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I an ex member of both 7 and 8 Squadron's of the Rhodesian war spending most of my operational time on Seven Squadron as a K Car gunner. I was credited for shooting down a fixed wing aircraft from a K Car on the 9 August 1979. This blog is from articles for research on a book which I HAVE HANDED THIS MANUSCRIPT OVER TO MIMI CAWOOD WHO WILL BE HANDLING THE PUBLICATION OF THE BOOK OF WHICH THERE WILL BE VERY LIMITED COPIES AVAILABLE Contact her on yebomimi@gmail.com The latest news is that the Editing is now done and we can expect to start sales and deliveries by the end of April 2011

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

JAMES CHIKAREMA


James Chikerema
Firebrand revolutionary who was a catalyst in the transformation of Rhodesia into Zimbabwe
April 2, 1925 - March 22, 2006
WHEN the 30-year-old James Chikerema addressed onlookers in the rough recreational halls in Salisbury’s townships in 1955, he shocked them not only with his incendiary delivery, but also with his use of an expression they had never heard before: “one man, one vote”.
He was the prototype firebrand militant in post-Second World War Rhodesia where black political leaders had never asked for more than better pay, the right to stand in the same queue as whites in the post office and to be able to buy alcohol. Rule by the white man was regarded as unquestionable, and black politicians wanted only to be governed well by administrators they routinely addressed as “our fathers”.

Chikerema was the first of a generation of African revolutionaries to articulate the notion of black majority rule in Rhodesia, and was the catalyst that launched nearly two decades of civil unrest and seven years of guerrilla war that ended with the independence of the state of Zimbabwe in 1980.

Uniquely, he lacked the blinding ambition for absolute leadership that has littered postcolonial Africa with failed states controlled by unbalanced despots — including his cousin, Robert Mugabe. Chikerema was committed to “the struggle” and had a rare willingness to play second fiddle to political leaders he believed were more able than him.

To whites, he was a dangerous, offensive, inflammatory rabble-rouser. His surname means “scoundrel” in Shona. The rangy, bearded, pipesmoking troublemaker with his jackal-pelt cap inspired black Rhodesians with his effrontery to white administrators.

Chikerema was non-conformist, non-doctrinaire and cared little what others thought of his utterances. His apparently unreconcilable political methodologies were exemplified by the two cheap copper plaques fixed to the mantelpiece of the fireplace in his ample, run-down Harare home — a model of an AK47 rifle next to the emblem of Tiny Rowland’s Lonrho corporation.

His independence and affable frankness eventually had him sidelined from major office as the nationalist movement grew into a government. Before and after independence he was a dabbler in lost causes, surviving on the patronage of Rowland, who bankrolled most of Zimbabwe’s senior black politicians.

James Robert Dambaza Chikerema was born in 1925 at the Kutama Mission in an African reserve, about 50 miles west of Salisbury, where his father taught at the school under the severity of the Catholic Marist Brothers. He and Mugabe were fellow students. They herded the family’s cattle together, but Chikerama had little in common with his aloof relative.

After primary school he went to St Francis College at Mariannhill in Natal, South Africa, one of a handful of educational institutions in southern Africa open to blacks. Chikerema quickly absorbed the political atmosphere of the upper forms and was an adherent of the African National Congress by the time he left for Cape Town, where he worked as a waiter by day and attended night classes in history and English.

He came into contact with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and other established ANC activists, whose focus was on the agitations of Kwame Nkrumah in the Gold Coast (now Ghana) and Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya. Chikerema joined the banned South African Communist Party and organised protests with other black Rhodesians against plans to unite Southern and Northern Rhodesia in a federation. Inevitably, the South African security police came for him but did not recognise the African foreigner when they turned up at his lodgings to arrest him. They asked him if he had seen James Chikerema. “He just left,” said the fugitive who immediately fled back to Rhodesia.

A job as chief clerk in a factory outside Salisbury ended after he organised a strike, and he turned to selling insurance, and circulated with a group of young radicals, most of whom had also just returned from other parts of Africa with the stirrings of black nationalism.

In 1955 Chikerema and his friends founded the City Youth League in Salisbury and launched themselves on to the quiescent townships. They clamoured for universal suffrage and fulminated against the white man’s laws.

A year later the Youth League was formalised with Chikerema as its president. They raised their campaign with protests and civil disobedience, particularly against the Land Husbandry Act which they believed would force Africans out of their traditional rural homes.

Later in the year, authorities raised bus fares in Salisbury, and Chikerema organised a bus boycott. The roads were thronged by thousands of blacks, watched by uneasy policemen, as they walked the six miles from their townships into town. Youths stoned a bus that tried to defy the boycott. That night the townships erupted in violence and mobs went on the rampage.

Troops and reservists were called out to quash the commotion. The British governor, Sir Peveril William-Powlett, declared a state of emergency. But radical black nationalism had slapped the face of white authority and shown its efficacy. The bus fare increase was dropped.

The Youth League escalated its offensive. Rallies were held in townships every Sunday with exultant support, while police wrote down every word of Chikerema’s speeches, arresting him whenever his tirades were judged seditious.

Chikerema realised the impetus of support was enough now to carry the campaign out of Salisbury and across the country, but did not believe he had the prestige and dignity for a national leader. After a few failed approaches, Joshua Nkomo, a social welfare officer in the railways, was recruited.

In 1957 the Southern Rhodesian African National Congress was launched in Salisbury. September 12 was deliberately chosen because it was Pioneer Day, commemorating the arrival of the first white pioneers in 1890. Nkomo, an Ndebele, was president, and the Shona Chikerema his deputy, representing a balance between the two tribal groups.

Their manifesto was simply to secure the swift transfer of power to the African majority. They swept into Rhodesia’s countryside, urging people to flout the law, and organised boycotts and worked to undermine the authority of white native commissioners who controlled the tribal areas.

Chikerema was accused of slandering the Minister of Native Affairs, Sir Patrick Fletcher, by calling him “a thief”. Chikerema’s claim that he had said “chief” was not accepted by the magistrate who fined him the immense sum then of £100.

The unrest stirred up by Nkomo and Chikerema in 1959 brought another state of emergency, from Edgar Whitehead, the Prime Minister. Chikerema was among the first victims of new repressive laws of detention without trial.

He was released in 1963 to find the SRANC had been banned. Its latest incarnation, the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu), was splitting into two tribally based factions, one led by the Ndebele-speaking Nkomo and a Shona group called the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu), of which Mugabe was one of its most provocative officials.

Violence erupted, mostly in Salisbury’s townships as the two factions went to war with firebombs, stones, cudgels and spears. In 1964 the Government of Winston Field rounded up almost the entire ranking membership of the African nationalist movement, running into thousands and including Nkomo and Mugabe, and put them away in prisons and remote restriction camps. Chikerema and a few others were able to flee and Rhodesia’s townships were relatively calm for the next ten years.

Chikerema remained loyal to Nkomo. He set up a Zapu headquarters-in-exile in Dar es Salaam but angered President Nyerere of Tanzania when he promised in 1965 “a reign of terror” against whites in Rhodesia if Ian Smith’s new Government carried out its threat to declare independence unilaterally.

The Zapu offices were moved to Lusaka, the Zambian capital, where Chikerema was part of a “war council” to prepare for the battle for Rhodesia. As a military strategist, he was a failure. The few guerrilla groups Zapu dispatched into Rhodesia were almost all caught not long after they crossed the border.

He also got into trouble with President Kaunda of Zambia for taking a BBC television crew around a Zapu guerrilla training camp.

By 1971 Chikerema had lost influence in the exiled Zapu leadership and, with a few other disaffected black nationalists, founded the Front for the Liberation of Zimbabwe (Frolizi), to unite the guerrillas of Zapu and Zanu into a single army. That too failed.

He attended the first talks between Smith and senior representatives of all the black nationalist groups on a train on the middle of the bridge over the Victoria Falls, on the Zambia-Rhodesia border. The talks ended in failure.

Chikerema’s hopes for a military role faded in 1975 when the men in the largest guerrilla camp, in Mgagao, Tanzania, signed a document of no confidence in him, and declared their loyalty to Mugabe.

He returned to Rhodesia and joined the “internal settlement” between Smith and Bishop Abel Muzorewa that in 1979 won him a Cabinet post in Muzorewa’s ten-month rule. Frustrated with Muzorewa’s poor leadership, he joined a group of rebel parliamentarians to form the Zimbabwe Democratic Party. It was only a few months before it was overtaken by the Lancaster House agreement in December 1979 that bore independence in April 1980.

He all but disappeared from the political scene thereafter, working for Lonrho, making one last, unsuccessful stab in an election in 1995 for the shortlived Forum Party, and he spent the rest of his time as something of a gentleman farmer on a property he bought near his home at Kutama.

Shortly after Mugabe mounted his seizure of white-owned land in 2000, he also had Chikerema’s listed for seizure. “It’s a punishment,” said Chikerema. “Because I stood against him and have never been a member of his party.”

He died in Indianapolis in the US where he had gone for medical treatment.

He leaves his wife, Philda, and seven children.

James Chikerema, political activist, was born on April 2, 1925. He died on March 22, 2006, aged 80.

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I welcome comments from everyone on my book Choppertech.
I am interested especially on hearing from former ZANLA and ZIPRA combatants who also have thier story to tell.