Former President Robert Mugabe was catapulted to the leadership of ZANU in 1975 after the death of ZANU Chairman Herbert Chitepo by former ZAPU leader Dr Joshua Nkomo.
This is revealed in Joshua Nkomo’s autobiography The Story Of My life.
In Page 158 of the book Nkomo says when negotiations between the Nationalists and Rhodesia Prime Minister Ian Smith had collapsed, the front-line Presidents decided to give full backing to the military preparations.
Here below is the excerpt from the book:
The Presidents Kaunda, Nyerere, Seretse Khama of Botswana, Samora Machel of Mozambique and Nero of Angola considered that the nationalist cause will be better served by a unified army command, responding to political leadership. They, therefore, requested President Nyerere as their Chairman to call a meeting of Zimbabwe organizations in Dar to try to help bring this about.
Those present were me, Ndabaningi Sithole and Abel Muzorewa with Alfred Mangena, the Commander of ZIPRA, and Rex Nhongo the Commander of ZANLA.
Nyerere began by asking the political leaders whether their movement had a military wing. In my case it was easy; I said ZIPRA was ZAPU’s army, Mangena agreed and that was that. Nyerere turned to Nhongo the ZANLA Commander and him who was his political leader. Nhongo answered that his country had rejected Sithole and at present had no political leadership. Nyerere asked me to persuade the ZANLA commanders to produce a name acceptable to them.
Later Nhongo gave me a piece of paper. On it was written the name of Robert Mugabe. He had recently been expelled from Zambia for making derogatory statements about President Kaunda, and had spent several months confined by order of President Machel to a house in a small town of Quelimane in Mozambique along with his unpredictable friend Edgar Tekere.
I asked Nhongo what he thought Mugabe’s position should be. “Our Political Spokesperson,” he said. I handed the paper to President Nyerere.
My next task was to consult with some ZANU central committee members who were detained in Zambia in connection with the Chitepo murder.
Henry Hanadziripi, Rugare Gumbo and KUmbirai Kangai agreed with Nhongo’s nomination of Mugabe as Spokesperson. I then asked to see Josiah Tongogara who was actually in Lusaka facing charges arising out of the murder. Tongogara supported his colleagues. I reported to the Presidents that Mugabe seemed to the acceptable available Spokesman.
That is how I brought Robert Mugabe to the leadership of his party and secured the release of the colleagues who supported him.