By Isaya Muriwo Sithole
On Thursday, October 15, 2020, we commemorated 45 years since the abduction, disappearance and subsequent death without trace of national hero Dr Edson Furatidzayi Chisingaitwi Sithole.
It is pertinent for the nation to pause for a moment and reflect on the life and death of this selfless son of the soil.
The fact that Dr Sithole’s remains have not been found and have not been given a decent burial to date, 45 years after he met his fate, reflects the callous nature of the heinous crimes of the colonial regime.
There is sufficient cause for thorough self-introspection and soul-searching among his contemporaries, fellow nationalists and the nation at large.
In order to understand the concerns, frustrations and agony of the Sithole family, it is important to look at how the Dr Sithole mystery has been handled over the years.
It is the Sithole family’s contention that the resolution of the Dr Edson Sithole mystery has not yet been given the seriousness and attention that it deserves, starting with the Smith regime itself, followed by the Smith-Muzorewa government through to the former late President, Robert Mugabe’s government.
Throughout, there wasn’t sufficient political will to confront the issue head-on.
It is the hope of the Sithole family that the Second Republic will have the will to bring finality to this dark past of our struggle for independence and ensure that the remains of Dr Sithole are found and given a decent burial at the national shrine.
This will appease both his restless spirit and the troubled soul of the Sithole family and the nation at large.
The unresolved riddle of Dr Sithole’s disappearance and how it has been handled thus far calls for Government to create a platform for an inquest to be conducted on the circumstances surrounding the abduction, disappearance and subsequent death of the fiery nationalist, who was a ZANU Central Committee member and the publicity secretary of the African National Congress.
The idea of an inquest is not a novel idea.
After the disappearance of Dr. Edson Sithole at a local hotel on the evening of October 15, 1975, The (Rhodesia) Herald had an editorial entitled “Thorough Inquiry” in its October 18, 1975 issue.
I quote parts of the editorial comment in detail: “The mysterious disappearance of Dr. Edson Sithole . . . is having repercussions which can only be harmful to Rhodesia . . . Dr Sithole had plenty of enemies. Of that there is no doubt. But if it turns out that he was kidnapped, no effort must be spared to catch his abductors. They must be brought before the courts where there need be no fear they will be dealt with in the proper manner. We are confident that the police will see to it that the investigation into the disappearance of Dr Sithole and Miss Mhlanga will be conducted with vigour and thoroughness. What they turn up may be very different from what has been suggested but in no way must it be accepted that people can disappear in odd circumstances in the middle of Salisbury (now Harare) without prompt action by the authorities. Where the alleged victim has been extremely critical of those authorities, as Dr Sithole has been, then the swift and effective response should be visible to all.”
The Smith government, apart from cosmetic and inconclusive investigations, was largely indifferent.
The Smith-Muzorewa government was equally indifferent.
The previous government of the late former president, Robert Mugabe, also fell short of expectations and hopes of the Sithole family.
Since independence in 1980, there was virtual official silence about Dr Edson Sithole until, after intense lobbying behind the scenes, he was declared dead and subsequently declared a national hero in 1994, together with other ZAPU cadres who were declared national heroes following the Unity Accord.
The conferment of national hero status on Dr Sithole gave renewed hope to the Sithole family that this political riddle would finally be resolved.
After Dr Edson Sithole was declared a national hero, the Sithole family was invited to a meeting with the then-Minister of Home Affairs, the late Cde Dumiso Dabengwa, where we were told that there were plans to put a representative grave for Dr Sithole at the national shrine, even if his remains had not been found.
It was obviously becoming embarrassing for the President to meet the family behind a photo of Dr Edson Sithole, which was normally placed next to Cde Herbert Chitepo’s grave, every Heroes Day.
The family was assured that when such plans were executed they would be consulted and invited to be part of the event. However, this was not to be so.
In August 1999, when the family went to the national shrine as state guests for the Heroes Day programme, we were surprised to see that the empty grave for Dr Edson Sithole had already been surreptitiously put at the national shrine without consultation and involvement of the Sithole family.
We were just told by officials that this was done hurriedly at the behest of the then-president, Robert Mugabe.
At the time, the late Cde John Nkomo was the Minister of Home Affairs.
During the tour of graves, President Mugabe told us that “takatsvaga takashaya, hamheno kuti mabhunu akamuisepi”. (We searched for him but we did not find anything, we don’t know where the white people put him).
He claimed the “cenotaph monument” was put at the national shrine “just in memory” of him. He advised that if we had any issues that needed attention, we were supposed to engage Cde John Nkomo. That’s as far as it went.
Efforts by the family to push for an inquest into the abduction, disappearance and subsequent death of Dr Edson Sithole have not been successful to date.
That notwithstanding, the need for an inquest into the circumstances surrounding his fate cannot be overemphasised.
The Sithole family hopes that the Second Republic will find it in their hearts to accede to this long overdue request.
At both a political and philosophical level, the Sithole family has already come to terms with what happened to him, but the call for an inquest is mainly to ensure that his remains are found and given a decent burial at the national shrine, with honours befitting a departed national hero.
Sadly, although we always attend the Heroes Day programme as State guests, the biography of Dr Sithole does not feature in the pamphlets that are normally made for the event.
Dr Sithole was a committed nationalist with deep convictions.
He was loved and hated; understood and misunderstood in different measures by many.
On March 28, 1993, The Sunday Times carried a story entitled, “The Edison Sithole mystery deepens” in which it was reported that “the mysterious disappearance of fiery politician, Edson Sithole, has taken another twist with the revelations that he was handling arms smuggled from Maputo days or weeks before he died”.
In the report, a former British intelligence officer confirmed that Dr Edson Sithole was the author of a manuscript, “Serpents in the Sunshine”, in which a character called Dr Edson Thule receives a cache of arms from ZANU.
Dr Thule then secretly manages to transport the arms to Greenfields with the help of a white man who works at the railway station. The officer confirmed that he knew Dr Sithole personally and that he worked as his cover at the railway station in the then Salisbury.
The officer said he knew Dr Sithole “very well” as from 1972 and that it was the politician who tipped him to leave the country in April 1974. He credited him with having a very extensive network of informers “even in the Criminal Investigations Department”.
The British intelligence officer said although Dr Sithole was officially the African National Congress’ publicity secretary, that was only a cover.
“His actual job was as an undercover top ZANU man in the country. He was the only one with the freedom to move about.”
At the time, ZANU was a banned organisation and its senior leaders were either in jail or in Maputo. It is important to restate the importance of the Government creating a platform for an inquest.
The Sithole family hopes the current engagements between the family and both the ruling party and Government will bear fruit.
It is hoped that, among other things, the process of writing the late nationalist’s biography, which the family is spearheading, will be adequately supported.
The process of researching and writing the biography cannot be separated from the process of searching for the remains of Dr Sithole.
Isaya Muriwo Sithole is a legal practitioner practicing in Harare and is the founder and executive director of the Dr. Edson F.C Sithole Foundation. He is the Sithole family spokesperson. The Sunday Mail