Ndabaningi Sithole: Through the eyes of his wife


TOWARDS, during and after the Land Reform Programme there was a feverish campaign by the West and Britain to legitimise the claim that Zimbabwe was ruled by a power hungry mad man.
Best sellers were often the ones that could give ‘inside’ information to ZANU PF and specifically the workings of President Robert Mugabe’s psyche.
Regime change platforms have offered book deals through publishers like Weaver Press and Amabooks for memoirs like Wilfred Mhanda’s Dzino.
In 2006 Ndabaningi Sithole’s widow Vesta wrote her memoir, My life With an Unsung Hero, published in ‘exile’ in the United States.
While the book appears to be a personal memoir of her time with Reverend Sithole by the fourth chapter it becomes clear the writer’s intention is attacking Mugabe as an ‘unfit’ leader.
The book aims to accord hero status to Reverend Sithole and position him as a better leader with foresight than Mugabe.
Ndabaningi Sithole was the founding leader of the Zimbabwe African National Union party in August 1963.
A firebrand during his time he was instrumental in initiating the armed struggle.
Vesta voluntarily or rather involuntarily provides details of how Sithole was to go down history as a failed leader after advice given him by his sponsor and controversial friend Tiny Rowland.
“Rowland had many businesses in Rhodesia and wanted this country to be stable,” writes Vesta.
“Mr Rowland also added that Abel Muzorewa and his UANC were willing to hold talks with Mr. Smith and also the chiefs.
“Reverend Sithole told Mr. Rowland that he too was prepared to meet and talk with Mr Smith.”
In the history of the liberation struggle there are many such instances where white businessmen in order to protect their investments would craft a compromise deal that would see their properties protected.
Usually such deals were struck at the expense of the majority as happened in the 80s in South Africa between the late President Mandela and the Afrikaners.
Weary from the battle, the once noble warriors eager to be in power would comprise at the last minute.
This then saw Sithole founder of a revolution signing an agreement with Smith, Bishop Abel Muzorewa and Chief Jeremiah Chirau in 1979.
According to Vesta, Reverend Sithole signed the settlement because the violence throughout the country had escalated and he wanted to end it.
The Internal Settlement would create a power sharing deal without much change in the status quo as all positions of leadership in ministries were still headed by the whites.
By then Sithole had been abandoned by the guerillas who no longer considered him their leader through the Mgagao declaration of 1975 where they stated that, “we the freedom fighters will do the fighting and nobody under heaven has the power to deny us the right to die for our country.
“We vowed to fight for our fatherland and the bloodshed in the struggle to liberate our fatherland is ours and strongly not anybody else’s.”
In the chaos after the death of Herbert Chitepo, the Zambian authorities had killed some guerillas at Mboroma.
Instead of visiting the injured and launching an investigation to address the issue, the Reverend is said to have travelled to America to see his daughter who was ill.
On this incident Vesta writes, “ the comrades who were against Reverend Sithole began circulating reports that he did not attend the needs of those in Zambia because he was going to see his sick child in America (He did have an outstanding trip to the United States, and had to go.)
In this instance, Vesta seems to be disputing that his daughter was ill, but then again fails to provide the truth as to why Sithole left his army when they needed him the most as their leader.
In her bid to validate why her husband was a better leader than Mugabe, she goes on to accord him ‘messianic’ qualities as a man who was easily trusting and could do no wrong.
“The people of Chipinge always associated the coming of the rains with the presence of Reverend Sithole in the area,” writes Vesta.
“Two days after our arrival it began to rain very heavily, ending a long period of drought.”
Such scenarios steal the objectivity from the now deceased author’s narrative.
During the struggle in Tanzania the writer is grateful when Victoria and Herbert Chitepo provide her with accommodation.
It was there that she suddenly contracted Tuberculosis.
“When l was discharged from the hospital, Mrs Chitepo told me she could not have me back at her home because she feared the disease might affect her children,” she writes.
Vesta is immediately rendered homeless and begins to wander the streets of Dar-Es-Salaam.
She also acknowledges that ZANU at that time had no funders and was barely functioning.
“Mr Mugabe returned from Ghana…finding me sick and homeless, he told me l was going to be sent back to Southern Rhodesia because the party had no money to look after me,” says Vesta. “He showed no sympathy at all.”
Vesta is willing to overlook everyone else that turned her away except for Mugabe who she later claimed was not in a position of leadership anyway.
According to Vesta Reverend Sithole never made a poor decision other than trusting those around him, which is an indictment to his leadership qualities.
“l have to say that Reverend Sithole’s weakness was that of trust,” she writes.
She therefore pardons all his weaknesses while condemning President Mugabe using Ian Smith’s book The Great betrayal as her guide which she quotes throughout the book.
It is clear that Vesta’s ‘life with an unsung hero’ is a narrative that seeks sympathy from the reader.
Her tone speaks volumes.
She pretends not bothered that her husband Reverend Sithole who died in the USA on December 12 2000 was not accorded hero’s status in Zimbabwe.
After all, according to Vesta, Reverend Sithole did not want to be buried at the Heroes Acre.
He was buried at his Freedom Farm in Chipinge although as Vesta writes, “some had hoped that Reverend Sithole would be laid to rest at Heroes Acre.”
The question, however, is could this have been possible for a leader who had been denounced by freedom fighters in 1975 at the height of the liberation struggle through the Mgagao Declaration?
Could this have been possible for a leader who signed the internal settlement in 1978 with Ian Smith and Abel Muzorewa and proceeded to fight the war on the white man’s side against the freedom fighters?
The freedom fighters had lost faith in Reverand Sithole, labelling him as an individual who in practical terms had done nothing to promote the armed struggle, especially after associating himself with the enemy.
Therefore, Vesta as someone who was once Reverend Sithole’s secretary before she became his wife fails to be objective in her narrative.
She deliberately brushes aside the fact that her ‘unsung hero’ sold out during the liberation war.


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