The Nordic Africa Institute

Tore Bergman

Church of Sweden Mission, Zimbabwe—Member of the Consultative Committee on Humanitarian Assistance

Tor Sellström: I understand that you went to Rhodesia as early as 1953 and that you worked there with the Church of Sweden Mission (CSM) for a very long period, or until 1970. Why did you go to Rhodesia?

Tore Bergman: Well, I was born in Rhodesia. My father was a missionary. He came out as an agriculturalist, first to Natal, South Africa, but in the 1920s he moved to Rhodesia to develop the mission farm at Mnene in the Mberengwa district. I attended school in Bulawayo up to secondary education. Eventually, I came back to Sweden and stayed there for my teacher’s diploma. When I had completed my training as a teacher, it was natural to go back to Rhodesia. I had the qualifications to teach at the secondary school level. There were no secondary schools in Mberengwa at that time, but it was part of the mission plan to start such schools. I very much felt an urge to go back for that purpose.

During my first year, in 1953, I worked at the teachers’ training school at Musume, because the plans for a new secondary school had not yet got off the ground. But in 1954 we started a secondary school at the same place where the teachers’ training school was. We just had one class at that time. Eventually, we moved to Mnene for a few years until we finally got new buildings designed for the purpose at Chegato in the middle of the Mberengwa district. I stayed at Chegato until 1966. At the same time, I assisted with the establishment of another three secondary schools, the Musume and the Masase secondary schools in Mberengwa and the Manama secondary school. In 1966, I became the education secretary for the Lutheran church, which meant that I had to move from Chegato to Gwanda. I regretted that very much, but I was then responsible for the co-ordination of the educational system that the church was running in the Mberengwa-Gwanda-Mtetengwe areas. It involved four secondary schools and about 160 primary schools going up to grade seven. All in all, there were 700 teachers and 24,000 pupils. There were also close contacts between the Lutheran church school system and the government education authorities in Salisbury (Harare) and I took part in some of the meetings.

We lived at Gwanda until 1970, when we decided to go back to Sweden. I left that part of my career and since then I have not been back in education. Coming back to Sweden, I became the Africa secretary of the Church of Sweden Mission in Uppsala.

Tor Sellström: Several of the early nationalist leaders in Rhodesia were also church leaders, such as Sithole and Muzorewa. Did you personally know any of them before UDI?

Tore Bergman: No. I had heard Sithole addressing a missionary conference in Marondera, but I did not know him personally. Muzorewa came from the American Methodist mission and worked in the early 1960s as secretary for the Student Christian Movement. He travelled around to the various secondary schools to encourage the formation of Student Christian Movement groups. As such, I had him as a guest at Chegato for a night or two. But apart from that, I did not meet either him or any of the others.

Tor Sellström: In the 1950s, Rhodesia was very little known in Sweden outside the churches. This started to change with the publication of Per Wästberg’s book Forbidden Territory and Sithole’s African Nationalism, which both appeared in 1960. Then, in June 1962, a number of prominent Swedes were behind a Rhodesia campaign in support of Kenneth Kaunda’s UNIP party in Northern Rhodesia. Do you remember how the campaign was seen by the government in Salisbury?

Tore Bergman: No. I do not even remember having heard of that campaign in Rhodesia. What I do remember is that I met Per and Anna-Lena Wästberg when they visited the mission area at the end of the 1950s. I believe that he was an exchange student with Rotary International. There were some Letters to the Editor in the papers concerning his general attitude towards the farmers and the farm workers. They did not like the way in which he fraternized with the local employees.

Tor Sellström: The Zimbabwean historian Ngwabi Bhebe has written about the Swedish missionaries in Zimbabwe. He emphasizes the preaching of the Lutheran doctrine of the two kingdoms and how the CSM missionaries frowned upon local church employees who a participated in nationalist politics. That was regarded as rebellion against the secular rulers. In your view, is it a fair assessment of the general attitude of the CSM missionaries towards nationalist politics in Rhodesia until the mid-1970s?

Tore Bergman: I think that you cannot generalize. Among the Swedish missionaries there was a rainbow of different attitudes and opinions in this regard. The general opinion among the missionaries was that we should not involve ourselves in party politics, and therefore not take sides for ZANU, ZAPU or any particular political movement. On the other hand, we saw what was happening in Rhodesia. Particularly after the breakup of the Federation in 1963, we noticed a steady worsening of the government’s attitudes towards the African population. More and more of us saw this development as making it increasingly difficult for the Africans to participate in the democratic development of the country.

We lived right out in the bush, far away from the larger urban centres, and we were not restricted by any racial attitudes. We felt that we could live in a natural way with the local population and with the local church leaders. The goal that we had in mind as far as our social work was concerned—educational, medical and other types of work—was to prepare the way for the Africans to actively participate for the benefit of the country. In cases where we came face to face with the effects of the legislation—where it affected somebody that we knew—we tended more openly to take sides.

I was personally affected by an incident at Chegato secondary school. I had a student there by the name of Byron Hove. He was from the area. He had received a degree from the university in Salisbury and wanted to come back to teach at Chegato. I accepted him as a teacher. However, he had been involved in some student demonstrations in Salisbury and after only three weeks the police came and picked him up on the orders of the Minister of Law and Order. I was not even able to speak to him or accompany him to his house. The police searched his house and carried him away. I came face to face with the situation. He had not done anything. He had done his work as a teacher in an exemplary manner and I felt that he was a good teacher, but I lost him. Incidents of that kind became more and more common during the 1960s. We therefore tended to sympathize with the nationalist movement, although we did not speak out officially and openly about the situation, as maybe we should have done.

Tor Sellström: It appears that the church at an early stage was important for the future relations between the Zimbabwean nationalist movements and Sweden. For example, in an interview with Ndabaningi Sithole he said in July 1995 that ZANU consciously appointed persons with a personal knowledge of CSM as representatives to Sweden. In general terms, how do you see CSM as a bridge-builder between the Zimbabwean nationalist movements and Sweden?

Tore Bergman: I first and foremost see it as a personal relationship between individuals. Between missionaries who had been working in Rhodesia and individuals who had passed through the CSM schools and hospitals. We could mention a number of people in key positions in Zimbabwe who come from this area and through the education and the contacts they received were trained for this role. The first Zimbabwean ambassador to Sweden, Sifas Zhou, had been both a pupil and a teacher in the CSM/Lutheran church schools.

Tor Sellström: In December 1965—immediately after UDI—the Swedish government allocated an amount of 150,000 Swedish Kronor in favour of family members of political prisoners in Rhodesia, such as the Nkomo, Chinamano and Sithole families. The support was channelled by SIDA via Christian Care and the International Defence and Aid Fund (IDAF). Did CSM also assist the family members of these political prisoners?

Tore Bergman: I did not know of any humanitarian support by the Swedish government to the nationalist movement until later, in the 1970s. As far as assistance to family members of political prisoners is concerned CSM did not provide any funds directly to particular family members. In the 1970s, we channelled support through Christian Care and the Lutheran World Federation. It was Christian Care that had the contacts with the families. Individual missionaries also supported children of political prisoners with school fees and so on. It was very common among missionaries to support children for various reasons. In the case of CSM, there was, however, a direct involvement with the political prisoners around 1977-78. A number of pastors and other church members had been imprisoned for political activities. Four of them were held at the Wha Wha detention camp outside Gweru. One of our missionaries, Hugo Söderström, was in contact with the imprisoned pastors. Their families requested that they should be released from detention and come to Sweden. The request was eventually approved by the authorities, so the four families were brought to Sweden, living with different congregations in various parts of Sweden. Some of them continued their studies in the UK and in the US, returning to Zimbabwe after independence. I visited some of them at Wha Wha in the 1970s.

Tor Sellström: Did they have any political affiliation?

Tore Bergman: Yes. One was outspokenly ZAPU. Another was probably also ZAPU. I am not quite so sure whether the other two closely identified themselves with any of the parties. However, when I visited them at Wha Wha they explained that there were different ways of greeting one another. The ZANU greeting was a clenched fist and the ZAPU greeting an open hand. When I left the detention camp, they were looking at me through the barbed wire. They waved at me in their different ways, but I did not know how to respond so I waved with one hand clenched and the other open! They just laughed!

Tor Sellström: In 1969, the Swedish parliament paved the way for direct official Swedish humanitarian support to the liberation movements in Southern Africa. These movements waged armed struggles and received support from the Communist countries. How would you explain that Sweden took the decision to assist them? How did the Church of Sweden look upon this?

Tore Bergman: If I had to explain the Swedish government’s support for the liberation movements, I would say that armed force was used against the peoples of Southern Africa by the respective regimes and if armed force is used— resulting in deaths, detentions and torture—it would also be legitimate for the liberation movements to take up arms. As far as the church was concerned, we could, however, not involve ourselves in a kind of support which would result in the purchase of arms. The Church of Sweden Mission had some problems in that regard. In 1969, the World Council of Churches started a special fund called the Programme to Combat Racism. The fund was intended for humanitarian aid to the liberation movements. The Church of Sweden Mission was very quick in providing limited funds to the programme, but we also received very heavy criticism from certain quarters in Sweden because of that. It resulted in a loss of contributions towards the general work of the Church of Sweden and the Church of Sweden Mission was branded by some people as pro-Communist and as a movement propagating armed violence.

On the question of official Swedish support to the liberation movements, I also remember Joshua Nkomo saying that he was rather upset about the assistance ZAPU received from SIDA and Sweden. They were not allowed to decide for themselves what the support was to be used for.

Tor Sellström: In the case of Zimbabwe, official Swedish support was already extended to ZANU from 1969, while the support to ZAPU only started in 1973. One gets the impression that ZANU had a broader support base in Sweden than ZAPU. Would you agree with that?

Tore Bergman: Yes, I think that I agree with that. I think that the main reason was that ZANU had developed a network of personal contacts in Sweden. I know that Sally Mugabe had contacts with a number of popular movements and groups in Sweden and that Robert Mugabe himself also had contacts in Sweden before we had any relations with him. For example, with Bread and Fishes in Västerås, where he was received as a friend, and with Emmaus Björkå.

Tor Sellström: Bishop Muzorewa and his UANC never received any official Swedish support, although some people in the Swedish church advocated that. In particular, church circles in Norway supported Muzorewa. Did CSM ever channel support to UANC?

Tore Bergman: No, we did not channel any support to UANC. UANC was first formed as a movement, and not as a party. Muzorewa’s contacts were mainly through the Swedish Methodist church via the American Methodists. When he came to Sweden, he was a guest of the Swedish Methodists, but we did not have any contacts with him.

Tor Sellström: Why do you think that the Swedish government never supported Muzorewa?

Tore Bergman: I think that he was regarded by both ZANU and ZAPU as something of an upstart and that he could not be relied upon. When Muzorewa launched UANC it was not seen by the liberation movements as the answer to the problems in Rhodesia.

Tor Sellström: When you came to Uppsala in 1970, you started to serve as Africa secretary of CSM. During the second half of the 1970s, you became closely involved with humanitarian assistance to ZANU and ZAPU. I understand that you were in direct contact with both Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo. Could you describe the background to your involvement with ZANU and ZAPU?

Tore Bergman: In March 1976, I received a circular letter written by Guy Clutton-Brock in Britain, requesting support for ZANU in Mozambique. I wrote back to him and asked for further details. Clutton-Brock was in contact with Didymus Mutasa and they recommended that I write directly to Mugabe in Mozambique, which I did. I explained who I was, told him about my connections with Zimbabwe and asked for details with regard to possible support. I got a reply from him in which he outlined the situation in the camps, saying that he had asked his colleague Edgar Tekere to present it in a more detailed way. Very soon afterwards, I received a letter from Tekere with a comprehensive and detailed list of all their requirements. It rather overwhelmed me. I had not quite thought in those terms. I should also add that due to the criticism we received for providing funds to the Programme to Combat Racism and CSM’s contacts with armed movements, I wrote in my personal capacity. The correspondence was never registered with the Church of Sweden Mission. Anyhow, I wrote back to say that I would explore the possibilities of support in Sweden. Unfortunately, not much came of it at that time. I consulted with various people, but I was unable to find sources of support.

However, possibly as a consequence of this contact, a ZANU delegation came to Sweden in September 1976. It included Didymus Mutasa, Chiwara, who was then the ZANU representative in the UK, and Mrs. Tekere, who was in charge of the ZANU women’s affairs in London. We had discussions with them in Uppsala. Shortly thereafter—in January 1977 —the pupils at the Manama secondary school were kidnapped by ZAPU. They crossed the border into Botswana and were eventually taken to Zambia. During my visits to Zimbabwe as CSM’s Africa secretary and through correspondence, I was in contact with the parents of some of these children, who expressed concern over what had happened to them and how they were being cared for. Addressing meetings in Sweden, I tried to question the attitude among some church people that those who had left Zimbabwe for political reasons and taken refuge in other countries were being called terrorists, as was then the term. Why should the act of crossing the border change our attitude to them? Whether this had any effect, I do not know. But that was my reaction.

I tried to advocate support for those who had crossed the border. Within the Church of Sweden Mission board, it was accepted, and as far as ZANU was concerned—where we knew that school children had been crossing the border after the independence of Mozambique—we received information that the Christian Council of Mozambique through their general secretary, Reverend Mahlalela, had a concern for the refugees. We therefore contacted him, asking if he or his staff could find out what the situation of the children was and whether we could support them, providing some kind of humanitarian assistance. At the time, I felt that it was not possible to channel any funds through the liberation movements. We had to find other channels. We started to support the Christian Council of Mozambique to enable them to administer assistance to the camps. At about the same time, the Lutheran World Federation established an office in Maputo, also providing support to the camps. And later in 1977, Mugabe himself, finally, came with a delegation to Uppsala. That is how the contacts were established with ZANU.

In the case of ZAPU, it was the Manama exodus that initiated our contacts. Tord Harlin of CSM visited Zambia in March-April 1977. The purpose was to explore the possibilities of establishing a contact. Harlin had been the headmaster of the Manama school in the 1960s and he knew quite a lot of the ZAPU people in Zambia. Through the contacts that Harlin made with ZAPU, I was then able to enter into correspondence with the ZAPU office in Lusaka. On one of my trips to Southern Africa, I visited Zambia in March 1978 to see what the situation was. I had contacts with John Nkomo, who was ZAPU’s administrative secretary. Everything was very secret. I just told them that I would be at certain hotels at certain times and suddenly John Nkomo appeared. I was taken to the ZAPU headquarters in Lusaka, where I had about an hour’s interview with Joshua Nkomo and his staff. He explained the situation to me and I asked him about the possibility of channelling funds. It was on this occasion that he criticized the Swedish government for being too particular about its funding.

I did not expect more than this interview with him, but Nkomo said that he would take me back to the hotel and that we later would go to some of the refugee camps. It was very exciting! I had not expected that at all. I think that it showed some confidence in the Church of Sweden Mission. He then came with a whole convoy of cars. There were two of us, myself and a youth leader from Sigtuna, who accompanied me on this tour. We first drove to Victory Camp, where there were some 3,000–5,000 girls. Joshua Nkomo took me around the camp, showing me the facilities and explaining their needs. From Victory Camp we went to another camp, where they kept young mothers with babies. In both places, I was given the opportunity to say a few words to the refugees, explaining who I was. At Victory Camp, Nkomo called out all the girls on parade. It was quite impressive.

We then had further discussions regarding the possibility of channelling funds to ZAPU. It was subsequently done through the Church of Sweden Aid. CSM also sent some funds to ZAPU through the Lutheran World Federation.

Tor Sellström: Finally, turning to South Africa, official Swedish assistance was from the beginning of the 1970s extended to ANC. Over the years, there were close contacts between Gatsha Buthelezi and the Church of Sweden Mission in Zululand. Did CSM ever channel any support to Inkatha?

Tore Bergman: Well, not directly to Buthelezi’s Inkatha, but to programmes administered through certain movements in Natal which were linked to Zululand. There was, for example, an ecumenical centre in Pietermaritzburg which was running agricultural projects in Natal. At this ecumenical centre there were also a number of practical courses for young people who needed further clerical and administrative training, women in particular. The Church of Sweden Mission channelled some funds from SIDA to this centre on the recommendation of and through our contacts with Chief Buthelezi. But CSM never gave any direct support to Inkatha. We held the view that Buthelezi to begin with stood for a positive movement in South Africa in that he refused to declare Kwa-Zulu independent. After the formation of Inkatha, his intentions were, however, not as clear as in the beginning.