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Enoch Dumbutshena #Zimbabwe’s first black judge and Liberation War Hero

Enoch Dumbutshena
1948 Vice-President, African National Congress.
1960-61 NDP Executive Member.
1962-72 ZAPU Executive Member (London Representative).
1972-74 FROLIZI Official.
1975 (Sept.) ANC (Muzorewa) in Lusaka.
Enoch Dumbutshena
Enoch Dumbutshena was born on 25 April 1920 at
Marshall Hartley Mission near Makwiro. His father, Job
Dumbutshena, was a member of the Industrial and
Commercial Workers’ Union1 during the 1930s. His
mother, who was prominent in the Methodist Church,
was divorced when Enoch was very young and it was his
only sister, Anne, who gave up her own chances of
education so that funds could be available to send her
brother to school.

Enoch Dumbutshena received his early schooling at
Marshall Hartley Primary School and at Waddilove
Institution. He went on to Adams College in Natal,
South Africa, where he gained a certificate as an
elementary teacher in 1946.

He had hoped to study at the University of Cape
Town in South Africa but failed to get a teaching grant.
Returning to Rhodesia, he taught at St Augustine’s,
Penhalonga, at Old Umtali Mission and at Mzilikazi
School in Bulawayo. During this period he studied for
an external degree with the University of South Africa,
graduating B.A. (History and Politics) in 1950. He then
enrolled at Fort Hare University College in the Eastern
Cape Province of South Africa. There he obtained a
Diploma in Education in 1951. From there he moved to
Khiso High School at Pietersburg in the Northern
Transvaal where he combined teaching with private
study for a Bachelor of Education degree with the
University of South Africa.

He first took an interest in politics while teaching in
Bulawayo in the late 1940s. He was one of the first to
join the old African National Congress2 in 1947 and was

soon appointed Vice-President. He was actively
involved in the General Strike of 1948. In the following
year the African National Congress decided to support
the Subversive Activities Bill and Dumbutshena, who
had not been present during the discussion and who did
not believe that international communism presented (at
that time) a threat to Africans, resigned his position. He
moved to South Africa but remained a member of the
African National Congress.

Shortly before his departure he had been persuaded
by Stanlake Samkange to join the All—African
Convention3 but this body was soon overtaken by the
establishment of the Central African Federation.
Dumbutshena returned to Rhodesia in 1955 to teach
at Munene Secondary School, Belingwe, and then
moved to Salisbury in 1956.

Annoyed by what he considered to be the meagre
wages paid to Africans at the time, he joined Herbert
Chitepo and Nathan Shamuyarira who were pressing
for equal pay for African nurses. When this campaign
succeeded he proceeded to urge the Southern
Rhodesian Government to give equal pay to African
teachers. Pay conditions were improved but
Dumbutshena left teaching, never to return.
When the African National Youth League (ANYL)
was formed in 1955, Dumbutshena was approached by
George Nyandoro and James Chikerema who were
looking for university—trained men to lead it. He
refused, believing himself to be too impatient by nature
for the life of a political leader. He willingly joined the
League, however, and worked hard at the organisation
of cultural and social activities, lectures and debates in
Harare Township.

For his livelihood he had been selling insurance and
had moved into journalism. He worked as a free-lance
writer for Drum and for the Central African Examiner
from 1957 to 1959 and wrote under the pseudonym of

In 1959 when the African National Congress (the
combined old AN Congress and the Youth League) was
banned, he joined with Herbert Chitepo, Stanlake

Samkange and Dr Parirenyatwa and Dr Pswarayi (the
only two African doctors in the country) in warning that
the policy of proscription of political organisations was

In the same year Enoch Dumbutshena received a
specialist grant from the United States Government to
study journalism in America. He spent five months with
the Camden City Globe and the Mason City Gazette and in
traveling around the country. In December 1959,
having returned to Rhodesia, he tried to get permission
to travel to West Africa. He got as far as London where
the Federal authorities refused to issue him with the
necessary travel documents.

Having been advised by a journalist friend not to
return to Salisbury and risk detention, he decided to
study law. He applied unsuccessfully to the Middle
Temple (Rhodesia House having refused him a
recommendation) but eventually, through the good
offices of Garfield Todd and Dingle Foot and with a
strong recommendation from Mr Justice Murray (of the
Federal High Court) he was admitted to Gray’s Inn.

During the course of his studies he again became
involved in politics. Joshua Nkomo was living in London
and Dumbutshena joined the NDP in June 1960.4 He

wrote a fortnightly newsletter for the party and
circulated it to foreign embassies and university
libraries. Originally called RADA (until it was banned in
Rhodesia), it was later renamed The Spear.
Dumbutshena claims that it gained serious attention as a
political journal after it reported on the 1960 riots in

In April 1960 Dumbutshena — with Michael

Mawema, Dr Bernard Chidzero, Paul Mushonga and

Moton Malianga — formed a delegation to deliver to
the Commonwealth Relations Secretary (Lord Home) a
lengthy memorandum stressing the NDP’s disapproval
of any suggestion that Britain might do away with the
‘reserved clauses’ of the Southern Rhodesian

When ZAPU was banned in September 1962 it was
the influence of Enoch Dumbutshena (from London)
and Ndabaningi Sithole which persuaded Joshua

Nkomo not to go into exile but to return from
Tanganyika (now Tanzania) to Rhodesia and three
months restriction6

In 1962 Dumbutshena became London
representative of ZAPU. In this capacity he visited New
York in October and (with Joshua Nkomo and Nathan

Shamuyarira) appealed to the United Nations for
support for the nationalist cause.

After completing his studies and taking his bar
examinations he returned to Rhodesia and started in
practice as an advocate (the third black man, after
Herbert Chitepo and Edson Sithole, to do so in
Rhodesia). He says that business was slow and that,
although he had no racial problems with his colleagues,
he came up against discriminatory treatment at the
hands of certain minor solicitors with whom he was
obliged to work. At the time of the 1963 ‘split’ in the
nationalist organisations he tried to resolve the
leadership crisis by joining with Matthew Wakatama,
Garfield Todd and others to urge a ‘neutral indaba’
between the supporters of Nkomo and Sithole. This was
unsuccessful.7 When the nationalist parties were
banned and their leaders restricted he turned his
attention to working on committees set up to help their

In March 1967 Dumbutshena was offered a legal
appointment by the Zambian Government but was
unable to obtain a passport from the Rhodesian
authorities. He decided, therefore, to leave the country
illegally and walked through the bush into Botswana
(formerly Bechuanaland).8 From there he made his way
to Lusaka in Zambia where he took up the proferred
appointment. Later, however, he started what was to
become a very successful private practice.
He found himself involved again in Rhodesian
politics when expatriate members of ZANU and ZAPU
(PCC) decided that a united effort should be mounted
by the insurgency groups of both parties. Dumbutshena
became an official of FROLIZI which, in his later view,
merely introduced a third grouping to add to the other

When the three organisations were formally
disbanded on 7 December 1974 and joined under the _
umbrella of the African National Council by the
Declaration of Unity in Lusaka, Dumbutshena reverted
to being an ordinary member of the ANC.

He attended the Victoria Falls Conference between
ANC leaders and the Rhodesian Government in August
1975 as a legal adviser to the ANC.

After the September re—opening of the old ‘split’
between Nkomo and Sithole, Dumbutshena’s work kept
him in Lusaka and in association with most of the
leaders of the Muzorewa group who had sided with

Enoch Dumbutshena is a tall, slow-moving man. His
habit (a characteristic, perhaps, of lawyers) of carefully
weighing each word before delivery conveys the
impression of a person who thinks deeply on many
subjects. He works hard at his offices in Cairo Road and
commutes to his pleasant suburban home on the
outskirts of Lusaka. He and his wife, a nursing sister,
have three children.

Enoch Dumbutshena (20 April 1920 – 14 December 2000) was a distinguished Zimbabwean judge known for defending the independence of that country’s judicial branch.

He became Zimbabwe’s first black judge in 1980 and served as Chief Justice from 1984 to 1990. Dumbutshena’s decisions were often highly critical of President Robert Mugabe and his government.

A former member of the International Commission of Jurists, he unsuccessfully attempted to launch a political career of his own in 1993 by founding the market liberal Forum Party. He died in late 2000 of liver cancer.


Zimbabwe Tragedy (East African Press, 1975).

1 A trade union with political undertones. Led by Charles Mzingeli. ’
2 Led by Rev. T. D. Samkange. Two others with a higher level of education
than was usual in the 1940s were T. Hlabangana and P. Rubatika (see MP‘s
3 A body set up to oppose the proposed Federation of Northern and Southern
Rhodesia and Nyasaland.
4 Nathan Shamuyarira quotes a letter written to him in London by Enoch
Dumbutshena, in which the first ‘outright demand for self rule’ was
“Our people surprise me by continually harping on things like amendments
to State Lotteries, Liquor Act, and so on. These things are useless. What
about a majority in the Legislative Council? Have you ever thought of that? If
you have, tell the others…”
5 The ‘reserved clauses` entrenched in the 1923 Constitution for
self-government for Southern Rhodesia were devised to allow Britain to
retain a measure of protection over the rights of the unenfranchised African
masses, making it technically possible for any retrogressive legislation to be
blocked by the British Government.
6 His earlier influence on Nkomo was demonstrated in the same year when the
latter had, with reservations, accepted the British Government proposals put
forward by Duncan Sandys, then British Secretary of State for
Commonwealth Relations. Dumbutshena deputised for Leopold Takawira,
who was ill in London, in the drafting of a strong document repudiating the
constitutional proposals which Nkomo read to the press.
7 He later joined the PCC and frequently visited Joshua Nkomo at
Gonakudzingwa. During the pre-UDI talks with the British Prime Minister,
Harold Wilson, in October 1965 Dumbutshena was a member of Nkomo’s
delegation and his legal adviser.
8 His book Zimbabwe Tragedy (East African Press, 1975) vividly describes the
long, lonely walk, mostly through wild country and in darkness.


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