James R.D Chikerema

James Chikerema

Birth date: 2nd April 1925

Death date: 22nd March 2006


  • President of the Front for the Liberation of Zimbabwe.
  • President of the southern Rhodesia National Youth League and in 1956
  • Acting President of ZAPU

 Born James Robert Dambaza Chikerema on the 2nd of April 1925. He was the President of the Front for the Liberation of Zimbabwe. He was born at Kutama Mission in Zvimba in present day Mashonaland West. He shared the same birth place with Robert Mugabe who was also his nephew and they were close during their childhood. He was educated at St Francis Xavier College in Kutama and in South Africa. He became the President of the southern Rhodesia National Youth League and in 1956 he led a bus boycott by Africans to protest at their lack of political power (the electoral system in Rhodesia made it very difficult for Africans to be eligible).

Chikerema helped to create Cold Comfort Farm to improve African farming methods and then to form the African National Congress with the help of Didymus Mutasa, George Nyandoro, Guy Clutton-Brock, Michael and Eileen Haddon white liberals who donated their land. Chikerema formed the Southern Rhodesia African National Congress in 1957 with Joshua Nkomo. Although it was not a violent movement the Southern Rhodesian government banned the group in 1960 and restricted its leading members to the Gokwe area. He also remained with Nkomo when the NDP was established, when this was also banned,  they launched the ZAPU. The movement restrictions on the two were removed by the incoming government of Winston Field in early 1963.

On 9th of February they were arrested when they were having supper at Nkomo’s house in Rusape under the Law and Order Maintenance Act of 1960 and charged with taking part in an illegal procession and hindering the police. Herbert Chitepo was their defense counsel at trial but could not prevent them from being convicted. Chikerema was sentenced to six months in prison (three months of which were suspended).
During Nkomo’s detention, Chikerema went into exile first in Zambia where he was acting President of ZAPU, he argued for a referendum of all adults of Southern Rhodesia on whether it should have independence and opposed the government’s use of the House of Chiefs as a means of consulting African opinion. Chikerema declared the willingness of ZAPU to take up armed struggle, promising a campaign of terror in which they first attacked the white farms in isolated areas. Chikerema then took charge of ZAPU’s guerrilla war.

When ZAPU split, Chikerema joined FROLIZI in 1971. In December 1974 Chikerema signed an agreement with Nkomo of ZAPU and Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole of ZANU to unite with the African National Council of Rev. Abel Muzorewa. He remained in exile fearing arrest and imprisonment or execution should he return to Rhodesia. Due to this, when the Rhodesian Government agreed to Talks in 1975 the venue chosen was a railway carriage on the bridge over the Victoria Falls the carriage was put in a way that the ANC delegation was in Zambia and the Rhodesian government was in Rhodesia.
In February 1976 Chikerema issued a press statement that the armed struggle was likely to resume. He grew politically close to Abel Muzorewa and became the first Vice President of the UANC (United African National Congress) which Muzorewa had founded and was allowed to return to Rhodesia in September 1977.

Chikerema together with Raymond Chinamora were editors of a weekly liberation struggle newspaper called the Rise of Zimbabwe. On June 29 1979 he led a group of 7 members of the house of assembly to split with him due to concerns of a lack of firmness and they formed the ZDP having to fight through the courts for their right to keep their seats. Chikerema’s party stood in the 1980’s elections but failed to win any seats and marked the end of his active political career, but continued to comment through newspaper interviews on the political situation in Zimbabwe. In 1993 he joined the Forum Party of Zimbabwe whose founder was the ex- Chief Justice Enoch Dumbutshena, thus re-entering the political arena.  The 25 candidates of the party failed to make an impact in the 1995 elections.
Chikerema died in the United States of America where he had gone for medical treatment on the 22nd of March 2006.

By Elizabeth Taderera