Power Struggles within ZANU-1973-1975

From Pindula

ZANU went through periods of intense political discord driven by internal power struggles and Factionalism in the 1970s. The party plunged into factional infighting which led to the ousting of Ndabaningi Sithole from the party's helm in 1975 and his replacement by Robert Mugabe.


ZANU was formed ) on the 8th of August 1963 in Enos Nkala’s house.Zanu was formed at a time when ZAPU was hit by a major split that led to the formation of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU).

ZAPU Banned-1962

ZAPU was banned on 20 September 1962 and many leading members were restricted for three months to the area surrounding their home villages; Joshua Nkomo was out of the country when the party was banned. Nkomo; as before,Following pressure from Sithole, Enoch Dumbutshena and Tanganyika's Julius Nyerere, Nkomo returned to Rhodesia, and he, too, was restricted.Nkomo now decided that no new movement would be formed to replace the proscribed ZAPU. His decision added to the growing opposition to his leadership within the Party Executive, and contributed to the split some months later.[1]

By 1963 Nkomo realised that the new Rhodesian Front (RF) Government would soon declare independence unilaterally.He believed that the nationalists could best take advantage of the Unilateral Declaration ofIndependence (UDI) if they were outside Rhodesia when it occurred, and were prepared to establish a government-in­ exile which could compete with the white regime for international recognition. There was considerable resistance to this suggestion within the ZAPU Executive, but Nkomo persuaded the doubters that this strategy was approved by Nyerere and other African leaders.

The departure of the entire National Executive to Dar es Salaam in April 1963 stirred widespread African resentment in Rhodesia. On 12 April the Executive met Nyerere. Many were shocked when he rebuked them for leaving Rhodesia and learnt that he had not sanctionedtheir departure. Describing this meeting much later,Nathan Shamuyarira, a prominent nationalist politician, claimed that, "This was a moment of bitter disappointment in their personal relations with Nkomo, and became an obvious factor in the split three months later.[2]

The ZAPU split-1963

The causes of the split are still subject of debate among scholars and even participants. It partly had to do with the leadership of Joshua Nkomo and partly to do with tribalism. Nationalists who led the split have popularised issues of differences over ideology and strategy and ignored ethnicity to save their faces. They portrayed themselves as radical and confrontational. But what is beyond doubt is that the split resulted in inter nationalist violence that rocked the major cities and inaugurated politics of factionalism that rocked nationalist movements until 1980 and beyond.It also divided the liberation struggle into ZAPU (Ndebele-Kalanga camp) and ZANU (Shona camp). Recruitment cadres into the military wings of ZAPU and ZANU took ethnic dimensions. ZANLA became predominantly Shona in outlook whereas ZIPRA became predominantly Ndebele in outlook.[3]

Formation of ZANU-1963

The inaugural conference of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), held in Addis Ababa in May 1963 indicated once again to Ndabaningi Sithole and others the grave reservations many other African leaders had about Nkomo and his decision to move the Party Executive into exile.Immediately following the Addis Ababa conference, most members of the Executive returned to Dar es Salaam, and a power struggle ensued.

Opposition to Nkomo within the Executive was on four major issues: his policy of "circumvention"rather than "confrontation";his refusal to form a new political party to replace the banned ZAPU;indecisive leadership;hisand concern that many African leaders had expressed a lack of confidence in his leadership. Several National Executive meetings were held to discuss these problems and, more specifically, the question of leadership returned to Salisbury. Nkomo avoided the meetings and Here he discovered that the dissidents within the Executive had been in contact with local ZAPU officials and were criticising his leadership. On 6 July Nkomo precipitated a split in the Party by denouncing his opponents as enemies of the nationalist movement and by sending a cable to Dar es Salaam suspending the rebellious National Executive members. by Nkomo included Ndabaningi Sithole, Enos Nkala,Leopold Takawira, Robert Mugabe, Nathan Shamuyarira,Washington Malianga, Maurice Nyagumbo and Henry Hamadziripi.[4]

A meeting to depose Nkomo was then convened in Dar es Salaam by the seven Executive members in Tanganyika: Ndabaningi Sithole, Robert Mugabe, Leopold Takawira, Washington xMalianga, Jason Moyo, Clement Muchachi and Joseph Msika. Moyo, Muchachi and Msika - three of the "old guard" nationalists and long-time supporters of Nkomo - declared the meeting unconstituional and left. Those remaining elected Sithole President in place of Nkomo.

The rebellious Executive members returned to Rhodesia and on 8 August 1963 the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) was formed under Ndabaningi Sithole's leadership.

Sithole's Unpopularity within ZANU

Sithole's dealings with Ian Smith compromised him in the eyes of many of his supporters, and though he took part in the Lancaster House talks which led to Zimbabwe's independence in 1980, in the elections that followed his rival Robert Mugabe swept to power and Sithole's Zanu (Ndonga) faction failed to win a single seat. Sithole was accused by his fellow comrades for having side deals with the enemy a belief that led to his removal as President of ZANU in 1975 .His unpopularity led to a lot of tension in the party escalating the struggle for power and control in ZANU.The other major problem that intensified the power struggle in Zanu was that its leader, Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole, had been in detention in Salisbury for ten years so that none of the younger fighters knew him , hence not in sync with his personality and principles.[5]

It is also alleged that during his detention Sithole was not allowed contact with his comrades who were also in detention but was only allowed visitors cleared by the Ian Smith government.His isolation contributed to his unpopularity. While in jail, Sithole was deposed as leader of ZANU and replaced by Mugabe; the party later was reformed as the ZANU–Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF). Sithole’s ouster was largely a result of his public renunciation of the armed struggle during the court trial which he was being tried for treason and plotting to kill Ian Smith.[6]


  1. NICK WARNER,TIMES OF DARKNESS:Ethnicity and the causes of division within the Rhodesian guerrilla group . Page: 28, no name, 1981. no ISBN.
  2. NICK WARNER,TIMES OF DARKNESS:Ethnicity and the causes of division within the Rhodesian guerrilla group . Page: 29, no name, 1981. no ISBN.
  3. [1], Robert Mugabe’s liberation war credentials:ZANU-PF’s winning card?, Published: no date , Retrieved: 20 December 2017
  4. NICK WARNER,TIMES OF DARKNESS:Ethnicity and the causes of division within the Rhodesian guerrilla group . Page: 30, no name, 1981. no ISBN.
  5. [2], How Mugabe came to power, Published: 22 February 2001 , Retrieved: 21 December 2017
  6. [ https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ndabaningi-Sithole ], Ndabaningi Sithole , Published: no date , Retrieved: 28 December 2017