time when the code “Sin­jonjo tamba wakachen­jera” be­came pop­u­lar in Zanu. It was a pe­riod so fraught with dan­gers and con­tra­dic­tions.

Amidst the con­fu­sion and con­tra­dic­tions of dé­tente, Dr Sit­hole was taken from prison on De­cem­ber 3, 1974 to at­tend the dis­cus­sions which led to the sign­ing of the Lusaka Dec­la­ra­tion of Unity on De­cem­ber 7, 1974, un­der which the African Na­tional Coun­cil was made an um­brella or­gan­i­sa­tion to the Zim­babwe lib­er­a­tion move­ments led by James Chik­erema, Joshua Nkomo and Nd­a­baningi Sit­hole.

Dr Sit­hole’s acer­bic state­ments, es­pe­cially when he be­came the pub­lic­ity sec­re­tary of the African Na­tional Congress — then the um­brella body group­ing most of the black po­lit­i­cal par­ties — did not en­dear him to the Smith govern­ment.

He was con­stantly ha­rassed and ques­tioned by po­lice and even on the day he dis­ap­peared, po­lice had ear­lier vis­ited him.

In 1975, the Rhode­sian Front was mov­ing swiftly against those na­tion­al­ists per­ceived to be mil­i­tant in the Zim­bab­wean lib­er­a­tion move­ments at a time when there was sup­posed to be dé­tente and that was what made the sit­u­a­tion dan­ger­ous from a per­sonal se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion.

For the guer­ril­las, 1975 was also to be a try­ing time. Many se­nior com­man­ders had been lost in the war and in the Nhari re­bel­lion and com­man­ders with less ex­pe­ri­ence had been rapidly pro­moted to fill gaps in the com­mand struc­ture.

The OAU had with­drawn recog­ni­tion of Zanu and Zapu on Jan­uary 8 at a meet­ing of the Lib­er­a­tion Com­mit­tee in Dar es Salaam, and had spec­i­fied that funds and sup­port would go only to the ANC.

The tran­sit of arms and am­mu­ni­tion through Zam­bia was re­duced to a smug­gled trickle as re­la­tions with Kaunda`s govern­ment, com­mit­ted to dé­tente, de­te­ri­o­rated.

The tran­si­tional govern­ment in Mozam­bique, pre­oc­cu­pied with its own in­de­pen­dence set for June, was about to be­come a mem­ber of the front­line states group­ing and the OAU, both of which backed the ANC and the “cease­fire”, and cadres who with­drew in Mozam­bique were dis­armed.

The Rhode­sians were able to add to the con­fu­sion early in the year by cir­cu­lat­ing “cease­fire” leaflets telling guer­ril­las to hide their weapons and sur­ren­der to the near­est sol­dier, po­lice­man and dis­trict com­mis­sioner, or leave the coun­try.

If caught with weapons, the leaflets said, they would be treated as en­e­mies.

When the ANC in Sal­is­bury ac­quired some of the leaflets, Dr Sit­hole, who was the pub­lic­ity sec­re­tary and a mem­ber of Zanu, ac­cused the Rhode­sians of “fla­grant vi­o­la­tions” of the agree­ment.

He said in a state­ment, “A cease­fire means no more than stop­ping to shoot and to ad­vance be­yond the lines where the re­spec­tive forces are found; it does not at all mean sur­ren­der”.

Dr Sit­hole re­it­er­ated the na­tion­al­ist po­si­tion that a for­mal cease­fire would not be an­nounced un­til af­ter the date has been set for a con­sti­tu­tional con­fer­ence and “mean­ing­ful dis­cus­sions” had be­gun.

Just be­fore 8am on March 18, 1975, an ex­plo­sion ripped through Chitepo`s car as he re­versed in his drive­way at 150 Mu­ramba Road, Chilenje South, killing Chitepo, his body­guard Si­las Shamiso and a child who was in a neigh­bour’s gar­den.

In Sal­is­bury, Rhode­sian au­thor­i­ties hastily de­nied responsibility for the mur­der.

Robert Mu­gabe, the most se­nior Zanu of­fi­cial at lib­erty af­ter the re-ar­rest of Rev­erend Sit­hole two weeks ear­lier, blamed the “evil work” on the Rhode­sian regime oper­at­ing through the “will­ing hands of its Zam­bian agents”.

Dr Sit­hole, the ANC pub­lic­ity sec­re­tary and a Zanu mem­ber, told re­porters that only the Smith govern­ment would have any­thing to gain from the as­sas­si­na­tion, which he said had “shat­tered ir­repara­bly any hopes of a ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ment”.

Dr Sit­hole fur­ther said that he ex­pected Rhode­sian au­thor­i­ties to move against him and Mu­gabe at any time.

Within two weeks, how­ever, a Cen­tral Com­mit­tee meet­ing was held at Mushandi­ra­pamwe Ho­tel and re­solved that Mu­gabe and Tekere must go to Mozam­bique to en­sure the con­tin­u­a­tion of the war.

Dr Sit­hole also at­tended this cru­cial meet­ing in High­field and with the de­par­ture of Mu­gabe to Mozam­bique, Dr Sit­hole was left in the spot­light of Rhode­sian au­thor­i­ties.

In July 1975, Dr Sit­hole ac­cused the Smith govern­ment of poi­son­ing him at New Sarum af­ter he fell ill while on a flight to Lusaka. He said a white po­lice of­fi­cer had given him tea at the air­base as he and oth­ers waited for a plane.

The Rhode­sia govern­ment coun­tered by say­ing that Sit­hole had eaten a tin of baked beans and that had up­set his stom­ach.

To be con­tin­ued Isaya Muriwo Sit­hole is a le­gal prac­ti­tioner prac­tis­ing in Harare and is a co-founder and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Dr Ed­son FC Sit­hole Foun­da­tion. Feed­back: isayam­sit­hole@gmail.com

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