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Chief Joseph Mudzimu - friend or foe of the Shona people in Hurungwe?

On 15 July 2022, the New Zimbabwe newspaper reported the death of Chief Joseph Mudzimu (83) on July 2, after a short illness. His passing was a closely guarded secret; he was infamous for participating in the installation of the controversial Mbuya Nehanda statue in central Harare where he chanted incantations while on his knees. Mbuya Nehanda was one of the main spirit medium during the Rhodesian Civil War. The Zimbabwe Government came under much criticism for erecting the statue when the nation was in such dire economic circumstances. Mudzimu was buried on Thursday 14 July in his home area, Hurungwe, in line with traditional burial customs.

Interestingly, The Herald reported on 25 July 2018, that President Mnangagwa had restored the Mudzimu chieftaincy which had been relegated to headmanship by the white minority Government 63 years previously. A Government commission held full consultations with traditional leaders in Hurungwe District and recommended the upgrading. Head­man Joseph Mudz­imu was elevated to a chief with ef­fect from May 10, 2018.

Chief Mudz­imu had pre­vi­ously presided over Chirundu and the sur­round­ing ar­eas along the Zam­bezi Val­ley be­fore be­ing de­moted by the District Commissioner. In 1955, the tra­di­tional leader and his sub­jects were moved to what is now Ward 13 in Hurungwe un­der a pro­gramme that was aimed at paving way for the con­struc­tion of the Lake Kariba hydro electric power scheme. Mudzimu thus be­came the first tra­di­tional leader to be moved to Hurungwe be­fore oth­ers, in­clud­ing Chief Dan­dawa, who were also re­lo­cated from the Zam­bezi Val­ley un­der the same pro­gramme.

This is the sec­ond time a chief­taincy down­graded to head­man­ship by the white colonial rule has been re­stored in Hurungwe. In 2015, the Gov­ern­ment also re­stored the Chanetsa chief­taincy af­ter it was down­graded to head­man­ship by the white Government in 1950.

This was a re­sult of a heated al­ter­ca­tion be­tween Chief Muzara­bani Chanetsa and a white district com­mis­sioner nick­named Nya­mambishi (uncooked/raw meat). Chief Chanetsa had pointed a gun at Nya­mam­bishi in protest against plans to move him fur­ther away from where he was set­tled with his peo­ple. The disgruntled Chanetsa became notorious for cattle rustling, a strategy of striking a blow at the economy of the country. (See Battle For Hurungwe pp. 185-6.)


The reporting of the death of Joseph Mudzimu authenticates several facts revealed in Battle For Hurungwe. The Mudzimu area was in the remote western part of the Hurungwe Tribal Trust Land. Some of the facts not revealed in the newspaper articles include:

  • The forced removal of 57,000 Tongas from Gova in the Zambezi Valley, their home since the mid-16th century, to pave the way for the construction of the dam caused much discontent. Gova comprised a Korekore group of Shona subsistence farmers living along the banks of the lower Zambezi River.

  • Many of these aggrieved people were settled in the Hurungwe and were fertile ground for Matabele Nationalist revolutionary propaganda. The discontented Chief Joseph Mudzimu became an active ZIPRA supporter. (See Battle For Hurungwe pp 185-6.)

  • Mudzimu was demoted to headman by the District Commissioner for in-discrepancies. (See Battle For Hurungwe p.187.)

  • Joseph Mudzimu and a Mr Kapesa were appointed ZIPRA judges tasked to put on trial suspected “sellouts” who, if found guilty, were executed by the ZIPRA “suicide squad” commanded by ZIPRA insurgents Doctor and Friday. (See Battle For Hurungwe pp. 251-2)

  • On 7 December 1978, as a result of intelligence received, we led a successful Fire Force deployment to attack elements of ZIPRA based at Mudzimu Kraal. Joseph Mudzimu was present at the time but managed to escape. (See Battle For Hurungwe pp. 336-40.)

  • Despite the fact that the Mudzimu area had been liberated by ZIPRA, we successfully penetrated the area, established a permanent base, raised the United African Nationalist Council (UANC) flag, and permanently reopened the government school that ZIPRA had closed. (See Battle For Hurungwe pp. 408-11.)

In his book, The Great Betrayal (pp. 450-1), Ian Smith gave his opinion regarding the tribal system and stated: “I know of no method which gives more honest and genuine representation, stemming from the ‘grassroots’ and ensuring that the people’s feelings are accurately submitted and explained. The system is devoid of corruption, nepotism, intimidation, propaganda and brainwashing, all those evil and undesirable ingredients which play such an important part in modern government." Was this true? Was Mr Smith aware that the resettled Tongas were discontent and the influence this would have on their approach to the war? Did the people of "Rhodesia", the intelligence organisations and men from the Ministry of Internal Affairs believe this? If this was the case, what protection was offered for these tribal leaders? Were the people seen as a problem or a solution to the war?

These facts, and others, are discussed in detail in Battle For Hurungwe. Unanswered questions include firstly, was the voluntary support of a Shona chief for the mainly Matabele ZIPRA insurgents, who carried out unimaginable atrocities on the people of Hurungwe, justified. Secondly, why did the people of Hurungwe turn against ZIPRA insurgents and their collaborators and support their own people's army, the Security Force Auxiliaries? In other words, was Joseph Mudzimu friend or foe of the Shona people of Hurungwe? Thirdly, was Ian Smith correct in his thoughts regarding the tribal system.

Photos (click on the photos for a better view): (L-R) Presentation and display of the UANC flag representing the successful occupation of Mudzimu area, Hurungwe. Ian Suttill (former SAS), Regional Commander Big and the author at the occupation of Mudzimu ceremony.

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Book Review Neil Petrie

Battle for Hurungwe, by John Padbury is essential reading for those interested in the Rhodesian conflict, irregular warfare and national strategy. It is a personal but professionally produced work cov


Sep 16, 2022

Ambulance Nehanda spirit ended up in three different tsvaikiros as head body and legs. I would be very interested to know what happened to these individuals. One lady I met lived in Chiseshi. The other two I believe were killed by ZANLA


Unknown member
Sep 16, 2022

I refer to the Youtube (58:46 m/s) post: “The Firing Line with William F. Buckley Jr” ~ The Question of Rhodesia?” ~ The Ian Smith TV Interview, Episode S0133 - Recorded Friday, 15 March 1974, Salisbury, Rhodesia.

The Firing Line with William F. Buckley Jr” ~ The Question of Rhodesia? Ian Smith TV Studio Interview. Episode S0133 - Recorded Friday, 15 March 1974.

Regarding the quoted below > Cue to 06:00 m/s above Youtube webpage.

…The Great Betrayal (pp. 450-1), Ian Smith gave his opinion regarding the tribal system and stated: “I know of no method which gives more honest and genuine representation, stemming from the ‘grassroots’ and ensuring that the people’s feelings are accurately submitted and explained. The…

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