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Bishop Abel Muzorewa, Zimbabwean Transitional Figure of 1970s, Dies in Harare

For nine months in 1979 Bishop Abel Muzorewa was prime minister of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, a compromise Ian Smith cobbled together with moderate black leaders but which gave way to the independent, black-majority Zimbabwean state

Retired Bishop Abel Muzorewa, who played a brief but historic role as the prime minister of the short-lived state of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia in 1979, died Thursday at his Harare home of cancer at the age of 85.

Politically moderate, Muzorewa opposed the armed struggle that ultimately led to majority black rule, which led more militant nationalist figures to dismiss him as a puppet of white Rhodesian politicians.

VOA Studio 7 correspondent Thomas Chiripasi reported from the Zimbabwean capital.

Though retired from politics for many years, Bishop Abel Muzorewa was at the center of the national stage in the late 1970s in the complicated transition from colonial Rhodesia to Zimbabwe.

Consecrated the United Methodist Church's first black bishop in 1968, Muzorewa came to prominence after forming the United African National Council with the late Reverend Canaan Banana. He led opposition to a 1972 bid by the white-minority Rhodesian government to adopt a new constitution granting limited concessions to the black majority.

But he was politically marginalized after entering into an agreement with Ian Smith to hold elections in which blacks could vote, albeit for a parliament in which whites would be guaranteed a quarter of seats.

For nine months in 1979 Muzorewa was prime minister of the compromise state of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia.

Robert Mugabe took over as prime minister in 1980 after the British-sponsored Lancaster House talks and elections in which Muzorewa’s party took just three of 100 parliamentary seats. Twice after independence he unsuccessfully ran for parliament, then disappeared from politics to concentrate on pastoral work.

Christian Care Director Rev. Forbes Matonga worked with Muzorewa and told VOA Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira that the bishop's legacy included his role in the country's transition to independence, the Methodist Church and the founding of Africa University in the eastern Zimbabwean city of Mutare.

Political commentator John Makumbe said that while Muzorewa had differences with the leaders of the two main liberation parties, Robert Mugabe's ZANU and Joshua Nkomo's PF-ZAPU, he would be remembered by many Zimbabweans as a man of peace.