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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol. 38, No. 6 April 10, 1975

African Liberation Leader Killed by Smith Agents

African Liberation Leader Killed by Smith Agents

Photo of a man holding a rifle

The Chairman of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) Herbert Chitepo, was assassinated in Lusaka on March 18 by agents of the Smith and Vorster regimes. Chitepo was a founding member of ZANU - the liberation group engaged in armed struggle with the Smith regime - and had held the post of chairman since ZANU's inception in 1963. Chitepo's assassination comes at a time when Smith and Virster are trying their best to disarm and split the various Zimbabwe liberation movements.

Herbert Chitepo was born in 1923. In 1954 he was the first African ever to become a barrister in Rhodesia. This was so unexpected that a special law had to be passed to allow him to practice in this previously all white domain. During the following years he directed his energies into defending African political leaders in the courts. Other Africans seeking majority rule in Rhodesia were also attempting to work within the law. Political parties were formed to give expression to African demands. However, the political parties started being banned and their leaders gaoled as soon as they looked a threat to the white regime and repression generally was stepped up.

In 1963 a growing group of Africans were beginning to see that change would not come about peacefully or by mediation but that change would only come through confrontation and eventually a armed struggle. ZANU was set up to begin an era of confrontation. ZANU was banned in 1964 and then UDI was declared in 1965. At this Chitepo left his job and his country to organise armed struggle against the Smith regime. By April 1966 the struggle was under way and it has continued to this day.

Herbert Chitepo: murdered by a landmine.

Herbert Chitepo: murdered by a landmine.

Zanu is not just a fighting organisation. It takes large 'rests' from the armed struggle to indulge in political work among the people of Zimbabwe. Because ZANU sends political campaigners in advance of its military campaigners it has meant that the Liberation Army has always been well received by Africans despite Smith propaganda and heavy penalties for associating with guerrillas.

At the beginning of August 1973 Herbert Chitepo visited Wellington to describe what was happening in his country. He described how Smith was reacting to the successes of the armed struggle:

'At the moment Ian Smith's chief concern is that practically all the African peasants and workers in these areas have come to espouse revolution. The reason is that they have seen the regime go from bad to worse, from year to year. Our people have been arrested and detained without trial, and refused even the most minor reforms. Therefore they have decided, like everybody else, to join in the confrontation, because there is no alternative. Ian Smith has tried to punish these people. Firstly he sent informers, police and military units to close the people's schools, shops, clinics and homes in an effort to make them stop working hand in hand with the units of the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army. When he found that didn't work he sent bombers to go and bombard our people in these areas. And when that didn't work he decided to institute what is called communal punishment.

'What communal punishment means is this. If the people of a village or villages are suspected of containing people who [unclear: nave] in the work of the liberation army, the men, women and children of those villages are rounded up and imprisoned in what are in fact barbed wire concentration camps, like those that existed in the days of the Mau Mau in Kenya. But even that policy has proved inadequate. So Smith has started transporting whole villages from the northeast to other parts of the country. We are not worried about that because all the people Smith transports to other areas are members of ZANU. And they will continue the struggle there. Ian Smith will get nowhere with this latest policy.'

ZANU was formed when 'Constitutional Conferences' and discussion had failed. Today Smith aided by Vorster is trying to organise another 'Constitutional Conference'. The reason for this is clear: ZANU's armed struggle has been so successful that it had become a matter of time before ZANU would have liberated Zimbabwe. Vorster has realised that Smith's days are numbered (anyway he can't keep 2000 'policemen' stationed in Rhodesia forever) and is trying to ensure that a moderate African regime is eventually installed in Rhodesia instead of a ZANU led regime.

The 'Constitutional Conference' was supposed to lead to a ceasefire but Smith offered nothing in return so ZANU has kept on fighting. Smith and Vorster then signed a document unilaterally declaring a ceasefire and proceeded to try and con the liberation forces into surrendering but this failed also.

Smith had also relied upon ZAPU and the ANC (two other liberation organisations - not really involved in armed struggle) to force ZANU into giving up armed struggle - this had failed. From there it appears Smith has attempted to obliterate ZANU by smashing its leadership. Firstly Chitepo was assassinated. Then the President of ZANU was arrested for conspiring to murder members of the other liberation groups. His proposed victims have shown how farcical these charges are by demanding Sithole's release and suspending talks with Smith until his release. The attempted murder charges are not now being used - instead Smith is charging Sithole with breaking the ceasefire that he and Vorster unilaterally declared. Lastly, members of ZANU in Lusaka have been arrested on plotting Chitepo's death.

While Smith and Vorster have dealt great blows to the organisation of ZANU the armed struggle has in fact intensified as a reaction. In addition no-one can destroy the massive support for the ZANU led struggle inside Rhodesia. On March 2 two ZANU leaders arrived in the African township of Highfield for a meeting:

'Thousands of waiting supporters lifted both leaders and carried them shoulder-high into the meeting amid wild cheers and shouts of 'Pamberi ne chimurenga' (forward with the revolution): 'Freedom or death!' Fight to the hitter end!" (Alternate News Service. 24 March 1975).

Despite the death of Herbert Chitepo and the imprisonment of other ZANU leaders the liberation struggle against Smiths white minority regime will continue until total liberation.