Herbert Chitepo

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Herbert Chitepo
Herbert Chitepo
Herbert Chitepo
BornHerbert Witshire Hamandishe Chitepo
(1923-06-05)June 5, 1923
DiedMarch 18, 1975(1975-03-18) (aged 51)
150 Muramba Road, Lusaka
Cause of deathCar Bomb
Alma materFort Hare University, King's College
  • Politician
  • Lawyer
Known forBeing murdered suspiciously as a leader of Zanu before Independence
Spouse(s)Victoria Chitepo
ChildrenDr. Thokozile Chitepo, Zanele Chitepo, Nomusa Chitepo, Herbert Chitepo Jnr. (Deceased), Kule Zvenyika Chitepo.

Herbert Witshire Hamandishe Chitepo was a professional lawyer and politician. He was the president of the Zimbabwe African National Union liberation war movement in the then Rhodesia.[1] He died on 18 March in 1975 in Lusaka Zambia, after a bomb set to kill him in his car went off. His killers are not known with some blaming the Smith led Rhodesian government while others, including officials in the Zambian government at that time, blame the infighting that was in Zanu during the period.[1]


Chitepo was born on June 5, 1923, at Bonda in the Inyanga district of Rhodesia into a poor peasant family.

Chitepo's father died whilst he was only three and he was sent to St David's Mission in Bonda where he grew up. He received his primary education at the mission and later on moved to St Augustine's Penhalonga where he did his secondary education.[2]

Academic Background

In 1943, Chitepo left for South Africa where he enrolled at Adams College in Natal to train as a primary school teacher. After completing his program, he returned to Rhodesia where he taught at St Augustine's Penhalonga before going back again to South Africa to further his studies.

He attended Fort Hare University in South Africa between 1947 and 1949 where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. Thereafter he left for London where he was attached to the School of Oriental and African Studies and he worked as a research assistant. He then studied Law at King's College becoming a barrister in 1954.[3]

Professional and Political Career

Chitepo established a private law firm in Salisbury. He used his legal expertise to lobby for reforms on the Land Apportionment Act. He was eventually admitted as an Advocate at the High Court in 1954. From around 1957, Chitepo had become visibly pan-African as he defended Africans who were arrested for breaking laws such as the Land Apportionment Act.

In 1960, he joined the National Democratic Party (NDP). After NDP was banned in 1961, he joined the newly formed Zimbabwe African People's Union.[3] In June 1962, he left Rhodesia for Tanzania where he was appointed Director of Public Prosecutions. In July 1963, Chitepo was fired from the Zapu party due to his criticism of the latter's policies.[3]

He was a founding member of ZANU at its formation in 1963 together with Ndabaningi Sithole.[3]

He was instrumental in the decision in 1962 of the Dar es Salaam-based Liberation Committee of the Organisation African Unity (OAU) to recognize ZANU as well as ZAPU. At ZANU's first congress in Gwelo in 1964, he was elected in absentia as National Chairman. ZANU was subsequently banned by the Ian Smith Rhodesian Front administration in August 1964.[4]

In 1966, Chitepo left his job in Tanzania and went to Lusaka to reorganise the party and begin the armed struggle full time. He directed the recruitment, training, and deployment of guerrillas. Under his leadership ZANU formed its military wing, the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA). In 1973, he was elected Chairman of the War Council, which was also known as Dare ReChimurenga.

Political Ideology

Chitepo was considered a psychologically and ideologically mature politician. He was against capitalism. In 1974 he addressed the Sixth Pan-African Congress in Dar es Salaam where he proposed a global strategy against imperialism declaring:

"...the basic approach, we submit, is both to give more material assistance to national liberation movements of Africa and simultaneously to launch our attacks on capitalism and its manifestations on all fronts, in the developing areas and in the heart of capitalism - North America and Western Europe.

Each movement, each country, or each nation should shoulder the main burden of liberating itself.

Once these areas are liberated they will become bases for the final assault on imperialism at its centre. In other words, underdeveloped areas would provide revolutionary bases from which revolutionaries launch their attack against imperialism. By cutting off the tentacles of imperialism in the periphery we will deprive the white working class in capitalist countries of their high standards of living they have enjoyed because of the super profits that the multi-national corporations reaped in under-developed countries. It is only when the exploited working class of both black and white realize that they have a common enemy, a common oppressor, and a common exploiter that they will unite and jointly seek to overthrow the capitalist system.

This is our global strategy against capitalism, racism, and imperialism."[5]

Chitepo believed that the country could only become independent through armed struggle. Addressing a Chimurenga Day rally in 1968, he insisted that the only language the Rhodesian Prime Minister would understand was violence.

"Zimbabwe was taken from us through bloodshed. Only bloodshed - a bloody chimurenga involving four and a half million of us - can restore Zimbabwe to its owners."


Position on detente negotiations with Smith government

In 1974, as Zambia, South Africa and the Frontline States sought to put an end to armed struggle in Rhodesia through a negotiated political settlement, Chitepo announced that he was opposed to such negotiations. He said on 4 December:

"There will be no talks, no negotiations, no discussions involving our movement until Mr Smith recognizes the right to immediate majority rule tomorrow, next week, next year or whenever. It is now. Until we hear that man, the rebel leader of the rebel regime, speak those words, our war goes on and it will continue until we have liberated every acre of our country. I do not know if we could even sit down with Smith until Rhodesia has gone back on the 1969 constitution and returned to the pre-UDI position. We are not going to be bound by whatever is decided in Lusaka, great as is our respect for the leaders who are gathering there and who have helped us so much in the past."[7]

Chitepo's Assassination

Chitepo's alleged assassin, Hugh 'Chuck' Hind. In the background is his home at the time, 9 Sandrise, at corner 3rd st and Montague Ave, in Harare

Chitepo died in a car bomb incident on 18 March 1975 at his home in Lusaka. The bomb had been set inside the front right wheel of his blue Volkswagen, registration EY 7077 and was configured to detonate if the car moved. The bomb was planted at night, likely between 1AM and 4AM. On the morning of his death, Chitepo and his two bodyguards got out of the house in the morning to attend some meetings. Chitepo sat in the driver's seat and one of his bodyguards Silas Shamiso sat in the front passenger seat. The other bodyguard, Sadat Kufa Mazuva sat in the back. As Chitepo reversed the car to drive out, the bomb was set off killing him instantly. Kufamazuba also died instantly. Sadat sustained injuries but survived. Strangely, Sadat was later arrested on the suspicion of having participated in killing Chitepo. A Zambian boy who was in the yard of the neighboring house was also injured and later died in hospital.

The post-mortem of Chitepos body by the Zambian state forensic scientist listed the cause of death as multiple injuries. The explosion had amputated both legs above the knee. He had multiple penetrating wounds and burns on the face, neck and upper chest and metal fragments had penetrated his skull.

A Zambian government explosive expert, S.B. Mwenda said in his report the bomb had been placed inside the right front wheel and fixed by magnets. He concluded that the charge was trinitrotoluene (TNT) of which approximately 1.6kg had been used and this had been placed in a 'brass metallic container which provided the fragmentation effect'. His report concluded that this was an inside job.[8]

A number of theories have been forwarded to account for the death of Chitepo.[9]

One common explanation given is that Chitepo was assassinated by the Rhodesian Security Forces with the hope of derailing the liberation struggle. According to this explanation, the assassination was carried out by a Rhodesia Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) operative called Hugh "Chuck" Hind who planted the bomb in Chitepo's car with the assistance of Zambian farmer called Ian Robert Bruce Sutherland who was an informer. Both Sutherland and Hind were of European origin. Hind is said to have been paid $10,000 cash for killing Chitepo in addition to his monthly retainer fees as a hired mercenary which was paid into his CABS account. Sutherland's payments for reconnaissance work was also paid into a CABS bank account.[10] Hind himself died in a car crash along Chirundu road on 28 January 1977 during a mission in Zambia. The car was being driven by Sutherland. Sutherland sustained injuries and recuperated. Sutherland's farm was however raided by Zambian police in November 1978 and an arms cache (TNT, Bazookas, grenades, ammunition etc...) was uncovered. Sutherland through his lawyer admitted his crime saying he had done it to rid Zambia of the nationalists. He was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment but was freed in 1980 and joined his family in South Africa.

Another explanation is that Chitepo's death was as a result of the intraparty factions which characterized Zanu during the 1970s.[11]

Zambian politician Dr Vernon Mwaanga, who was Foreign Minister at the time, said in 2016 that Chitepo had approached him the day before he died to express that he feared for his life:

Herbert Chitepo came to see me at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and told me that he felt threatened by certain elements within Zanu in Zambia. That they wanted to take away his life. It was 1975. I remember I met him on a Thursday. He asked for an appointment to come and see me. I granted him the appointment. He felt that he was not safe because some of his comrades were after his life according to what he told me. So I said to him, well, we can give you protection. I can ring the commissioner of police now to give you protection. He said to me, let me see how this night passes. Tomorrow morning, I will call you or I will come and see you to say whether I need the protection or not. That was a Thursday afternoon. I said if you do please make sure you let me know so that we give you the protection right away.

I reported this meeting to President Kaunda and he said why didn’t you offer him police protection and I said I offered him protection but he said he wants to get back to me the following day. The following day was a Friday. I was at Parliament because our Parliament meets in the morning on Friday. I got a call from my permanent secretary that Herbert Chitepo had been killed.[12]

Mwaanga mentioned that Chitepo had given him a list of people that were planning to assassinate him. Mwaanga has however refused to disclose the names. Another Zambian, Rtd. Brig. Gen. Kazembe, has said that Chitepo's death was investigated but "as Zambia, we agreed that we would not say much about what we know."[13] He commented however that "It had to be somebody who knows his movements. Someone who knows the right time to set the bomb. That person had to be an internal person. It’s not an easy thing to set up that kind of a bomb... That one was the job of an insider. That was an insider that one. That’s all I can tell you for now... That tragedy made us ever more alert and even the way we viewed the liberation movements changed. We heightened security. But like I said, it could be infiltration by the Rhodesian Special Branch."[13]

Chitepo's Grave at the National Heroes Acre in Harare

Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda visited the scene together with Abel Muzorewa. The Rhodesian Herald reported that Kaunda "sat and wept with the nationalist leader's friends and relatives". Kaunda reportedly called "a brutal and cowardly tragedy" and added that "the enemies of unity in Zimbabwe" had done this.[8]

Chitepo's death prompted an inquiry which saw the arrest of nationalist leaders such as Rugare Gumbo Nathan Shamuyarira and Simon Muzenda. Robert Mugabe replaced Chitepo as National Chairman.

57 freedom fighters were arrested soon after Chitepo's funeral which was held by the Zambian government. The 57 included 5 members of the Dare Rechimurenga who had remained in Zambia after the rest had fled the country after being tipped that mass arrests would follow Chitepo's burial.

Chitepo's body was later exhumed after independence and reburied at the National Heroes Acre in Zimbabwe.

In July 1975 a "Special International Commission on the Assassination of Herbert Wiltshire Chitepo" was set up and chaired by Reuben Kamanga, a member of the central committee of Zambia's ruling party UNIP. Commissioners came from Libya, Malagasy, Morocco, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Tanzania and Zaire. The Commission presented its report to Kaunda on 8 March 1976. The commission concluded, "Chitepo's death was not caused (sic) by any racist or imperialist agents, counter-revolutionaries, or saboteurs". The report said members of the Dare Rechimurenga and High Command had killed Chitepo. The report blamed Josiah Tongogara in particular.[14]

In May 1976 Tongogara, Chimurenga, and Sadat (the car bomb survivor) appeared before a Lusaka magistrate charged with the murder of Chitepo. The group, in addition to the 57 arrested earlier were tortured while in custody. In particular, Dickson Mupundu, the Zambian Assistant commissioner CID who headed the investigation, used the torture to get the incarcerated nationalist to sign statements implicating themselves in the murder of Chitepo.[15]

The trial of Tongogara, Chimurenga, and Sadat in the High Court of Zambia commenced in August 1976. The 3 pleaded not guilty. The defense argued that the statement by the third accused, Sadat, was inadmissible as it had been obtained under duress. In October, the judge ruled that the confession was inadmissible evidence and ordered an investigation into the interrogation of the prisoners. The investigation was never done. However, the 3 were freed. Kaunda later said that the judge was Anti-Zambia.[16]

Report on the Special International Commission

Personal Life

Chitepo married Victoria Chitepo in Durban on November 29, 1955 and they had four children including Dr. Thokozile Chitepo, Zanele Chitepo. His wife Victoria died on 8 April 2016 and was declared a Zimbabwe National Heroine.

In Popular Culture

Herbert Chitepo is mentioned in Thomas Mapfumo's Kuyaura song. "VaChitepo varipi vatitungamirira" Mapfumo sings in Shona. The English translation of the line is: "Where is Chitepo, so he can lead us".


  1. 1.0 1.1 , Herbert Chitepo,retrieved:27 Jun 2014"
  2. , Chitepo, Herbert Wiltshire Tfumaindini, retrieved:27 Jun 2014"
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 , Chitepo, Herbert Witshire Hamandishe, "Zanu PF",retrieved: 27 Jun 2014"
  4. by David Martin, Phyllis Johnson: The Chitepo Assassination. Page:4 Zimbabwe Publishing House, 1985. ISBN 0 949225 04 5.
  5. by David Martin, Phyllis Johnson: The Chitepo Assassination. Page: 7 Zimbabwe Publishing House, 1985. ISBN 0 949225 04 5.
  6. by David Martin, Phyllis Johnson: The Chitepo Assassination. Page: 8 Zimbabwe Publishing House, 1985. ISBN 0 949225 04 5.
  7. David Martin, Phyllis Johnson: The Chitepo Assassination. Page:22 Zimbabwe Publishing House, 1985. ISBN 0 949225 04 5.
  8. 8.0 8.1 David Martin, Phyllis Johnson: The Chitepo Assassination. Page: 57 Zimbabwe Publishing House, 1985. ISBN 0 949225 04 5.
  9. , Chitepo's death and Mugabe's elevation to leader, "NewZimbabwe", published:11 Dec 2009,retrieved:27 Jun 2014"
  10. David Martin, Phyllis Johnson: The Chitepo Assassination. Page: 59 Zimbabwe Publishing House, 1985. ISBN 0 949225 04 5.
  11. , Who Killed Josiah Tongogara And Herbert Chitepo?, "Continental News Network", published:12 March 2011,retrieved:27 Jun 2014"
  12. Munyaradzi Huni, Chimurenga Chronicles: Chitepo’s last few hours in Zambia, The Sunday Mail, Published:6 Mar 2016, Retrieved: 10 April 2016
  13. 13.0 13.1 Munyaradzi Huni, Chronicles of Chimurenga II: Chitepo death: Zambia military speaks, The Sunday Mail, Published:20 March 2016, Retrieved: 10 April 2016
  14. David Martin, Phyllis Johnson: The Chitepo Assassination. Page:68 Zimbabwe Publishing House, 1985. ISBN 0 949225 04 5.
  15. David Martin, Phyllis Johnson: The Chitepo Assassination. Page:73 Zimbabwe Publishing House, 1985. ISBN 0 949225 04 5.
  16. David Martin, Phyllis Johnson: The Chitepo Assassination. Page:84 Zimbabwe Publishing House, 1985. ISBN 0 949225 04 5.

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