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EDSON ZVOBGO Zimbabwe Politician

Edson Jonasi Zvobgo (2 October 1935 – 22 August 2004) was a founder of Zimbabwe’s ruling party Zanu-PF, was the Patriotic Front’s spokesman at the Lancaster House in late 1979, a Harvard-trained lawyer, and a poet. His name is often misspelled by the media, either as Eddison instead of Edson or Zvogbo instead of Zvobgo. He was born in then Southern Rhodesia in 1935, near Fort Victoria (now Masvingo), where his father was a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church. In 1960, Zvobgo won a scholarship to Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts aged 25. After taking a bachelor’s degree there in 1964, he returned home to be arrested and detained for political activism against white rule in Rhodesia, along with Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo. Zvobgo was freed in 1971, and he spent a period in exile in Canada. He then studied law at Harvard and international relations at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, followed by a position as associate professor teaching criminal law at Lewis University College in Illinois. Zvobgo played a key role in international negotiations at Lancaster House that ended the bitter bush war and led to British-sponsored all race elections ahead of independence in 1980. He was the Zanu-PF spokesman, and impressed many in the international press with his quick repartee and astute analysis of the negotiations. In the 1980 elections, he won a seat in parliament for Masvingo, which he continued to hold until his death. An influential member of Zimbabwe’s first fully independent cabinet, Zvobgo was minister for local government and housing until 1982, and minister for justice until 1985. As minister of parliamentary and constitutional affairs, in 1987 he made several amendments to the Constitution that concentrated power in the hands of the president and moved Zimbabwe towards a one-party state. Initially a staunch supporter of Zanu-PF policies, in later years he criticised Robert Mugabe’s autocratic rule. In 1992 Zvobgo was moved to the less influential post of Minister of Mines. In 1996 he survived a car accident, in which both his legs were broken. This accident was considered suspicious by many. Shortly after the accident Mugabe demoted Zvobgo further to Minister Without Portfolio, and, in 2000, he was dropped from the cabinet altogether. In the 2002 presidential elections, he refused to campaign for Mugabe, but did not endorse the opposition challenger Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). He also voiced his opposition to the sweeping media law, passed the same year, calling it “the most serious assault on our constitutional liberties since independence”. Despite his criticism, Zvobgo eventually voted for the legislation, which was used to close off Zimbabwe’s only privately owned daily newspaper, The Daily News, and to arrest at least 31 independent journalists. He became the subject of an internal party disciplinary inquiry in 2003 for his refusal to campaign for Mugabe and after describing the laws as a weapon to stifle opposition to the government, but allegations of disloyalty were eventually dropped. Zvobgo had also been accused of holding private talks with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change as the ruling party abandoned formal dialogue between the two parties. Zvobgo died on 22 August 2004 after a lengthy battle with cancer. His wife Julia Tukai Zvobgo, a former Zanu-PF MP, died in February 2004 at the age of 67. He is survived by his seven children, Kerina, Edson Junior, Tsungirirai, Jonasi, Esther, Tendai and Farai Emily.

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