Remembering the heroic fight of Chief Tangwena


WEDNESDAY, October 29 marked the 44th anniversary of the atrocity committed by the Rhodesian racists against Chief Rekayi Tangwena and his people.
On October 29, 1970 the Rhodesian government of Ian Douglas Smith impounded over 500 cattle belonging to the Tangwena people of Nyanga, burnt their homes and cattle kraals and sent them into the forests to live like animals.
The above terrible atrocity on the innocent, defenceless people of Tangwena marked the point of no return in their struggle against the Rhodesian racist government who had decided to evict them from their ancestral lands.
From then on it became a bitter struggle by the Tangwena people against the Rhodesian racists, a struggle which was full of suffering and death until 1980 when finally the blacks defeated the white racists and won their independence.
We mark the 44th anniversary by highlighting the heroic deeds by Chief Rekayi Tangwena and his people and the heroic Zimbabweans that took the Rhodesian racist regime monster by its ugly horns.
We hope our young generations will learn a thing or two from the great story of Chief Tangwena and his people in the worldwide fight against racism and oppression. Henry V. Moyana helps us with our story.
Chief Rekayi Tangwena who is the main hero of our story became chief of his people in 1966, in Nyanga, Manicaland Province. And before long he got into trouble with the Rhodesian racists.
Soon after he had been made chief, Tangwena, went to the District Commissioner’s office at Nyanga, as was the tradition, to inform the District Commissioner of his elevation to the office of chief.
To his horror he was told that it was not possible for him to be chief since he, according to the District Commissioner, was a squatter on the ranch of a white farmer called William Hanmer.
The District Commissioner went on to tell Chief Rekayi Tangwena that if he wanted to be recognised as chief it was advisable for him and his people to first become registered labourers of William Hanmer. Babangu wee!”
How a chief could all of a sudden become a squatter or labourer surprised Chief Tangwena .
The Tangwena people had lived on the land concerned for hundreds of years.
Shocked by what the District Commissioner had said, Chief Rekayi Tangwena threw his traditional hat into the centre of the ring and decided to take the Rhodesian racist government head on.
Thus began one of the most celebrated heroic fights by a Zimbabwean chief and his people against Rhodesian settler colonialism in the annals of our country’s history.
At first Chief Tangwena decided to fight the racists using their very own system.
When the District Commissioner at Nyanga had snubbed him, Chief Rekayi Tangwena went to the District Commissioner’s Ministry of Internal Affairs in the then Salisbury, to complain about the snub. However, he got no joy from the offices.
Instead he was considered a stubborn African who deserved no better. The ministry ordered that all the chief’s regalia which was meant for him be taken away from him right away. And that is what happened.
Back home the white rancher William Hanmer decided the time had come to evict Chief Tangwena and his people from their land which he considered “his” land.
And so he served an eviction notice on Chief Tangwena in July 1966. However, the courageous Chief Tangwena disobeyed the order.
When it became quite clear that Chief Rekayi and his people were never going to leave their ancestral lands for the white rancher, a Minister of Lands then, one Phillip Van Heeden visited Tangwena and tongue in cheek offered him and his people land in Gokwe, in the Midlands province.
However, Chief Rekayi Tangwena refused the offer.
He had no intention of leaving the land of his birth and ancestors.
Thus Chief Tangwena’s refused to go to Gokwe and William Hanmer wrote him another letter of eviction and once more the chief refused to budge.
The fight was now on big time.
Chief Rekayi Tangwena was brought to the Magistrates’ court at Nyanga in the months of May and June 1967. Below is the ridiculous charge that was levelled against him.
“On or about the period extending from the November 1966 to April 1967 and at or near Inyanga (Nyanga) in the Province of Manicaland, the said Rekayi (Chief Rekayi Tangwena) being an African did wrongfully and unlawfully occupy land in a European area”,
This was racist arrogance of the worst kind telling someone who had been born in that area and whose ancestors were buried in the land that he had “wrongfully and unlawfully occupied land in a European area”.
Chief Rekayi lost the case and was ordered to move off the land.
But again he refused to move from his land saying “ I will not leave this land because it was left for me by my father before he died. He said this is the land where you will live. I therefore utterly and completely refuse to leave this Land.”
He was again taken to court but lost and he appealed.
This time around the court ordered the convictions and sentences to be set aside.
They concluded that Chief Tangwena was lawfully living on the land claimed by William Hanmer”.
End of story? Not in racist Rhodesia.
The racist government having lost the court case abandoned the rule of law and resorted to the law of the jungle.
They crafted a racist piece of legislation to enable them to remove Chief Tangwena and his people from their land.
And so using the new draconian law “on September 18 1969, in a predawn raid a convoy of nine land Rovers, supply vehicles and a bull dozer moved into the Tangwena villages. Violence ensued.
When the police tried to take Chief Rekayi away women wailed and clung around their chief stripping off their clothes in despair and anger. The police beat up the women, handcuffed Rekayi, tore his clothes and drove him away to Nyanga.
The villagers later assembled in the bush and decided to go to Nyanga Police Station. As soon as they arrived they were met by police with truncheons.
When the police repeatedly called the Tangwena people to move away from the police camp the crowd shouted their refusal. They taunted and shouted at police while dancing.
War had begun in Nyanga and despite police brutality the people and their chief refused to leave their land.
Active struggle against colonialism began.
Chief Tangwena’s people began living in the forest fighting the racists.
In the end Chief Tangwena and many others crossed into Mozambique to join the liberation struggle in 1975.
The Tangwena people’s great fight was not in vain for finally in 1980 Zimbabweans defeated the Rhodesian racists and Chief Rekayi Tangwena became a Senator in a new Zimbabwe.
He died on June 11 1984.


  1. Please produce evidence of this with court documents and newspaper reports. There is so much propaganda on the internet that one cannot believe what is said without proof.


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