The word Zimbabwe was coined by Michael Mawema

When the liberation narrative of Zimbabwe is being told, there are names one always knows will dominate the story. Other names are told partially, other names are told in passing and other names are not even told at all.

And as for the man who gave us the name of our country, not enough is done to appreciate and fully acknowledge his name in the narrative of the country’s liberation. He had an illustrious political career that stretches back to his days as the private secretary of Benjamin Burombo.

His name is Michael Mawema. He is the one who coined the word Zimbabwe in 1960,  and from that point it was adopted by the parties ZAPU and ZANU. He was actively involved in the liberation struggle and for this the brutal and heartless colonialist system sent him to prison.

Michael Mawema coined the word Zimbabwe
Michael Mawema who coined the word Zimbabwe

Bulawayo is where his political career started. In 1951 he was the private secretary of Benjamin Burombo in the workers’ struggle and in 1954 he joined the ANC and served as an executive member of the Bulawayo Branch until the merger with the Youth League in September 1957.

When it was time to replace the African National Congress with a new party because of problems with the Rhodesian regime, Mawema was one of the few experienced politicians instrumental in such a transition. He played a key role in the formation of the National Democratic party (NDP) which replaced the ANC. He was appointed interim President when the National Democratic Party was founded in January 1960 (it being understood that he was holding the post only until Joshua Nkomo returned to Rhodesia).

Mawema denounced the 1961 proposed constitution which gave 15 seats to black politicians, a constitution the NDP was willing to adopt. He was suspended by the National Council but was soon restored when a few days later the NDP decided not to support the constitution.

He was involved in the formation of Zimbabwe African National Union which was in opposition to Nkomo together with Patrick Matimba and Edson Sithole. Mawema was arrested in 1963 when he was the Organising Secretary for ZANU. He was released in 1968 after spending spells at WhaWha, Sikombela and Salisbury Prison.

Mawema was fairly successful in his political career. Among other things, he addressed the OAU Liberation Committee in 1964 and in 1972 he represented ‘Zimbabwe’ at the Non-Aligned Foreign Ministers’ Conference in Guyana. He has contributed many articles to journals and publications on aspects of African sociology, religion and politics. He stated that he was a great admirer of Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere and Che Guevara.

According to Mawema, black nationalists held a meeting in 1960 to choose an alternative name for the country, and the names Machobanaland, Monomotapa were proposed before his suggestion, Zimbabwe, prevailed.


With information from Pindula.

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