Secret files reveal a man of humility

The seeds of Robert Mugabe's hatred of the British may have been sewn in the heavy-handed way ministers treated his first wife's claim for residency in the United Kingdom while he was serving a prison sentence in Rhodesia, newly released secret documents reveal.

The immigration papers also show for the first time the strength of the bond between the Rhodesian freedom fighter and his young Ghanaian bride as Mugabe emerged as a political force to be reckoned with in African politics during the 1960s.

In letters and telegrams written to Harold Wilson and his Labour government, Mugabe shows himself to have been once a man of sensitivity and humility prepared to plead with the British government in order to stop the Home Office deporting his wife from London.

The documents, released to the National Archives in London under the Freedom of Information Act, disclose how the Westminster government mishandled the formative stages of its own relationship with Mugabe and gave the Rhodesian dissident his first lesson in the heartless expediency of British foreign policy. There was no official response to Mugabe's pleas to Downing Street for his wife to be allowed to stay.

Mugabe's original political achievements may now be overshadowed by the brutality of his regime, but in his early career he was an inspirational leader among the ranks of the fledgling Zimbabwe nationalist movement.

He was also a man who had recently found love with Sally Hayfron, a Ghanian national, seven years his junior. By the mid-1960s Mugabe's political activism had brought him to the attention of the Rhodesian state government and in 1964 he was arrested for "subversive speech" and sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment in the country's notorious Salisbury Prison. After her husband's detention, Sally Mugabe (below) continued to be involved in subversive activities in Rhodesia and spent six weeks in one of Salisbury's prisons for demonstrating against white rule.

Later, she was found guilty of organising African women to challenge Ian Smith's Rhodesian constitution. She was charged with sedition and sentenced to five years' imprisonment, part of which was suspended.

The political climate made it too dangerous for her to stay in Salisbury and so in 1963 she and her son escaped by fleeing first to Ghana and then in 1967 to self-imposed exile in London where she found work as a secretary at the African Centre in Covent Garden.

Shortly before coming to England in 1967, tragedy struck the Mugabes when their son Nhamodzenyika died from a severe attack of malaria. He was just three years old.

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