|Born||Eddison Jonas Mudadirwa Zvobgo|
October 2, 1935
|Died||August 22, 2004(aged 68)|
|Alma mater||Tufts University- Boston, Harvard Law School|
|Spouse(s)||Julia Zvobgo (m. 1961)|
|Children||Kerina Makaita Zvobgo, Eddison Mudiwa Zvobgo, Tsungirirai Julia Zvobgo, Jonas Zvobgo, Tendai Zvobgo, Esther Zvobgo, Farai Emily Zvobgo|
Eddison Zvobgo was a politician, lawyer, poet and member of the Zanu-PF political party. He is known mostly for having been the mastermind of the legislation that enthroned Robert Mugabe as leader of a single party state in Zimbabwe in the 1980s. He had a reputation for his quick wit, sharp tongue, humour and being outspoken about the curtailment of civil liberties by Zanu-PF in the late 90s and early 2000s. He died on 22 August 2004 after a long illness.
Zvobgo was born Eddison Jonas Mudadirwa in Masvingo on 2 October 1935 to a father who was a Minister in the Dutch Reformed Church. He attended the Chivizhe Primary School before going to Tegwani Secondary School, a Methodist Mission School near Plumtree. He attended mission schools where he excelled, graduating at Tegwani Secondary School. He met and married Julia Tukai Whande while in Masvingo. Zvobgo was one of the founding members of Zanu and spokesperson of the Patriotic Front at the Lancaster House negotiations in late 1979.
In the 1980 elections, he won a seat in Parliament for Masvingo, which he continued to hold until his death.He heralded Zimbabwe’s first Cabinet and headed key portfolios until his demise. Among them are the Local Government and Housing ministry until 1982, and the Justice ministry until 1985.
When he was appointed Parliamentary and Constitutional Affairs minister in 1987, he tinkered with the Constitution and gave absolute power to the President reportedly in anticipation that he would take over from the Head of State, Robert Mugabe. When the promise of him taking over was not fulfilled by Mugabe, Zvobgo Snr fell out with his boss and was bold enough to publicly challenge the Zanu PF stranglehold on civil liberties. Zvobgo Snr’s frankness came at a price. In 1992, an outraged Mugabe demoted him to a less strategic position of Mines minister. In 1996, Zvobgo Snr broke his legs in a car accident. After the accident, he was again demoted to Minister Without Portfolio and Mugabe thought he would tame him and buy his loyalty.
Still, he continued criticising Mugabe and in 2000, he was dropped from the Cabinet.
Education & Political Activity
In 1959, Zvobgo started studying for a B.A. degree at Roma University College in Basutoland (now Lesotho) but was expelled the following year for political activities. He returned to Rhodesia where he succeeded in obtaining an American scholarship (ASPAU) to study at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. He had in the meantime (in 1960) helped found the pro-independence National Democratic Party.
While in the USA he addressed United Nations committees on several occasions as the official ZAPU representative during the days before the split in the nationalist ranks.
Zvobgo left Rhodesia after he got the US scholarship. He came back in 1964 and resumed politics but was soon jailed at Wha Wha prison in Midlands. After serving his prison sentence he was restricted at the new Sikombela Camp with other ZANU leaders. He remained there until November 1965 when, in the days immediately before UDI, he was sent to Salisbury Prison under the emergency legislation. While in prison Zvobgo studied for the University of London’s law degree LL.B. and graduated in 1970. In total he was jailed for 6 years during this period. He then began reading for the Bar examinations which he passed in 1971 while still in detention.
When he got released in 1971 Zvobgo was appointed Deputy Secretary-General in December 1971. In 1972 he was admitted to the Bar and at once began practising in Salisbury. He however left abruptly and went back to the USA, this time to study Law at Harvard Law School. He later taught criminal law as an associate professor at Lewis University College, in Illinois. Zvobgo was joined in the USA by his wife Julia, who had been studying in the UK.
Edson Zvobgo was appointed Principal Overseas Representative of the ANC on his arrival in America, but in August 1973, he resigned from the ANC saying that he was still Deputy Secretary-General of ZANU and that this organisation was "waging a heroic armed struggle". He feared that Abel Muzorewa wouldnot be ruthless enough in negotiations with Ian Smith.
In 1976, Zvobgo left the USA, joining Robert Mugabe and others in Mozambique to wage a war against Ian Smith's Rhodesian Front (RF) white minority government. It has been said that Zvobgo played a key role in Zanu in the conferences and diplomatic exchanges that led to independence.
Zvobgo at the Lancaster House Conference
During the deliberations at the conference Zvobgo was part of the negotiating team and he was very popular with the press for his sentiments. He was the spokesperson for the Patriotic Front during the conference and he proved to be very effective. When Zvobgo thought that Lord Carrington who was chairing the conference was applying too much presure on the Patriotic Front as compared to others like Abel Muzorewa and Ian Smith, Zvobgo argued that
If Carrington carries on the way he has begun, plotting with puppets, we will go back to war
. Zvobgo also caused a stir 10 days before the Lancaster House Conference when he insinuated that the then British Prime Minister Thatcher was having an affair with "Satan Botha" (PW Botha, former Apartheid era premier in South Africa).
In 1992 Zvobgo was moved to the less influential post of Minister of Mines. In 1996 he survived a car accident, in which both his legs were broken. This accident was considered suspicious by many. Shortly after the accident Mugabe demoted Zvobgo further to Minister Without Portfolio, and, in 2000, he was dropped from the cabinet altogether.
In the 2002 presidential elections, he refused to campaign for Mugabe, but did not endorse the opposition challenger Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). He also voiced his opposition to the sweeping media law, passed the same year, calling it "the most serious assault on our constitutional liberties since independence".
Despite his criticism, Zvobgo eventually voted for the legislation, which was used to close off Zimbabwe's only privately owned daily newspaper, The Daily News, and to arrest at least 31 independent journalists.
He became the subject of an internal party disciplinary inquiry in 2003 for his refusal to campaign for Mugabe and after describing the laws as a weapon to stifle opposition to the government, but allegations of disloyalty were eventually dropped.
Political Career After Independence
In the general elections of 1980 Zvobgo contested for the Masvingo seat, which he won. He held the seat until the time of his death in August 2004. Zvobgo also held various senior government posts including Minister of Local Government and Housing (until 1982), Minister of of Justice (until 1985) aand Minister of Parliamentary and Constitutional Affairs in 1987, during which time he made several amendments that gave Mugabe more powers as president of the country.
In 1992, Zvobgo was demoted to minister of mines. Four years later, he survived a car accident which many believe was caused by sabotage. After surviving the accident, he was stripped of his ministry, remaining a minister without portfolio until 2000 when he was dropped altogether from the cabinet and Politburo.
In the 2002 elections when the existence of the "Zvobgo wing" in Masvingo became publicly known, he refused to campaign for President Mugabe and criticised new public order laws and draconian measures to curtail freedom of expression in the media. He became the subject of an internal party disciplinary inquiry in 2003 after being accused of disloyalty and of holding talks with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. The allegations of disloyalty were eventually dropped.
In February 2004, Zvobgo's wife, Julia, died after suffering cardiac arrest. She was declared a National Hero. Later that same year, on 22 August 2004, Zvobgo himself succumbed to a long illness and died. He too was conferred National Hero status and was buried at the National Heroes' Acre.
Famous Zvobgo Quotes
- On the need for ruthlessness in negotiations with the Ian Smith white minority government around 1973, Zvobgo said:
"Whites must be led down the garden path. Morality does not come into it"
- When reports began filtering through of Zanu PF’s lead in Zimbabwe’s first elections in 1980, Zvobgo announced at the press centre at Meikles Hotel:
It is no longer a question of whether we will win, but only by what margin
- Before a packed parliament in January 2002, he launched a scathing attack on the Jonathan Moyo-inspired Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Bill, declaring 20 of its clauses unconstitutional. He described the Bill as
He said the proposed law was . . . ill-conceived and dangerous and why Moyo’s ministry wanted to grant themselves frightening powers.
the most calculated and determined assault on our liberties, which are guaranteed by the constitution
Ask yourself whether it is rational for a government in a democratic and free society to require registration, licences and ministerial certificates in order for people to speak. It is a sobering thought
- Zvobgo was one of the few Zanu-PF leaders of his time to recognise and apologise for the Matabeleland massacres commonly referrred to as Gukurahundi.
- While in detension in Rhodesia, Zvobgo wrote a number of poems using the psydoneym "Muzeze" which were published in volume called "Madetembere". One such poem called "A Time To Rise".
A Time To Rise
It’s six, my son, and time to rise;
The sun has shot through the darkness
And the long day spreads before you like a kaross;
Start now, dear son; the journey is long.
There will be thunder and hailstorms
Although the weather appears calm
for the moment; beware of shelters
Offered you; rather brave it and be a Man.
Should you fall, rise with grace, and without
Turning to see who sees, continue on your road
Precisely as if nothing had ever happened;
For those who did not, the ditches became graves.
If ever you fall in love with some woman,
Ask if she can walk at your pace to the end
Of the road. . .
- Edson Zvobgo, Colonial Relic, Published:Unkown, Retrieved:16 February 2015,
- Andrew Meldrum, Eddison Zvobgo, The Guardian, Published: August 24, 2004, Retrieved: July 16, 20014
- Percy Makombe, Obituary – A razor-sharp mind, The Standard, Published: May 30, 2003, Retrieved: July 16, 2014
- Alex Duval Smith, Eddison Zvobgo: Ally turned critic of the Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, The Independent, Published:30 August 2004, Retrieved:15 February 2015,