President of ZANU, Chairman of the Zimbabwe Liberation Council and President of ZANU-Sithole President of ZANU-Ndonga
The interview was held by Tor Sellström in Harare on 25 July 1995.
Tor Sellström: There was an early involvement by the Nordic countries in the liberation struggle in Zimbabwe. How can you explain that? Did it start with the missions?
Ndabaningi Sithole: Well, to begin with it was an involvement by the missions. Sweden had a very big mission in this country at Mnene. Incidentally, my first child was born at that mission. When the struggle started, somehow the good-hearted people at Mnene sympathized with the African nationalist cause and we were able to send some of our fellows to Sweden. My own son, for instance, got into a family there. They looked after him. My daughter also got there through a Swedish family. But it is not only my family that benefited from being kept by Swedish families during the struggle, but other families as well. They benefited a great deal.
Tor Sellström: I know that family members of nationalist leaders received support from Sweden through organizations like Christian Aid and the International Defence and Aid Fund. So, you think that the missionary influence was important?
Ndabaningi Sithole: It was very important, indeed. The missionary involvement is always very important. That is my view, which I held as way back as in the 1950s when I first wrote on African nationalism and said that the African liberation movements would have been much poorer without the missionary influence. Practically all the leaders of the African movements in this country—and elsewhere in Africa—went through mission schools. Take Mugabe himself, the President of Zimbabwe. He went to a Roman Catholic mission school. Take Nkomo. He schooled through the Methodist church. And I studied through the United Church of Christ.
Tor Sellström: Did you have this connection in mind when you appointed the first ZANU representatives to the Nordic countries?
Ndabaningi Sithole: Yes, that is right.
Tor Sellström: Was this because you had contacts with the Nordic people?
Ndabaningi Sithole: Yes, we already had contacts with them. We always admired the Nordic people and wanted our promising young people to go there.
Tor Sellström: Later you sent ZANU members to Sweden on scholarships, like Sydney Sekeramayi?
Ndabaningi Sithole: Yes.
Tor Sellström: You were waging an anti-colonial, anti-imperialist liberation struggle in which you eventually were forced to take up arms. Was it not strange that the Nordic countries supported you?
Ndabaningi Sithole: No, there was nothing strange about that as far as we were concerned. Westerners are able to distinguish between personalities and causes. We were not fighting white people as such. We were fighting imperialism, which in this country was represented by Britain, and we knew that Sweden was not in support of imperialism. They just wanted the people here to be free and we took advantage of this. We did not appeal to them for weapons of war. We appealed to them for medicines, clothing, food, footwear and blankets and they came out with their very best. They helped us in that way. But as far as the military side is concerned, we never even made an effort, because we knew that their policy was for peace.
But we told them that we were waging a war. We did not hide it. We said that there is a war because people are not listening to what we are saying. If we fight they will probably listen much better, and, in fact, then they did listen! For a long time we told the whites here—and in Britain and elsewhere—that they had to give in to the demands of the majority.
Tor Sellström: When did you have your first contacts with the Nordic countries? Was it through the church?
Ndabaningi Sithole: Yes, with the church. I was trained at Dadaya mission, two or three hundred miles away from the Mnene mission. Mnene mission was Lutheran and Dadaya was of the United Church of Christ, but we used to have inter-sports relations and a good number of my friends came from Mnene. Even at this stage, when I go to Mnene I am treated as though I belong to that part of the world.
Tor Sellström: Later on you also visited Sweden?
Ndabaningi Sithole: Yes, I did. In 1977, after I had been released from jail. That is when I visited Mrs. Ingrid Lilja, who was looking after my daughter. Actually, Mrs. Lilja was my daughter’s second mother. I stayed with them.
Tor Sellström: You were released before the Geneva talks in 1976. After the talks, the Swedish government decided to support ZANU and ZAPU. Were you not disappointed that your formation, ZANU-Sithole, did not receive any support?
Ndabaningi Sithole: Well, naturally I was disappointed. But I could see the point, because Kaunda was on the side of Mugabe and Nkomo. The same with Nyerere, for one reason or another. They gave their whole-hearted support to Nkomo, Mugabe and so on. But what was most important to me was the question of majority rule. If their support would cause us to get majority rule that was all that mattered as far as I was concerned. Even when we lost the first elections here in Zimbabwe I said—when the journalists asked me if I was not disappointed—that ‘naturally, as a party leader I am disappointed, but as a nationalist leader I am very happy, because we got our principle of majority rule’.
Tor Sellström: Did you get any support from any other Nordic country?
Ndabaningi Sithole: No, only from Sweden.
Tor Sellström: How about Finland?
Ndabaningi Sithole: No, I cannot remember that. But most of the time I was inside, in jail.
Tor Sellström: Denmark or Norway?
Ndabaningi Sithole: Well, I visited Denmark and I met the Prime Minister of that time. And Norway. In the 1970s we received some material support. Not military support.
Tor Sellström: Was this Nordic support given with conditions attached to it?
Ndabaningi Sithole: No, with Sweden we did not detect that. They just helped for humanitarian reasons, really. More than anything else. I think that humanitarianism is something that we detected all the time in our dealings with the Swedes.
Tor Sellström: What about accountability? Were the Swedes strict on that?
Ndabaningi Sithole: Well, I would say that at that time the problem did not seem to arise. But as corruption in the nationalist movement began to raise its head, they were very particular on that. Things given should be used for the purpose for which they were given.
Tor Sellström: In the Cold War situation that prevailed at the time, were you supported by the Nordic countries at the United Nations and in other international fora?
Ndabaningi Sithole: Yes, you could trust them almost absolutely.
Tor Sellström: So you worked with them?
Ndabaningi Sithole: Yes. They were sympathetic to our cause.
Tor Sellström: Is it your opinion that the Nordic countries actually meant something for the liberation struggle in Zimbabwe?
Ndabaningi Sithole: Oh yes! Not only for the liberation struggle at that time, but their values were so impressive that up to this day we still want to emulate their views on peace, tolerance, cooperation, helpfulness and so on. If we can get more Nordic sympathy even now, we would be most grateful.