Throughout the 1970s, Mugabe played a major role in providing ZANU with leadership stability and a united sense of purpose as he led the armed struggle against the white minority regime. After the assassination of ZANU National Chairman Herbert Chitepo in 1975 and a popular rebellion against former ZANU head, Reverend Sithole, for his relationship with the Smith government, Mugabe became the undisputed leader of ZANU. From 1974 to 1979, Mugabe led the armed struggle from Mozambique by building a highly effective liberation army that eventually helped bring the Smith government to the negotiating table. He succeeded in establishing himself as the primary independence leader.
In 1976, Mugabe formed an uneasy alliance with Joshua Nkomo's ZAPU party to create a united front against the Smith government. While the alliance was uneasy, it directly contributed to the Mugabe victory in the February 1980 elections. Mugabe's major constituency was the Shona tribe, which represented the majority population, and ZANLA troops. Mugabe was considered a nationalist and liberator of Zimbabwe, and therefore, he had wide-ranging popular support.
Despite ZANU's landslide victory, Mugabe sought to form a government of national unity by naming a cabinet that included ZAPU and white members. Furthermore, Mugabe initiated policies designed to stabilize a war-torn nation by promoting a gradual change toward socialism that also upheld the property rights of white landowners. His rival, Joshua Nkomo was given the position of minister of home affairs in the first government.