Michael Mawema

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Michael Mawema
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Michael Mawema
BornMichael Andrew Mawema
(1928-07-13)July 13, 1928
DiedSeptember 26, 2000(2000-09-26) (aged 72)
Other namesAndrew
EducationMorgenster Mission, Interdenominational Theological Centre, Johnson C. Smith Seminary (USA).
Years active1951 to 2000
OrganizationNDP, ZAPU and ZANU
Known forFirst Using the name Zimbabwe
Notable workBrought up the Name Zimbabwe
Political partyNational Democratic Party, Zimbabwe African People's Union, Zimbabwe African National Union
Opponent(s)Rhodesian Front
Spouse(s)Jane Mawema

Michael Mawema was a Zimbabwean nationalist leader, founding member of the National Democratic Party, the Zimbabwe African People's Union, and the Zimbabwe African National Union. Mawema is credited for being the first person to use the name Zimbabwe as a term of national reference during the Rhodesia era in 1960 and the name was subsequently adopted as the official name of the country in 1980 after independence.


Michael Andrew Mawema was born on 13 July 1928 in the small town of Gutu in the Masvingo Province of Zimbabwe. [1] His father, Chigayo, who was a member of the Vagarwe clan originating in Mutambara, worked in the Native Affairs Department of the Government.[1] Mawema was married to Jane and the couple had 9 children together. [2]

Educational Background

Mawema attended the Interdenominational School in Bulawayo between 1936–37 and then went to the Gutu Mission School where he passed Standard VI in 1945. In the following year he received a scholarship from the Beit Trust to undergo teacher training, and he studied around 1947 at the Morgenster Mission, obtaining his Primary Teacher’s Certificate at the end of the year.[1] From 1948 to 1950 he taught at Chesvingo School in Gutu and then moved to Mzilikazi Government School, Bulawayo, where he remained until the end of 1951.[1] In 1972, Mawema made his way to the United States where he attended Clark College in Worcester, Massachusetts, graduating B.A. with an honours degree in 1975. He then moved to the Interdenominational Theological Centre in Georgia and Johnson C. Smith Seminary, where he obtained the degree of Master of Education with ‘high honours’ in 1975.[1] He also attained a doctorate degree from Clarke College in the USA.

Early Political Career

His first experience with mainstream national politics was in 1951 when he became Private Secretary to Benjamin Burombo. He held this post for two years and then became Regional Secretary of the Railway African Workers’ Union. In 1954 he joined the old ANC and served as an executive member of the Bulawayo Branch until the merger with the Youth League in September 1957.[1]

Mainstream Politics

In January 1959 he was officially sponsored by the African National Congress to pay a three—month visit to Israel to study the working of co-operatives. While he was out of the country the state of emergency was declared on 26 February and on his return to Salisbury he was questioned by the police but not detained. He was thus one of the few experienced politicians still at large when discussions took place later in 1959 on the possibility of founding a new party to replace the ANC. He played a leading role in these discussions and was appointed interim President when the National Democratic Party was founded in January 1960 (it being understood that he was holding the post only until Joshua Nkomo returned to Rhodesia).[1]

In 1960 Mawema travelled to Europe on speaking tours and addressed the Labour Party Parliamentary Group in the House of Commons. Subsequently he shared a platform with Christopher Chataway, Barbara Castle and Dr Hastings Banda (who eventually became president of Malawi) at a public meeting in London. On his return to Salisbury he attended the National Executive meeting on 21 September 1960 and was replaced as interim President by Leopold Takawira.

When the NDP delegation at first supported the proposed new constitution (the ‘15 seats’) in February 1961 Mawema denounced the action of the leaders and was suspended by the National Council of the party on 12 February. He was, however, soon restored to grace when the NDP decided, a few days later, to reject the proposals.

In July 1960 Mawema had been given four years’ hard labour for being a member of an unlawful organisation (AN) and for consorting (within NDP) with ex-members of an unlawful organisation. In the following year, however, he successfully appealed against the conviction and sentence in the High Court in Salisbury.

In June 1961 he was joined by Patrick Matimba, Edson Sithole (then in detention) and others to found the ZNP (in opposition to the leadership of Nkomo). The new party did not, however, have an auspicious beginning, and Mawema was beaten and kicked by angry opponents at his first press conference on 11 June. When ZAPU was banned in September 1962 the ZNP developed into the PASU but this new body did not long survive the death of its leader, Paul Mushonga, in a car accident in December 1962.

Joining ZANU

Mawema remained in opposition to Nkomo and joined the newly-formed Zimbabwe African National Union in August 1963, becoming its Organising Secretary at the congress the following year. The appointment was, however, quickly followed by his arrest and detention —— first at WhaWha, later at Sikombela and finally, at Salisbury Prison. In 1968 he was released from prison but restricted to the Gutu area for two years. On becoming ‘unrestricted’ he obtained employment in Salisbury as an insurance salesman. Within a year he was earning a high income.[1]

The visit of Sir Alec Douglas Home, the British Foreign Secretary, to Salisbury in November 1971 found Mawema yet again in the position of being one of the few leading nationalists not in detention or restriction.[1]

After completing his studies in the United States of America in 1975, Mawema came back to Rhodesia and was in Lusaka, Zambia, during the period of the Victoria Falls talks (August). On 1 September 1975, he was appointed Chairman of the Party Organisation Committee of the ZLC under the presidency of Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole. Returning to the United States, he addressed the UN Committee on Non-Self-Governing Territories on 7 October, saying that the detente exercise had given “whites time to strengthen their military forces”.

In November in 1975, Mawema addressed a memorandum to Bishop Abel Muzorewa and the Rev N. Sithole in the course of which he argued that the ZLC should be disbanded.[1]

Joining ANC

Mawema was the organising secretary of the Muzorewa led African National Council which successfully opposed the settlement between the Ian Smith government and the British Government.

As a member of the ANC Mawema was elected as Ward VI Councillor for Chitsa in Gutu and eventually elected chairman. However his election was nullified by the District Council since he was not living in the area.

He fled Rhodesia and walked to Botswana where he declared himself a political refugee. He stayed for a week and then flew to Zambia. Mawema then proceeded to London where he sought to see British officials concerning the Rhodesian problem.


Mawema was fairly successful in his political career. Among other things, he addressed the OAU Liberation Committee in 1964 and in 1972 he represented ‘Zimbabwe’ at the Non-Aligned Foreign Ministers’ Conference in Guyana. He has contributed many articles to journals and publications on aspects of African sociology, religion and politics. He stated that he was a great admirer of Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere and Che Gueveira.


Mawema held many posts, both political and non-political, including:

  1. Regional Secretary of the Railways African Workers Union in the late 1950s.
  2. Founder Member of National Democratic Party
  3. First President of the National Democratic Party in 1960.
  4. Founder Member of Zimbabwe African People's Union
  5. Interim President Zimbabwe African People's Union
  6. Founding Member of Zimbabwe African National Union
  7. First Organising Secretary of Zimbabwe African National Union (Aug 1963)
  8. President of Midlands African Football Association (1954),
  9. Founder Member of Jairos Jiri Association,
  10. President of Pan-African Students Union, U.S.A. (1974),
  11. President of International Students, Johnson C. Smith Seminary (1975); and
  12. President of Southern African Liberation Committee, Georgia, U.S.A. (1973–75).[1]

Business Interests

Mawema had established a company with Ben Chisvo, a businessman and former Harare councillor. It is understood the company was involved in the sale of land. After his death, the Zimbabwe Republic Police said they were going to interview Chisvo in relation to the company's alleged defrauding of 3.8 million of its clients' funds.[3]


  1. He was awarded the Edwin T. Bush Scholarship for International Leadership in the USA in 1974,
  2. Johnson C. Smith Achievement Scholarship Award in 1975.[1]


The greatest credit accorded to Mawema was his historic use of the name Zimbabwe in 1960. During this period, the country was still called Rhodesia and his reference to the future Zimbabwe was in line with the nationalist agenda of a free and independent Zimbabwe.[1]


Mawema is believed to have committed suicide. He was found dead at his Milton Park home in Harare. He is said to have left a note but the contents could however not be revealed.


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 , Michael Mawema,AllAfrica.com, retrieved:13 Feb 2015"
  2. Conrad Nyamutata, Mawema committed suicide,Yahoo News, published:28 Sept 2000, retrieved:13 Feb 2015,"
  3. C. Nyamutata, DR Michael Mawema, the veteran nationalist found dead at his Harare home on Tuesday, is believed to have committed suicide.,Yahoo News, published:28 Sep 2000,retrieved:16 Feb 2015"

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