Herbert Chitepo

From Academic Kids

Herbert Witshire Chitepo (15th June, 192318th March, 1975) was a prominent Barrister in Southern Africa who was leader of ZANU's war to liberate Rhodesia from the white-minority government, led by Ian Smith. He was assassinated on 18th March, 1975.


Early years

He was born on the 15th June 1923, in a village in Inyanga District of Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. His family came from the Manyika clan of the Shona. 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 while 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. On returning to Rhodesia in 1954, he practised as a Lawyer and defended many African nationalists 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. Ndabaningi Sithole and Joshua Nkomo factions of ZAPU split 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 moderates, Chitepo sided with Rev. Sithole and became Chairman of ZANU from its foundation. He held this post until 7th December, 1974, when the Lusaka Accord was signed.

Both parties vied for domination but in 1964 both were banned and the leaders were all arrested. Both parties chose their only alternative - to leave the country and reorganize and form armies from outside Zimbabwean borders. Their means of doing so ended up being quite different. ZAPU based itself in the West and in Zambia where it organized ZIPRA (the Zimbabwean Peoples Revolutionary army.) They followed the Soviet Union and its allies' model of having a vangaurd of highly trained soldiers. ZANU, however, moved into Tanzania and its army - ZANLA (Zimbabwean African Liberation Army) concentrated more on mobilizing the masses in the countryside as done 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.

Rev. 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, Chitepo organised and planned 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.


At 8:05am on 18th March, 1975 Chitepo was assassinated in Lusaka, Zambia while reversing out of his house. A car bomb had been placed in his Volkswagen Beetle the night before, and he and his bodyguard Silas Shamiso were killed instantly. The blast uprooted a tree next door, and a neighbour's child died of his injuries a few hours later. ZANU at the time blamed Rhodesian security forces.

Kenneth Kaunda, greatly saddened by his death, commissioned an inquiry into his 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 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 as having been responsible for the killing.

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," [1] (
"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."

Chitepo is survived by his wife, Mrs Victoria Chitepo and six children — four daughters and two sons.

See also


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