Who was Hunzvi?

2001-06-05 07:49

Harare - Chenjerai Hitler Hunzvi, who died of Aids-related diseases in a Harare hospital at the age of 51, is largely unknown to the general public.

His name began cropping up in conversations among war veterans around 1990, when information started circulating that victims of the liberation war were entitled to some form of compensation, and in fact, a law had existed for some time which entitled those injured during the war to some recourse.

Hunzvi, then a little-known, newly qualified medical doctor, was running a small private practice in Harare's high-density township of Budiriro and was keen to assist victims of the liberation war through disability assessments that would open the way to cash pay-outs from the government.

As time went on, Hunzvi was elected to the leadership of the Zimbabwe Liberation War Veterans Association (ZLWVA). The association had been formed in the late 1980s and sponsored Margaret Dongo (now leader of the opposition Zimbabwe Union of Democrats) to Parliament during the 1990 elections.

New era

Hunzvi's take-over of the ZLWVA leadership propelled him into a new era. Surrounded by an ambitious and vocal executive committee, ZLWVA began to press for lump sum, blanket compensation and a lifetime pension for war veterans - a demand President Robert Mugabe had to accept after a series of violent demonstrations and threats. ZLWVA's case was made easier by reports of widespread looting of the War Victims' Fund by cabinet ministers, politicians and senior officials.

The looting forced the government to appoint a commission of inquiry into the way the fund had been administered and emptied.

The matter remains unresolved and police have not yet begun any investigations into the fund since Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku (who chaired the commission of inquiry) recommended that suspects be brought to account for the demise of the fund.

But Hunzvi persisted with his demands, calling on Mugabe to appoint ex-combatants into Parliament, his cabinet and the Political Bureau of the ruling Zanu-PF party. This did not happen and Hunzvi was arrested soon afterwards on allegations that he, too, looted the war victims' fund by drawing large sums of money after claiming 117 percent disability.

Up to no good

Hunzvi, represented by the South African Advocate Francois Joubert, was subsequently acquitted in the High Court on charges of fraud and corruption. Judge President Paddington Garwe noted that Hunzvi was up to no good, but could find insufficient evidence for a conviction.

Soon after his arrest and subsequent trial, ZLWVA was rocked by factionalism and splits. Today, there are two factions representing the war veterans, or vets, as they are called here - one is led by Hunzvi, the other by Moffat Marashwa.

While on remand just before the February 12-13 referendum, Hunzvi began mobilising members of faction to campaign for the inclusion of the land question in the draft constitution. A series of demonstrations were held in Harare and, this time, Hunzvi became the darling of the ruling party political establishment.

And, when the draft constitution was rejected, President Mugabe immediately found an ally after divisions started to emerge in his party over his own future. A number of Mugabe's top lieutenants, in their analysis of the referendum results, had fingered him (Mugabe) and his continued grip on power as a liability. This became more worrying to the party and to Mugabe, considering that elections were barely a few months away.

On 16 February, the first batch of war veterans moved into commercial farms in Masvingo, south of Zimbabwe. The rest is now common knowledge.

Who is Hunzvi?

Born on the 23 October 1949 at Chiminya village in Chief Mutekedza1s area of Chikomba district in central Zimbabwe, young Chenjerai (which means "be careful" in Shona) grew up like the many poor rural boys of his time.

He did his primary education at his home school Zvamatobwe. From there, his parents moved him to Salisbury, now Harare, to stay with an uncle. The aim was to enable him to complete his high school education. He was enrolled at Highfield secondary school. This was in 1963. Little did young Chenjerai know that he was to finish his high school in detention at Gonakudzingwa in 1967, where he obtained an Advanced level education.

Like the many radicals or political activists of his time, Chenjerai was placed in detention at the tender age of 16 years. This came about when the young man was arrested for organising demonstrations against British Prime Minister Harold Wilson when he came to the then Southern Rhodesia.

Hunzvi organised a successful demonstration of school children in Highfield against Wilson's visit. He was immediately arrested and taken to the then Salisbury Central Police Station, and later transferred to Wha Wha prison, near Gweru.

Hardened activist

In 1970, now a hardened activist because of living among older and seasoned nationalists, Hunzvi was moved and released in his home area Enkeldoorn, now Chivhu. The release was short-lived, as the radical was at it again.

This time he was arrested for taking a British journalist, Collin Smith of the Observer Newspaper in the UK, to Gonakudzingwa for the purpose of interviewing Joshua Nkomo, leader of ZAPU.

Hunzvi was taken to Villa Salazar near the Mozambican border.

Subsequently, Hunzvi spent time in various detention centres until his release in 1974, when he left the country for Lusaka, Zambia.

The role he played in the next four years has remained unclear, although he claims to have been heavily involved in the administration of ZAPU, a claim disputed by many of his former comrades.


In 1978, Hunzvi was assigned to the ZAPU office in Warsaw, Poland. This appointment lasted until independence. Hunzvi found himself back in Europe, at a Warsaw College where he studied the Polish language.

Armed with a diploma in Polish, Chenjerai Hunzvi entered the Warsaw Academy of Medicine at the University of Warsaw to read for a degree in medicine. What happened between then and 1990 is unknown.

Three marriages

Hunzvi married three times, once officially to a Polish national, and twice traditionally and quietly, to Zimbabweans, and has five children. His first marriage, around 1975, yielded two children, Robson, 26, and Bertha, 24. His second marriage, to a Polish citizen, produced two children, Andrew, 16 and Ngoni, 4. His Polish wife left him because of what Hunzvi says was caused by interference from his extended family. He always hoped that she would one day return to Zimbabwe and to him.

"She is proud of the name Hunzvi," he said.

Mugabe a mediator

Mugabe, ignoring mounting international criticism, said he saw himself as a mediator between Hunzvi and the white farmers in the violent land take-over bid that has plunged Zimbabwe into an international racial flash-point.

But the farmers had long lost hope. They now saw Hunzvi as a front in a complex political game. Only one person - and that is President Robert Gabriel Mugabe - could stop the deaths, the mess, the confusion, the tension, the violence and the intimidation that continues to haunt Zimbabwe.