In February, we profiled interesting world leaders, including Canaan Sodindo Banana, former president of Zimbabwe. So it should come as no surprise that the deliciously fun-sounding Zimbabwe should offer up another funny-named leader. Today we spotlight Ndabaningi Sithole (pronounced nda-va-nin-gee sitt-o-le), who in 1963 founded the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), a militant organization that opposed the Rhodesian government.
It is because of people like him that Rhodesia no longer exists and is now known as Zimbabwe. It’s kind of like that old They Might Be Giants’ song Istanbul (not Constantinople).
Ndabaningi Sithole was born on July 21, 1920, in the rural area of Nyamanandhlovu. He was raised in a pagan household and spent his childhood in an isolated tribal environment. According to biography.yourdictionary.com, he was seven years old before he first saw a white person. At the age of 15, he defied his father and ran away to enter the Dadaya Mission school, where he excelled. He acquired the National Junior Certificate and then returned to the Dadaya Mission as a teacher, and later became a Methodist minister.
If Sithole rings a bell, you may be thinking of Good Enough Sithole, a crazy Orlando Pirates fan with beaded Rick James hair. It’s not him.
And PLEASE DO NOT confuse today’s leader with another famous Sithole, the South African serial killer, Moses Sithole, who committed the “ABC Murders”, so named because they began in Atteridgeville, continued in Boksburg and finished in Cleveland. Sparing you the grisly details, this Sithole was given a total effective sentence of 2,410 years. What the what? The judge ordered that Sithole be required to serve at least 930 years before being eligible for parole. So good luck with that.
Back on track with Ndabingini, who in 1957 completed African Nationalism, a book about grievances in the white supremacist system of Southern Rhodesia. In 1959, he was elected president of the African Teachers’ Association. The next year, he joined the the National Democratic party (NDP) and rose to the position of treasurer.
Then things got complicated. In 1964 Sithole, among others, was placed by the government in a remote detention camp and ZANU was banned altogether. He remained in detention for five years. In Feb of 1969, he was sentenced to six years of imprisonment for his role in a plot to assassinate Ian Smith, prime minister of the illegal Rhodesian regime. Sithole insisted he had been framed and declared, “I wish publicly to dissociate my name in thought, word and deed from any subversive activities, from any terrorist activities, and from any form of violence.”
After his release from prison in 1974, Sithole lived in exile in Zambia. In 1976 he served as a member of the Transitional Executive Council to prepare for the transfer of power to the black majority in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. In 1980, his long-time rival Robert Mugabe became prime minister of Zimbabwe. Canaan Banana served as president from ’80 to ’87, until Mugabe took over. At the age of 91, Mugabe is STILL the current president of Zimbabwe. Sithole passed away in 2000.
And while Rhodesia may not exist, Rhodesian Ridgebacks still do.