1977: Alec Smith and Arthur Kanodereka – ‘Now I call him brother’

By Michael Smith

Alec Smith Arthur Kanodereka


The two colleagues who visited the conference centre in Caux in 1977 from Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) could not have been more different. One was Alec Smith, the renegade son of the white Prime Minister, Ian Smith; the other was the black nationalist leader Revd Arthur Kanodereka. Kanodereka was Treasurer of the United African National Congress, opposed to everything that Ian Smith stood for.

Arthur and Alec had first met at an international multiracial conference organized by Moral Re-Armament (not Initiatives of Change) in the capital Salisbury (now Harare) in 1975. There, Alec apologized for white attitudes of superiority towards blacks. Arthur was stunned and invited Alec to speak in his church in the black township of Harare. It was a courageous move to invite the son of a prime minister so hated by the black population to an area where police had just shot 13 rioters.  


Alec Smith Arthur Kanodereka
Arthur and Alec


Arthur told the congregation, ‘Brothers and sisters, I want to introduce you to the son of the man I hated most. Now I call him brother.’ Alec spoke to the gathering as he had at the conference in Salisbury.

He was amazed by the response. When he entered the church, he had made a mental note of the nearest exit in case things turned violent. ‘But the congregation took me at my word. They came up, every one of them, and shook hands.’

I want to introduce you to the son of the man I hated most. Now I call him brother.

Arthur and Gladys Kanodereka 1975
Arthur and Gladys Kanodereka in Caux, 1975


Over the next years, Arthur and Alec spoke together all over the country, and also in South Africa and Europe, including Caux.

‘I came to see it was my bitterness itself that was imprisoning me,’ Arthur told their audiences. ‘With my bitterness gone, so was any spirit of submission or inferiority. Now I am a slave to no man, black or white. I am a free man.’

Alec had also experienced inner liberation. As a teenager, his rebellion against his father had descended into a haze of alcohol and drug abuse. He was expelled from university in South Africa and was arrested on the Mozambique border for drug running. He was given a suspended sentence.

Driving through Salisbury one day in 1972, he ‘heard a voice’ saying: ‘Go home and read the New Testament.’ It was so real to him that he stopped the car to see who was there. But there was no-one. Reading the Bible started a transformation which freed him from drugs and alcohol and opened his eyes to the racism in his country. ‘I became aware of the daily degradation and humiliation of the blacks, and the arrogant, unthinking attitudes of many whites,’ he wrote.

I became aware of the daily degradation and humiliation of the blacks, and the arrogant, unthinking attitudes of many whites.

Elliott Gabellah, Alec Smith, George Daneel at a conference in Caux
Alec (front second from left) at the opening of the MRA conference in Zimbabwe in 1975. Elliott Gabellah, Vice President of the African National Congress, is speaking


These realities had provoked armed conflict in the country, as guerrilla forces fought for the overthrow of white minority rule. Arthur and Alec were part of an informal group of senior blacks and whites working for a solution, dubbed the Cabinet of Conscience. Arthur was in contact with the fighters too, knowing the dangers but believing that he could help create the conditions for genuine negotiation. Eighteen months after their visit to Caux, he was assassinated.

Alec grieved, but kept working. He and his colleagues arranged a crucial meeting between Ian Smith and Robert Mugabe in 1980, on the eve of the country’s independence. The two men talked for several hours and came to some understanding. Mugabe’s subsequent tone of reconciliation astonished the world, and a white-led military coup was averted.

For 20 years, under Mugabe’s rule, there was a remarkable degree of harmony between black and white Zimbabweans, and the country prospered. This collapsed in 2000 when Mugabe lost a referendum to become Life President and ruthlessly imposed his control.

Alec met his Norwegian wife, Elisabeth, at Caux. They married in 1979 and had three children. When he died of a heart attack in 2006, his obituary in the British daily paper, The Independent, remarked, ‘You could say that the beginning of the end of white rule took place over a pot of tea when Smith took Kanodereka home to meet his father.’


Elisabeth and Alec Smith 1986
Elisabeth and Alec Smith in Caux, 1986




Folker and Monica Mittag remember:

In June 1978, Arthur Kanodereka preached in Freudenstadt, Germany, at an international conference to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Frank Buchman, the founder of Moral Re-Armament (now Initiatives of Change). Buchman had died in Freudenstadt in 1961.

Monica and Folker Mittag
Folker and Monica Mittag

The church, which seated 1,700 people, was overflowing. ‘I have learned that you cannot change a man by hating him,’ Kanodereka said.’You make him worse. But with the love that God gives, you can meet anyone and win him.’

We each took time off work to help with the conference, although we did not meet until some years later. Monica was involved in translating and interpreting, and Folker was in the organizing team.

Messages came in from all over the world, including from Helmut Schmidt, then Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. He wrote: ‘Frank Buchman was convinced that politics should have a moral basis and that evil should be overcome by a passionate pursuit of good. These are aims which have lost none of their significance.’




Watch the film Dawn in Zimbabwe about Alec Smith and Arthur Kanodereka, 1980



Watch an extract with Alec Smith and Arthur Kanodereka (from 21"30') speaking at a conference in the film Choice for an impatient world (1977)





This story is part of our series 75 Years of Stories about individuals who found new direction and inspiration through Caux, one for each year from 1946 to 2021. If you know a story appropriate for this series, please do pass on your ideas by email to John Bond or Yara Zhgeib. If you would like to know more about the early years of Initiatives of Change and the conference centre in Caux please click here and visit the platform For A New World.


Featured Story
Event Categories
75 stories 75th anniversary

related stories

This is us square 8.png

75 Years of Stories: Meet the team!

When we launched the 75 Years of Stories series in February 2021 about 75 years of encounters at the Initiatives of Change conference centre in Caux, we had no idea what an adventure we had embarked o...

Caux in snow 2021 credit Cindy Bühler

2021: Initiatives of Change Switzerland – Opening Caux’s doors to a new chapter

As our series of 75 stories for 75 years of the Initiatives of Change conference centre in Caux draws to an end, the President of Initiatives of Change Switzerland, Christine Beerli, and its two Co-Di...

Aad Burger

2020: Aad Burger – Struck by a virus

In 2020, the Caux Forum went online in response to the pandemic. Its organizers found that this made Caux accessible to people all over the world who could not have taken part in normal circumstances....

Marc Isserles 2017

2019: Marc Isserles – ‘We must save the children’

During World War II, the Caux Palace (later the Initiatives of Change conference centre in Switerland) provided a refuge for Jews fleeing the Shoah. Over the years, some of them – or their descendants...

Wael Broubaker climate actionist

2018: Wael Boubaker – ‘Climate change should be top top top priority’

When Tunisian economics graduate Wael Boubaker joined the Caux Peace and Leadership Programme (CPLP) in 2018, he expected a conference which would look good on his CV, and some beautiful scenery. Inst...

Tanaka Mhunduru CPLP

2017: Tanaka Mhunduru – A home for the world

Tanaka Mhunduru from Zimbabwe is one of the organizers of the Caux Peace and Leadership Programme (CPLP), a one-month programme for young people from around the world. He first took part in 2017....

Diana Damsa Winter Gathering 2016

2016: Diana Damsa – ‘It made me feel I counted’

The Winter Gathering of 2016 was a special experience for Diana Damsa – not just because she experienced Caux in winter, but also because, for the first time in eight years, she had no responsibilitie...

Philippe and Liseth Lasserre

2015: Lisbeth Lasserre – ‘The richness in art’

Lisbeth Lasserre came from Winterthur, where her grandparents, Hedy and Arthur Hahnloser, had built up a private collection of art at their home, Villa Flora. Amongst their artist friends were Bonnard...

Catherine Guisan

2014: Catherine Guisan – Europe’s Unfinished Business

Catherine Guisan is Visiting Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota, USA. She has written two books on the ethical foundations of European integration. In 2014 she spoke at Caux’s first se...

Tom Duncan

2013: Tom Duncan – Restoring a healthy planet

2013 saw the first full-length Caux Dialogues on Land and Security (CDLS). These events, which took place at the Caux Conference and Seminar Centre, focus on the links between sustainable land managem...

Merel Rumping

2012: Merel Rumping – Going out on a limb

When Merel Rumping from the Netherlands first visited Caux in 2012, she had a goal in mind – ‘to explore how I could contribute to a more just world through my professional activities’....

Lucette Schneider

2011: Lucette Schneider – Choices which make the magic of Caux

For many years, Lucette Schneider from Switzerland organized the team which gathered in the early mornings to wash, peel and chop vegetables for the kitchens of the Caux conference centre. ...

Mohan Bhagwandas 2003

2010: Mohan Bhagwandas – Addressing the crisis of integrity

Mohan Bhagwandas is all too aware of his carbon footprint. In the 13 years from 2006 to 2019, he flew 17 times from his home city of Melbourne, Australia, to Switzerland to take part in the Caux confe...

Rajmohan Gandhi 2011 Caux Forum Human Security

2009: Rajmohan Gandhi – Bridges between India and Pakistan

25 distinguished Indians and Pakistanis came to Caux in 2009 with the aim of building bridges between their countries. The man who initiated the gathering was Rajmohan Gandhi, a grandson of Mahatma Ga...

Iman Ajmal Masroor

2008: Learning to be a Peacemaker – ‘An eye-opener to the world’

2008 saw the launch of an unusual course on Islam’s approach to peacemaking for young Muslims and non-Muslims, devised by Imam Ajmal Masroor from the UK. The course’s coordinator, Peter Riddell, descr...