HARARE - President Robert Mugabe yesterday claimed the late nationalist Hebert Chitepo was assassinated by Rhodesian colonialists.
Chitepo, who was the Zanu PF chairman, was killed by a car bomb placed in his Volkswagen Beetle in Zambia in 1975.
A report produced by a commission of inquiry into Chitepo’s death has never been made public in Zimbabwe.
The inquiry was instituted by the Zambian government at the height of the liberation war.
Since the time he was killed, there have been widespread speculation that Chitepo was killed by his Zanu allies.
But Mugabe told mourners yesterday at the burial of Kumbirai Kangai, a protégé of Chitepo, that the nationalists did not have the sophistry to assemble a bomb that killed Chitepo.
“People were blamed for Chitepo’s death but people had no technology to make such bombs and there were no reasons to do so,” Mugabe said at the National Heroes Acre yesterday.
“Later we discovered that it was the Rhodesians who killed Chitepo.”
In her book, The Assassination of Herbert Chitepo, Luise White, professor of History at the University of Florida, says there have been four confessions and at least as many accusations about who was responsible.
There are no clear indications of who killed Chitepo despite the appointment of the Chitepo Commission of inquiry by the Zambian government on 31st March 1975.
A report produced by the Chona Commission has never been made public in Zimbabwe.
Chitepo’s death led to the arrest of Zanu PF combatants including the late celebrated war commander Josiah Tongogara, whose death just before independence also is one of the most explosive and unclosed chapters in the country’s history.
It is widely believed that Chitepo was murdered in the course of a power struggle by close Zanu PF allies.
Soon after his death, the Kenneth Kaunda-led Zambian government detained the Zanla leadership over Chitepo’s death after they had aroused suspicion by leaving Zambia soon after his burial.
But yesterday Mugabe, who delivered a two-hour long history lecture, blamed the racist settler regime of Ian Smith for the death of a lawyer who many believed had the credentials to be the leader of Zanu and Zimbabwe.
Mugabe, Africa’s longest serving ruler and in power since 1980, admitted that he did not want to be the president of Zanu.
“In 1977 I was chosen to be the acting president of Zanu, at first I refused because I wanted to return home as the secretary general,” he said.
But Mugabe was to lead the party following the death of Chitepo.
In July 2001, and after 16 years of silence, Chitepo’s wife Victoria claimed that her husband’s murder was an internal Zanu job, and demanded unsuccessfully that his killers be brought to justice.
Her plea followed statements by Kaunda that Chitepo’s Zanu opponents, not Rhodesian agents, were responsible for the killing.
Veteran nationalist James Chikerema, who with Chitepo was one of the founding members of Zapu before Zanu split, had another theory about his death.
“I knew Chitepo for years. He was murdered by Tongogara and the Karanga mafia,” he claimed.
Despite Mugabe’s statement yesterday, the liberation war narrative remains murky and last year, the wife of Tongogara, Angeline called for a probe into the death of her husband and made sensational allegations that he was also killed by fellow nationalists.
Several families have demanded further probes into deaths of politicians who have died under unclear circumstances and are demanding answers from government.
These include families of the late General Solomon Mujuru and Zimbabwe National Army Brigadier-General Paul Armstrong Gunda who both died in mysterious circumstances.