Herbert Wiltshire Chitepo (15 June, 1923 – 18 March, 1975) led the Zimbabwe African National Union until the Central Intelligence Organization of Rhodesia assassinated him in March 1975.
Chitepo became the first black citizen of Rhodesia to become a barrister.
Chitepo was born in Watsomba village in the Inyanga District of Southern Rhodesia
, now Zimbabwe
. His family came from the Manyika clan (Samanyika) of the Shona
tribe. He was educated at St David's Mission School, Bonda, St Augustine's School, Penhalonga and then at Adam's College, Natal
, South Africa
, where he qualified as a teacher in 1945.
After teaching for a year, he resumed his studies to graduate with a BA degree from Fort Hare University
College in 1949. He qualified as a Barrister-at-Law, and called to the bar by Gray's Inn
, alumni included Winston Churchill
. Further still whilst in London as a research assistant at the School of Oriental and African Studies
. He was the first African in Southern Rhodesia to qualify as a Barrister. In 1954 Chitepo became Rhodesia's first black lawyer (a special law was required to allow him to occupy chambers with white colleagues). On returning to Rhodesia in 1954, he practised as a Lawyer and defended many African nationalists such as Ndabaningi Sithole
in court. In 1961, he served as legal adviser to Joshua Nkomo
, founder of the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union
(ZAPU), at the Southern Rhodesia Constitutional Conference in London. Ian Smith
's government did not detain him as he did not come out in the open as an official of the nationalist movement and the regime also feared that being the first lawyer, Chitepo was too internationally well-known to be locked up.
In May 1962 ZAPU
was banned because of militarism
and Chitepo was persuaded to go into voluntary exile to escape possible detention. He became Tanganyika
's first African Director of Public Prosecutions. The Ndabaningi Sithole
and Joshua Nkomo
factions of ZAPU split apart in July, 1963, along tribal lines. Nkomo's supporters founded the PCC-ZAPU (later just called ZAPU again) and favoured a more militaristic approach. As the more moderate faction, Chitepo sided with Sithole and was elected Chairman of ZANU (having defeated Nathan Shamuyarira ) from its foundation. He held this post until 7 December
, when the Lusaka Accord
Both parties vied for domination but in 1964 both were banned and the leaders were all arrested. Both parties chose to leave the country and reorganize and form armies from outside Rhodesian borders, although they chose different countries to make their base. ZAPU based itself in the West and Zambia where it organized ZIPRA (the Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army.) They allied with the Soviet Union and organised a vanguard of highly trained soldiers. ZANU, however, moved into Tanzania and set up ZANLA (Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army) which concentrated more on mobilizing the masses in the countryside in a method pioneered by the Chinese.
In January 1966 Chitepo resigned as Director of Public Prosecutions and moved to Zambia in order to concentrate on the armed struggle. He toured world capitals canvassing support for ZANU and for the enforcement of total economic sanctions against Rhodesia. With his friendly disposition, he was very effective and earned for ZANU international recognition and respect.
Sithole and others prepared a comprehensive document giving powers to Chitepo to lead ZANU while Rev. Sithole was in detention and specifically authorising him to carry out the armed struggle. Accordingly, Herbert Chitepo with the military supremo Josiah Tongogara from the Karanga ethnic community,organised and planned successful military guerilla attacks and underground activities in Rhodesia from 1966 onwards. In 1972, he co-ordinated war operations with FRELIMO and opened up the North Eastern region of Zimbabwe as a new and more effective war front.
Chitepo died at 8:05am on March 18
when a car bomb, placed in his Volkswagen Beetle the night before, exploded. He and Silas Shamiso, one of his bodyguards, were killed instantly. Sadat Kufamadzuba, his other bodyguard, was injured. The explosion sent part of the car onto the roof of his house and uprooted a tree next door. Hours later one of his neighbors died of injuries he sustained in the explosion. ZANU
at the time blamed Rhodesian security forces.
Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda commissioned an inquiry into Chitepo's death. Documents released in October, 2001, placed the blame on ZANU infighting. The report of the Special International Commission on the Assassination of Herbert Wiltshire Chitepo, commissioned by the Zambian government in 1976, lists as having been responsible for the killing: former Zanla commander Josiah Tongogara; current Zimbabwe home affairs deputy minister Rugare Gumbo, who was then the secretary for information and publicity; Henry Hamadziripi, who was then secretary for finance; as well as the then secretary for public and social welfare, Kumbirai Kangai; and secretary for administration Mukudzei Mudzi.
Veteran nationalist James Chikerema, who with Chitepo was one of the founding members of ZAPU liberation movement before ZANU split away, said:
- "I knew Chitepo for years. He was murdered by [Josiah] Tongogara and the Karanga mafia,"http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/ar/ar_ze_016_2_eng.txt]
- "I saw Tongogara soon after Chitepo had been killed. We were at State House [in Lusaka] on that morning of March 18. I said to him, 'You are a murderer. You will never get away with this.' Then I reached for my gun but the Zambian police got hold of me and stopped me. There would have been a shoot out there and then."
However, in his biographical account, The Legend of The Selous Scouts, Lt Col Ron Reid-Daly, Officer Commanding, Selous Scouts Regiment, Rhodesian Security Forces, clearly states that the Rhodesian Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) under the leadership of Director General Ken Flower, masterminded the assassination of Herbert Chitepo, subsequently planting documentary evidence blaming ZANU members.