Thenjiwe Lesabe
News bLesabe-T-250.jpg
BornThenjiwe Virginia
(1932-01-05)January 5, 1932
Hope Fountain near Bulawayo
DiedFebruary 13, 2011(2011-02-13) (aged 79)
  • Primary School Teacher
  • Zimbabwe Liberation War Fighter
Political partyZAPU, Zanu-PF

Thenjiwe Lesabe was a politician and liberation war fighter in the Second Chimurenga. She was also a teacher. She was elected to the House of Assembly in 1980. [1]

Personal Details

Death: Lesabe died at United Bulawayo Hospitals on Friday 11 February 2011.

School / Education

Primary: at Whitewater Primary School.
Secondary: Hope Fountain Mission, trained as a teacher.

Service / Career

She taught at Lotshe Primary School in Makokoba, Bulawayo. She resigned from teaching in 1959 and joined Bantu Mirror as a journalist. [2]

Between 1949 and 1953, Lesabe became an active member of a social group composed of intellectuals and others interested in social welfare matters including education for Africans in the country called Gama Sigma Club in Bulawayo. Other prominent members of the club were Samuel Ndebele, Chief Gampu, Abraham Nkiwane, Edward Ndlovu, Francis Nehwati, Benjamin Burombo and others.

In 1957 Lesabe became one of the first people to join the Southern Rhodesian African National Congress when it was formed in 1957.

In 1960, she was among the first women to join the National Democratic Party (NDP), whose chairman of the Women’s League was Anna Nyathi. Lesabe mobilised many people in Mzilikazi and Babourfields and formed a branch known as MZIBA (Mzilikazi/Babourfields).

At the first inter-branch meeting of the Women’s League members, she was elected chairman of the Bulawayo district committee. After the NDP was banned, Lesabe became Women's League leader of ZAPU and continued until ZAPU was banned in 1962. The Women's League branch of ZAPU was called ZAWU. During her leadership, Lesabe led protests in Bulawayo and was arrested.

After ZAPU was banned, Lesabe part of the leaders of the new People's Caretaker Council in 1963. The partner was a movement to keep the banned ZAPU alive. It too was banned the following year, in 1964. [2]

Liberation War

Between 1970 and 1974, she toured all provinces in the country where she addressed several meetings informing members about ZAPU programmes of the armed struggle which had began in earnest. In 1975, she was elected to the National Executive as the head of ZAWU at a congress of the African National Council (ANC). The same congress elected the late Josiah Chinamano as vice president and Joseph Msika as secretary general.

At the time when liberation movements were based in Zambia, Lesabe was appointed to the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Council.

ZAPU occasionally assigned her to international missions to lobby for support of the liberation war. She visited Asia, USA, Latin America, Europe and African countries. On her missions she would work together with other Southern African liberation movements such as Namibia's Swapo and South Africa's ANC. [2]

After Independence

After Independence, Lesabe was elected to the House of Assembly in 1980 for Matobo district in Matabeleland North as a member of PF-Zapu. She later represented Umzingwane in Parliament. She was again elected chairman of ZAWU at Zapu’s 1984 congress.

In the Zimbabwe 1985 Parliamentary Election, Mzingwane returned to Parliament:

During Gukurahundi, Lesabe was part of PF-Zapu's team that negotiated with Zanu-PF for the end of the atrocities. This culminated in the Unity Accord.

In the 1990 Parliamentary Election (see A History of Zimbabwean Elections) Umzingwane returned to Parliament:

Turnout - 15 606 voters or 35.52 %

In the 2000 Parliamentary Election (see A History of Zimbabwean Elections) Gwanda North returned to Parliament:

Later, Lesabe was appointed deputy minister of tourism. She eventually became minister of education and culture, and minister of national affairs and employment creation.

Lesabe also became deputy secretary for women’s affairs and served in the national staff committee chaired by the late VP Simon Muzenda. After the death of Sally Mugabe, she was appointed secretary for women’s affairs until 2004.

Rejoining Zapu

In 2009, she left Zanu-PF to join the revived Zapu and was elected chairperson of the Zapu Council of Elders at the party’s 9th congress held in Bulawayo in 2010. [2]


Despite some expectation that, because of her contribution to Zimbabwe's war of independence, she would be conferred National Heroine status, Lesabe was not. Zanu-PF’s Secretary for Administration, Didymus Mutasa, said “After all the party consultations, Cde Lesabe was not declared a national heroine since she did not end her tenure in ZANU PF after leaving to join the Dumiso Dabengwa-led ZAPU.” But even before ZANU PF’s statement, the Lesabe family had said it did not want her to be buried at Heroes Acre, as this was against her wishes.[3]

Mrs Lesabe was laid to rest at her farm in Fort Rixon in Insiza District of Matabeleland South Province. [4]

Lesabe is among other women liberation war fighters that were not declared heroines such as Catherine Garanewako, Sheba Tavarwisa, Tichaona Freedom, Nyamubaya and Ruth Nyamurowa. This is despite that male colleagues, even those who joined the struggle after them, and some where trained by these female combatants.[5]


  1. [Diana Mitchell, African Nationalist Leaders in Zimbabwe: Who’s Who 1980], "African Nationalist Leaders in Zimbabwe: Who’s Who 1980, (Cannon Press, Salisbury, 1980), Retrieved: 13 January 2022
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Amos Ngwenya, 1932-2011: the life of Thenjiwe Lesabe, 14 Feb 2011, Published: , Retrieved: 13 May 2017
  3. Irene Madongo, Thenjiwe Lesabe denied heroes status, Shortwave Radio Africa, Published:15 Feb 2011, Retrieved: 13 May 2017
  4. Mrs Thenjiwe Virginia Lesabe dies, The Zimbabwean, Published: 13 Feb 2011, Retrieved: 13 May 2017
  5. Mawere, Munyaradzi, Mubaya, Tapuwa R., Colonial Heritage, Memory and Sustainability in Africa: Challenges, Opportunities and Prospects, Langaa RPCIG, 12 Dec,2015