Regionalism and Tribalism in Political Parties During Zimbabwe's Liberation War Struggle

Herbert Chitepo, fought against regionalism in Zanu

During Zimbabwe's liberation war struggle there was some regionalism within the political parties. Regionalism in Zanu has been reported to have caused deep seated problems that threatened the progression of the struggle against the Rhodesian government. Some reported incidents of regionalism in Zanu occurred in Lusaka where the liberation war effort was based.

Regionalism in Zanu

Zanu leadership from the 3 main tribes in Zanu would clash on regional lines. The 3 main tribes were Manyika, Karanga, and Zezuru. Differences arose on issues such as selecting which recruits went to the war front and which ones went to universities on scholarships. One Obert Mazhandu who was a member of the Dare ReChimurenga in charge of recruitment recounted in an interview:

Even in Dare ReChimurenga we would have clashes among ourselves with some people saying manyanya kutora recruits from this and this area. Chimboendai munotorawo veku side iri. You see there was this talk about regionalism. You know that Chitepo was Manyika. Hamadziripi was from Masvingo and Mazhandu was from Shurugwi. So you go and get 20 recruits and about 10 or more are Manyika, tomorrow almost the same. Some people in Dare would say ahh, you are recruiting too many people from Manyika. Why not take others from Chitungwiza? You know blood is thicker than water.

You see, if that man Chitepo had survived into an independent Zimbabwe, there wasn’t going to be any nyonganyonga. Even the disturbances in the 1980s wouldn’t have happened. He was one person who didn’t identify people according to their regions. He didn’t want people who identified themselves according to regions. He used to say we are one people. We are Zimbabweans. It was Noel Mukono. He was very vocal about this regionalism. There was Simpson Mutambanengwe and Mataure, they were both Manyika but they were never regionalistic like Mukono. This affected the recruitment exercise. As we went on the recruitment exercise, our main target was those going to the liberation struggle.

These people would sometimes bring their people and their people would say we want to go to school instead of going for military training. Sometimes we would say chimbomirai kusvika tawana nzvimbo dzacho. Kana pasina mascholarships, we wouldn’t recruit these people. It created friction of course and things got to a point where I was actually attacked by some people who were accusing me of recruiting people in ways that they said they were not happy with. I was attacked after addressing a rally and these people who had been seen with Mukono two days earlier even killed my dog that I called Tirivanhu. When I was attacked, some people who attacked me blamed Mukono. Actually, Cde Chitepo set up a commission of inquiry and it showed that Mukono was behind it all. These people actually wanted to kill me. After the attack I spent about five months in hospital. It was that bad.


Another account by Joseph Khumalo explained the role of different individuals in the regionalism in the Zanu party:

The formation of this High Command caused a lot of squabbles. The issue of regionalism and tribalism reared its ugly head in Zanu. Cde Chitepo fought a lot against regionalism and tribalism but he could only do so much. Even Noel Mukono tried his best but some people who were there vechiKaranga, vechiZezuru were saying since the president of the party, Reverend Sithole and chairman, Cde Chitepo were from Manicaland, so Manyika could not take this and that post. Noel Mukono who was Chief of Defence ended up also being accused of regionalism and tribalism as he tried to sort things out. These things started from the early stages because people had no focus.

That’s why later Noel Mukono was dribbled and Cde Tongo took over as Chief of Defence. This move was orchestrated by people like Chigowe, Mutumbuka and so on. The idea was to later move Cde Tongo to become deputy president of the party since Cde Takawira had died. Joseph Chimurenga was supposed to then take over as Chief of Defence. This was the plot by the Super Karangas. So many wrong things happened at this time.

I remember after I came back from Nanking in China and I was appointed as political commissar by Cde Chitepo taking over from Cde Mataure who had been given another task in reconnaissance.

By this time, Cde Tongogara was still working together with Cde Noel Mukono as his deputy. Even Cde Enerst Kadungure, Cde Mapunzarima were now also in the party. The people who really caused tribalism and regionalism in Zanu were Cde Hamadziripi, Chigowe and Cde Mandizvidza. They were coming from the UK and they came with this talk saying “know your way?” At first we didn’t know what they were talking about. Later we got to know they were talking about “iwe unobva kupi, unoyera chii?” They started dividing people on regional and tribal lines. Cde Tongo was dragged into this unknowingly when he came back from training.

Cde Chitepo tried to address this issue warning us that this would destroy the party. On 28 February 1968, Cde Chitepo called most of the leadership of the party and spoke strongly against regionalism and tribalism. I will forever remember this day because that meeting was heated but Cde Chitepo maintained his cool as Cde Hamadziripi and his colleagues made all manner of accusations.

Things got to a point where we were having what were called ‘Super Zezurus and Super Karangas.’ These were Zezurus and Karangas who were in leadership positions in the party. I actually think one of the reasons why despite the role that I played since these early years of the struggle, I didn’t rise up the ladder of Zanu was because I am Tonga, but shuwa ndogeza rudzi rwangu here? I can’t.[2]


  1. Munyradzi Huni, Chitepo’s death and Chinhoyi 7 re-defined, The Sunday Mail, Published:8 November 2015 , Retrieved: 8 May 2016
  2. Munyaradzi Huni, Chimurenga II Chronicles: Zanu’s uncomfortable truth, The Sunday Mail, Published:8 May 2016, Retrieved: 8 May 2016