Abel Muzorewa – a bridge between two worlds?

bishop_muzoriwaBishop Abel Muzorewa (Pictured), who has just died, led the ANC in 1972 in the successful campaign to reject the Anglo-Rhodesian constitutional proposals for settling the political impasse in this country.

Those proposals had been accepted by the whites but were rejected by blacks as postponing independence into the far too distant future. And since blacks far outnumbered whites the proposals were rejected by the country as a whole. It was the first time that majority opinion influenced a political outcome and Muzorewa was the man of the hour. Even ZANU and ZAPU were content to shelter under his umbrella for a while.

But he misjudged his success. He thought he could now go on to settle the whole issue of founding a free Zimbabwe. In the event he fell out with the external nationalist leaders and pursued an internal settlement with the Rhodesian government, which in due course led to him becoming prime minister, a post he held at the time of the Lancaster House agreement in 1979, but he was swept from power in the March elections in 1980.

It is a pity he did not leave well alone at that time and retire from politics. He was a bishop and could have perhaps reflected on the line in John, I myself am not the one (3:28). He had achieved something even if it was all a bit messy. He had acted as a bridge. The whites in the late 1970s were bruised but they were not defeated. Their propaganda had painted the nationalists leaders in lurid terms.

Part of the attraction of the 1979 settlement for them was that it promised more of the same, that is, a black prime minister but with real power remaining for an indefinite time in the hands of those around him, many of the most powerful of whom were white. Muzorewas presence on the ballot paper reassured those who were not ready for Nkomo or Mugabe.

The shock came on March 4, 1980 when Mugabe and his party emerged as the clear winners. In the space of a few hours many whites, who had been fed with distortions and fears for so long, caught up with 90 years of history. But Muzorewa had been a cushion. He gave them a softer landing.

Historians may well argue that without Muzorewa the whites would never have agreed to the election. The war might well have dragged on longer. More would have died. He was perhaps an unsuspecting bridge from the old Rhodesia to the new Zimbabwe. The trouble with bridges is that people trod on them or drive over them. He was soon forgotten and when he was remembered he was branded a puppet. It does seem true that he was out of his depth. He had never chosen politics. But I suspect he will not be forgotten. Whatever mistakes he made people know that he tried to make his contribution. And it was not insignificant.

Post published in: Opinions

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