Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

A brief history of Bishop Abel Muzorewa

By Alan Cowell

Alan Cowell

Bishop Abel T. Muzorewa, once a central player in white minority plans to blunt black majority rule in what is now Zimbabwe, died on Thursday in Harare, the capital, the state-controlled Herald newspaper said Friday. He was 85.

Bishop Muzorewa enjoyed brief renown as prime minister of an unrecognized white-dominated government before history, war and diplomacy moved on without him.

In a career as a cleric and political activist in what was then called Rhodesia, Bishop Muzorewa initially attracted a following as a nationalist leader, thwarting British plans to strike a deal in the 1970s with former Prime Minister Ian D. Smith.

But the nationalist struggle splintered into many factions. A fundamental divide opened between those black politicians, like Bishop Muzorewa, who chose to remain inside the country to pursue a political settlement, and those, like Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe — now president of independent Zimbabwe — who went on to conduct a guerrilla campaign from exile.

The war began in 1972, and as it intensified and international economic sanctions deepened, Mr. Smith came under pressure from neighboring, apartheid-ruled South Africa to seek black leaders for what was called an “internal settlement.”

The deal, struck in 1978, offered the first all-race elections — albeit under white supervision — since Britain’s arch-colonialist, Cecil John Rhodes, carved out a land from the savannas of central Africa and named it for himself in 1890.

Among those black leaders was Bishop Muzorewa, head of the United African National Council. He campaigned in the 1979 elections under the slogan “The Winner,” and T-shirts handed out to supporters showed him clutching a ceremonial baton.

Bishop Muzorewa’s victory made him prime minister of a nation then called Zimbabwe-Rhodesia — and brought enduring condemnation from more radical nationalists, who labeled him a puppet of Mr. Smith’s South African-backed machinations.

With the bush war still raging, Bishop Muzorewa’s government was shielded by those same white-led security forces that were fighting the exiled guerrilla movements led by his rivals. Mr. Mugabe, Mr. Nkomo and their followers boycotted the 1979 vote. The United Nations called Bishop Muzorewa’s government illegal.

As the war continued, Britain used its formal position as the colonial power to convene a peace conference in London in late 1979. Those negotiations led to elections that brought Mr. Mugabe to power as prime minister upon independence in 1980.

Bishop Muzorewa trailed with only 8 percent of that vote. The outcome dashed any last hopes by the white minority, South African leaders or British diplomats that Bishop Muzorewa, a member of the majority Shona people, might act as a bulwark against Mr. Mugabe.

His political career as a minority legislator lasted only four years, but he continued as a declared opponent of Mr. Mugabe for many years, courting arrest on charges of conspiring against the government.

Abel Tendekayi Muzorewa was born in eastern Rhodesia in April 1925, the eldest of eight children. He had been a schoolteacher and a lay preacher before he went on to theological college. As secretary of the Students’ Christian Movement, he established himself as an opponent of the white minority rule that Mr. Smith once vowed would last for 1,000 years.

He was consecrated as Bishop of Rhodesia in the United Methodist Church in 1968.

Mr. Mugabe routinely labeled Bishop Muzorewa a sell-out. Referring to his diminutive stature, the somewhat larger Mr. Nkomo liked to call him “the little bishop.” Bishop Muzorewa retired formally from politics in 2001. New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/