The Sunday Mail
We continue chronicling the political life of Cde Jane Ngwenya. This week Cde Ngwenya tells The Sunday Mail’s Deputy News Editor Levi Mukarati about the “Zhii era” and how Zanu was formed.
Q: What do you mean when you say the police were always on your trail?
A: My first arrest was a result of the incidences that marked the beginning of the period commonly known as Zhii.
Our meeting at Stanley Hall had whipped up emotion and excitement after the addresses from the likes of Chikerema and John Stonehouse.
I saw it all, I was there and this is not something that I was told about.
It did not end well after violence erupted. I think the violence was a result of people who had been building anger against the colonial regime. I also think that we were a spark that was needed to ignite a ready fuel.
That was in 1959 (previously stated as 1960) when I was first arrested and detained at Grey Street Prison in Bulawayo, cell number two to be exact.
When my husband came back from his trip, he found out that I had been arrested and that saw him developing second thoughts about my political activities. He no longer wanted me to continue the activities, especially being in the forefront.
There were many of us who were arrested as a result of the violent aftermath of our meeting. We had the likes of Chikerema, Herbert Chitepo, Henry Hamadziripi, Daniel Madzimbamuto, Edgar Tekere and Jason Ziyapapa Moyo.
The spirit of togetherness was intense and as we were detained we were saying we would die for the right cause.
We had had enough of living like lesser human beings compared to the whites. In fact, we wanted the whites out of our country and to leave us to run our own affairs. Why were the whites of the opinion that we cannot rule ourselves and run our own country?
Because the Zhii protests had resulted after the meeting, and at that time there were so many meetings going on with some being held in Harare, the white colonial government then introduced the Law and Order Maintenance Act of 1960.
It was a law with the same objective as what the Public Order and Security Act, after 2000, sought to do.
With Posa, I asked myself, are we going again to that era when Loma jailed us for simple gatherings and seeking justice? But who knows, maybe there was a reason for Posa.
As for myself, I failed to understand the logic behind Posa. I am told it has been fine-tuned to make it humane, but why have it in the first place?
I also need to be corrected: but has anyone been sentenced to jail under Posa? If yes, then the people are not many to write home about.
Back to our arrest. No one was sent to the courts because the white colonial settlers failed to find a case against us.
We were spared jail time because there was not sufficient evidence against us. We had not been caught destroying properties and our meeting had been sanctioned.
But during that era, there was this tendency of just detaining a person and that is what we were subjected to.
I was in that prison with my son who was still a young boy.
My husband was extremely unhappy with what I had got myself into. It was the start of problems in my marriage.
I was the only woman from Bulawayo who had been arrested and there was also Evelyn Mushonga who had come for the meeting from Harare.
I was detained for three weeks and was released after concerns had been raised by the British Women Social Welfare over the continued stay of the little boy in detention, but Evelyn’s detention was longer.
Back home, my husband no longer wanted me to participate in politics, he was afraid of being arrested.
The police then began frequenting my in-laws homestead asking questions about me.
We all know how conservative our African customs are and to have a daughter-in-law who is “troublesome” is unacceptable. It is a serious issue that can send one packing.
My marriage became a home for arguments as I insisted to my husband that I was in a genuine fight against the whites.
I did not stop my political activities, in fact I went for more meetings. I was determined to fight against what I believed was wrong.
This time I was also getting the platform to address the gatherings.
I should mention that I was one of the founding executive members of the National Democratic Party.
Q: Sorry to cut you short, but what came first, the Zhii or NDP, and can you give a narrative of the formation of the NDP?
A: The NDP was formed on January 1, 1960 with Michael Mawema as interim president and Joshua Nkomo was to be president in October 1960. The party was then to be banned in December 1961.
Back to your question. It was Zhii first in 1959 in February and that led to the banning of the African National Congress that same month by prime minister of Southern Rhodesia Sir Edgar Whitehead.
If I go back a bit, I said we travelled the length and breadth of this country consulting people. These are the consultations that led to us coming up with the people to lead us in NDP.
That is where my concern is today, that we no longer have rallies to tell the people what we are for and what direction we want to take as well as consult on who to lead us.
For us, we consulted before the NDP was formed. We chose Joshua Nkomo as leader, but he was not around at the actual formation of the NDP.
Nkomo was in Ghana attending a preliminary All-Africa Peoples Conference which brought about the OAU (Organisation of Africa Unity) which is AU (African Union) today.
The vice-president of NDP was Morton Malianga, Ndabaningi Sithole being yreasurer and Robert Mugabe publicity secretary.
In October, that is when Joshua Nkomo took the presidency of NDP, all other parties were dissolved to form one big party.
When NDP was formed we had people like Chikerema, Nyandoro and Msika detained in jail. For people like Mugabe, he had just returned from Ghana and was invited to join us.
Mugabe was seen as having been exposed to the politics in Ghana and we wanted him to share with us his experience. So we elected them into leadership since most of our leaders we had back here at home were in prison. Besides, Mugabe was eloquent and exhibited a deep grasp of African politics.
Ndabaningi Sithole was also incorporated because he was a church minister and was preaching against oppression and had a huge following.
Sithole preached unity and emphasised that we would only achieve our goals if we worked together.
So that was why we invited them to the NDP Congress. As young as we were, they gave us respect.
But at the time of the formation of the NDP, I had been a regular visitor of the police cells. That same year, 1960, my marriage collapsed. My husband said he could no longer tolerate my stubbornness and he feared for his job.
I cannot say I was arrested from this period to that period because my arrests were continuous to an extent that at every meeting I would get arrested because I would have insulted the whites.
I remember at one time in 1961, I was at a meeting here in Bulawayo and was one of the key speakers.I told people that it was time to free ourselves and fight the whites. I told the gathering that our cattle were being taken, homes destroyed and our people were forced to live in places not suitable for human habitation.
As a result of the statements, I was arrested but did not stay long in detention.
All the times I was arrested I was never sentenced to more than a year. The longest sentence I got was nine months. At most, I was given three-month sentences which would have a month suspended or so. These prison terms were between 1961 and 1964.
I used to move around with Enos Kala and our colleagues would jokingly refer to us as rubble rousers.
But there is also need to mention that not all whites were bad.
We had white lawyers like Anthony Gubbay representing us. He was to become Chief Justice in Independent Zimbabwe before handing over to Godfrey Chidyausiku.
There were others like Guy Clutton-Brock, a nationalist and co-founder of the Cold Comfort Farm where a lot of underground political activities took place.
Q: We understand you were close to the events or politics that led to the notion of forming a government in exile. What transpired?
A: The NDP was banned on 7 December 1961 and Zapu was formed on the 17th that same month.
Zapu was formed at Herbert Chitepo’s house in Highfield and the leadership virtually remained the same
In 1962 we went to Tanzania as Zapu leadership. Leaders like Sithole and Mugabe had agreed that we go and form a government in exile. We were all in the leadership though I was the only woman. Chitepo was already in Tanzania as director of prosecutions in Julius Nyerere’s government.
We had talks about forming a government while in exile and even Kenneth Kaunda supported us.
Kaunda told us that it was better that we go out of the country and fight from afar and it was an idea that was approved by the leadership.
We sat down with Julius Nyerere, all of us including Sithole and Mugabe, and he told us that his country had gained independence, but it was one of the poorest as it had been looted by the Germans who had colonised it.
He told us that it was impossible for us to build a new government in a country that was not even developed. Nyerere told us to be organised and he would help us fight.
He said other African nationalists and leaders were to organise themselves as members of the OAU and support us in fighting.
We could not stay in Tanzania for long as Nyerere insisted he could not look after us. He also wanted to help his people start development.
Already, in Cuba, Egypt and Moscow there were our people who were being trained in military skills, so we only needed a place to be stationed as a government in exile.
Nyerere was against the idea of a government in exile.
He said if we had created a government in exile, it would mean that we were being defeated on our home soil.
After Julius Nyerere’s refusal to back our idea, we returned home.
But amongst ourselves we had some people developing other ideas centered on leadership. The likes of Mugabe and Sithole started having private meetings and were no longer reporting to Cde Nkomo.
But I should mention that the private meetings had begun just after the banning of NDP.
We had gone to Tanzania with the aim of forming a government in exile, but little did we know Sithole, Mugabe, Tekere and Zvobgo were having their private meetings and they had agreed to form their own party.
This was because they were finding it difficult to persuade Nkomo to take another route and wage an armed struggle because Nkomo did not want any bloodshed.
They were of the view that his refusal for blood shed was delaying the struggle.
We had held many meetings where those that later formed Zanu felt Nkomo was soft on the whites when our people were being imprisoned.
Zanu was formed in protest to the negotiations that were being pursued by Nkomo, instead of a direct armed confrontation against the white regime.
To be continued next week