Eddison Zvobgo – Zim’s sharpest legal mind

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Gracious Madondo

Nationalist and pan-Africanist Eddison Zvobgo is undeniably one of Zimbabwe’s major players in the political history of the country.   

He contributed immensely in the liberation war of the country on the legislative side by drafting most of Zanu-PF party policies that included women’s rights and the rights of black people to land and the right to elect a government of their choice.

Eddison Zvobgo’s life and work are chronicled in “The Struggle for Zimbabwe (1935-2004) Eddison Zvobgo”, a biographical book authored by Chengetai Zvobgo ‑ the young brother of the nationalist.

The late Eddison Jonasi Mudadirwa Zvobgo was born on 2 October 1935 in the southern-eastern province of Zimbabwe, Masvingo, in a family of 15.

The young Zvobgo had a very rich educational background attained from some of Europe’s prestigious universities such as Harvard University where he graduated with a Master’s Degree in Law. He also obtained his PhD from Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

His education and professional portfolios are very much grounded in law. Besides the physical battle on the war front, there was also another battle of the minds that needed to be waged in order to conscientise the masses. Zvobgo was very instrumental in executing the fight for mass political consciousness.

When asked in what way Africans were oppressed, Zvobgo in his typical witty demeanour said Africans were oppressed in two ways. First, despite making up 96 percent of the total population, the same blacks did not have overall control of the legislature. Second, those that were the minority were the ones who possessed political control and had passed so many laws which were distasteful to the African people. 

Written in a simple diction, the book captures Zvogbo’s philosophical and legalistic thinking in articulating the fact that years of settler oppression had demonstrated that “colonialism is aggression” and it, therefore, required a counter judicial aggression.

As outlined in Chapter 4 of the biography titled, “Eddison and the Road to Zimbabwe, 1979-1980” in as much as the intellectuals took part in the struggle, the independence of the country was also achieved through negotiation contest of the various political parties of the time, including ZANU, ZAPU, UANC and the ZANU led by the late Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole.   

The dream for independence brought about the birth of four major political parties in the country, namely Bishop Muzorewa’s United African National Council (UANC), Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole’s Zimbabwean African National Union (ZANU-Sithole), Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU).

Upon the formation of the ZANU political party in 1963, Zvobgo was tasked with the duty of drafting the constitution and party statement of the new party, which he and other party founders such as Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole, Leopold Takawira, and Robert Mugabe, among others, named ZANU.

“Eddison was assigned to draft the constitution and the policy statement of the new party, which he and the others named the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). With Henry Pote and John Mataure as assistants, he completed the draft on the 4th of August, 1963.”

The ZANU policy statement that Zvobgo drafted committed the party to establish a nationalist, democratic, socialist and pan-Africanist republic in Zimbabwe to adhere strictly to the principles of the rule of law and establish a unitary and indivisible republic based on the principle of non-racism.

This rule of law aimed at guaranteeing the bill of rights and freedom on the black Zimbabwean citizens to appeal to issues of land apportionment, land husbandry and do away with previous law. These Land Acts not only affected the state of land ownership in the whole of Southern Africa with other nations joining in in asserting legislative ways to claim land.

Zvobgo’s concern for justice, as captured throughout the biography, stretches to the recognition of women in legislation. Zvobgo put into place laws that empowered black women, recognising their role in the economic and political struggle of the nation.

“A comprehensive history of Zimbabwe must of necessity include women’s rights firstly because African women were the most disadvantaged at independence in 1980 and secondly because they were as much a part of the liberation struggle as the men.”

The biography captures Zvobgo’s historical legislative achievements from the time when he was the Minister of Justice and transformed the law in so far as it oppressed women. At this point, Zvobgo decided to do away with aspects of customary laws such legal age of maturity for women in the Legal Age of Maturity Act (LAMA) in 1982.

“The statute fixed the age of majority at 18 years for all people, men and women and abrogated African customary law …Under the new statute, an African woman as a major acquired a contractual capacity including the right to enter into a marriage contract without the need for parental consent.”

However, despite the passing of this Act, customary practices continued to militate against the advancement of African women in Zimbabwe even to this day.

The biography is an outstanding literary piece because it tells the side of the liberation struggle that only a handful of writers capture in passing when telling tales of the liberation war.

Chengetai Zvobgo, the author, clearly depicts the role played by intellectuals in the country’s independence struggle. The biography captures the collective efforts of the country’s political leaders such as Joshua Nkomo, James Chikerema, Josiah Chinamano, and Robert Mugabe with Zvobgo at the centre of the narrative.

Writing after the passing on of Zvobgo in 2004, a special correspondent for The Financial Gazette described the late nationalist as “a colossus on the country’s turbulent political scene. A guarding light in our Parliament, a spell-binding orator at public gatherings and arguably the best lawyer in post-independence Zimbabwe”.

“The Struggle for Zimbabwe (1935-2004) Eddison Zvobgo” is of great historical significance because it captures some of the most crucial moments and achievements in the intellectuals’ contribution to the independence of the country.

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