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HomeAbout usIn Memory > In Memory: Anderson Mhungu

In Memory: Anderson Mhungu

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Anderson J. Mhungu, for many years General Secretary of the Zimbabwe Amalgamated Railwaymen’s Union (ZARU), died on 16 July [2008]. He was a member of the ITF Executive Board from 1980 to 1990 and an ITF Vice President from 1986 to 1990. He was awarded the ITF Gold Badge at the 1990 Congress.

Harold Lewis, General Secretary of the ITF from 1977 to 1993, pays tribute to an old friend and colleague:

Anderson Mhungu made history on his first appearance at an ITF Congress, the Stockholm Congress of 1974.  He was the first and (so far) the last delegate to sing much of his maiden speech.  It was a freedom song, sung in what the official Proceedings described ‘as his own language’ (probably Sindebele but perhaps Shona).  The interpreters were understandably defeated but the language problem was transcended by the force of this big man’s palpable sincerity and commitment.  

Most of his audience – and, as I recall, Mhungu himself – were unaware that his credentials had been hotly contested by a well-intentioned but not very well-informed group of African Rhodesian exiles. They had lobbied a number of delegations, the Australians especially, with the claim that Ian Smith’s “Republic” of Rhodesia would have made it practically impossible for a genuine black Rhodesian trade unionist to get to Stockholm:

Mhungu had therefore to be a stooge.  The truth was that two factors had in fact facilitated his attendance:  the first that Rhodesian Railways operated also in Botswana; the second that there were in the British Foreign Office of those days (long gone) some senior officials who were actively supportive of the international trade union movement and of the ITF in particular.  .And so Mhungu had taken the train to Gaborone, where he exchanged his worthless “Rhodesian” passport (made out contemptuously to “Anderson”, family names being reserved for Whites) for a temporary British passport.

His Congress performance settled any doubts.  His union, then known as the Railway African Workers’ Union, was one of the very few in Africa to have real industrial strength, a force even the Smith regime had to take seriously.  But they were turbulent and unpredictable times.  The white railwaymen’s union, long affiliated to the ITF, had once looked paternalistically and benignly on its African (and much bigger) counterpart.  Railway jobs, wages and union memberships were structured, historically and explicitly, by race.  So as long as the Africans ‘knew their place’ conflict and competition were unlikely.  But the Africans were now demanding equity and the white union was reacting in much the same way as the white minority generally, by drawing its wagons closer together around more and more reactionary leaders. 

Anderson Mhungu’s great achievement was to preserve his union’s strength and integrity throughout the Smith era and the subsequent emergence of Zimbabwe.  He did so by making sure that his members’ industrial interests always had first call on his and the union’s time.  Other political and social issues and ambitions were of course hugely important to Zimbabweans but they had to find their own place and outlet.  When the ITF first assisted the union in 1953 it was led by Joshua Nkomo, later to become one of Zimbabwe’s most famous politicians, but Anderson kept a wary eye on anyone tempted to use trade unions as a political vehicle.  (When he acted for a period as Treasurer of the national centre, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), his strict approach to the use of union money did not always go down well with Morgan Tsvangirai, the ZCTU’s Secretary General at the time.)

He was given a standing ovation when he received the ITF Gold Badge at the ITF’s Florence Congress in 1990 shortly before he retired.  Those present would have sensed and recognized his great qualities as a trade unionist but few had had the chance to get to know him for the modest, warm and funny man that he was away from the public arena.  Those lucky enough to have enjoyed his friendship and company over the years will have every reason to remember him gratefully and miss him dearly.

-Harold Lewis 11-08-08



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Copyright © 2012 ITF
ITF House, 49-60 Borough Road, London SE1 1DR  |  +44 20 7403 2733   |  mail@itf.org.uk