Eddison Zvobgo

Ally turned critic of the Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe

Eddison Zvobgo, the former Zimbabwean cabinet minister, masterminded the legislation that enthroned Robert Mugabe as leader of a single party state. But ever the legal pedant, Zvobgo with time became intolerant of the Zimbabwean president's moves to stay in power in defiance of the law.

Eddison Jonas Mudadirwa Zvobgo, politician: born Fort Victoria, Zimbabwe 2 October 1935; married Julia Tukai (died 2004; seven children); died Harare 22 August 2004.

Eddison Zvobgo, the former Zimbabwean cabinet minister, masterminded the legislation that enthroned Robert Mugabe as leader of a single party state. But ever the legal pedant, Zvobgo with time became intolerant of the Zimbabwean president's moves to stay in power in defiance of the law.

The son of a Protestant minister, Zvobgo was born near Fort Victoria (now Masvingo) and attended several mission schools before becoming a teacher. In 1960 he helped found the pro-independence National Democratic Party then gained a scholarship to Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts. Returning to Southern Rhodesia four years later, he was arrested by the white regime and jailed for six years.

In 1971, he returned to the United States to study Law at Harvard and to teach. As discreet talks began to dismantle white minority rule, he joined Mugabe in exile in Mozambique in 1976. Zvobgo, by then part of Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu), played a key role in the conferences and diplomatic exchanges that led to independence. At the Lancaster House conference which in 1979 established the legal framework for the handover to majority rule, he acted as Zanu spokesman.

In the 1980 elections he won a seat in parliament for Masvingo where he established a fiefdom that lasted to his death and which in the 1990s began to represent such a threat to Mugabe that it became known as the "Zvobgo wing" of the ruling party.

Throughout the 1980s, Zvobgo's relationship with Mugabe was good. He rose from local government and housing minister in 1980 to take over first the justice, then the parliamentary and constitutional affairs portfolios. In 1987, he made several constitutional amendments that concentrated power in Mugabe's hands.

It is not clear exactly when Zvobgo's legal principles and his integrity began to stand in the way of his loyalty to Mugabe. But it is largely thanks to his influence that Zimbabwe, until relatively recently, enjoyed an independent judiciary and a fully-functioning legislative process. Zvobgo was also rare among leading ruling party figures to have recognised and apologised for the Matabeleland massacres. These tribal killings - ordered by Mugabe as part of his war for influence against Joshua Nkomo - left at least 15,000 people dead in the late 1980s.

In 1992, Zvobgo was demoted to minister of mines. Four years later, he survived a car accident which many believe was caused by sabotage. After surviving the accident, he was stripped of his ministry, remaining a minister without portfolio until 2000 when he was dropped altogether from the cabinet and Politburo.

In the 2002 elections when the existence of the "Zvobgo wing" in Masvingo became publicly known, he refused to campaign for President Mugabe and criticised new public order laws and draconian measures to curtail freedom of expression in the media. He became the subject of an internal party disciplinary inquiry last year after being accused of disloyalty and of holding talks with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

By the end of his life, Zvobgo had become a figure of fear and hatred for Mugabe. The Zimbabwean president is understood not to have visited Zvobgo during the long illness he endured before his death. Even more pointedly, Mugabe did not attend the burial at Heroes' Acre in Harare of Zvobgo's wife, Julia. She died in February this year and was accorded the rare honour of becoming the third woman - after Sally Mugabe and Joanna Nkomo - to be buried at the shrine to Zimbabwe's independence fighters.

The Politburo on Monday declared that Zvobgo will join his wife at Heroes' Acre - a decision that met with acclaim across the Zimbabwean political spectrum. The Movement for Democratic Change deputy chief whip Thokozani Khuphe said that Zvogbo's death was a loss to the whole country. "He was one of the most intelligent people I ever met. He looked at issues as they were and was never blinded by his political affiliation," he said.

Alex Duval Smith



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