How Mugabe came to power: Wilfred Mhanda

via R.W. Johnson · How Mugabe came to power: Wilfred Mhanda · LRB 22 February 2001

R.W. Johnson talks to Wilfred Mhanda – for the record

It’s not an easy thing to have on your conscience that you were personally responsible for putting Robert Mugabe in power but Wilfred Mhanda has had to live with that knowledge for the last 24 years. You might think the last year, which has seen 32 murders, countless cases of rape, torture, arson and beating, all to help Mugabe steal an election, would have made it even harder, but the reverse is true. ‘It’s a relief now that Zimbabweans realise at last what sort of man he is,’ Mhanda told me recently. ‘It became obvious very quickly that we’d made a terrible mistake: that he was paranoid, authoritarian and ruthless, a man believing only in power. He hasn’t changed. What’s changed is that other people have his measure at last.’

You look at Wilfred, roly-poly, 50 and a quality control manager, and you don’t find it hard to believe that he lives a blameless suburban life with a wife, a house and a Mazda 323. Even now the suburbs of Harare – still one of the pleasantest places in the world to live – include a quota of golf-playing Telegraph-readers who would not be out of place in Chiswick or Cheltenham. But they are also home to many, white and black, who have, in their time, been involved in a lot of bloodshed. Now, with Harare, like the rest of the country, crumbling before your eyes, some of these men are willing to say what they know. It’s part of the general atmosphere of fin de règne.

Mhanda was the sort of young boy in Ian Smith’s Rhodesia who was bound to grow up to become a guerrilla. His father was a keen African nationalist and his childhood heroes were not singers or soccer stars but Nkrumah, Sekou Touré and Kenyatta. He went to the primary school at Zvishavane which the former liberal Prime Minister Garfield Todd had founded and often visited even though he was living under a form of house arrest imposed by Ian Smith. By the time Mhanda left school he was in such regular trouble with the police that ‘I would spend all day from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the police station, sitting there working at my school books for A-levels.’ The first thing he did at university in Salisbury, as it was then called, was to join the Zanu – Zimbabwe African National Union – underground.

Young activists like Mhanda took it for granted that armed struggle was the only way to change Smith’s mind about majority rule: ‘We used the Student Christian Movement as cover. People would go on SCM “holidays” when actually they were going for basic military training for Zanu’s military wing, Zanla.’ But Mhanda’s cell was also organising demonstrations against discrimination in education and he had to walk 25 miles each way to Goromonzi to organise protests at the secondary school he’d attended. Eventually there were demonstrations on the university campus itself and the whole thing came to a head with the discovery that one of the members of Mhanda’s cell was a police agent: ‘My handler was furious. Now you’re going to have to run for it because of these stupid student demos, he said, when we wanted you here organising the military underground.’ Together with four others, Mhanda skipped the country and, via Botswana and Zambia, made his way to Tanzania. At this time, Rhodesia’s neighbours – Tanzania and Zambia in particular, and after Independence in 1975, Mozambique – provided bases for the Zimbabwean liberation fighters as well as the African National Congress.

In Tanzania Mhanda showed great aptitude for all things military and rapidly rose to become a military instructor, a party commissar and a Zanla commander. Eventually Zanla’s Chinese trainers took him off to China for advanced instruction. ‘China was a strange, closed society and the Chinese themselves were essentially racist,’ he recalls. ‘If people like me appeared in the street there’d be an immediate traffic jam as people queued up to look at blacks like you’d look at monkeys. But I didn’t care. The training itself was excellent and that was what I’d gone there for.’ The Chinese insisted that Mhanda was too great an asset to risk his life at the front, but he saw plenty of action, on one occasion living off the land for three months in a protracted operation in north-eastern Rhodesia.

The main problem for Zanu was that its leader, Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole, had been in detention in Salisbury for ten years so that none of the younger fighters like Mhanda knew him. Herbert Chitepo had been chosen as interim leader but in March 1975 he was murdered in the Zambian capital, Lusaka. To this day no one knows who did it: Mhanda’s best guess is that Smith had him killed with help from agents infiltrated into Zanu. At any rate, President Kaunda of Zambia took Chitepo’s death as his cue to crack down on Zanla. He had all the Zanla camps closed and imprisoned the fighters in a remote part of the country.

Mhanda, who’d been travelling to the front in Rhodesia when he heard that his own camp had been raided by Zambian troops, fled to Mozambique to confer with the Zanla commander-in-chief, Josiah Tongogara. It was essential, he argued, that the fighters not be left on their own because Kaunda was trying to strongarm them into accepting the leadership of his client, Joshua Nkomo, the head of the rival liberation movement in Rhodesia, Zapu – the Zimbabwe African People’s Union. The differences between the two were largely that Zanu drew its support from Beijing and consisted mostly of Shona members, while Zapu was backed by Moscow (and close to the ANC); its members were, on the whole, drawn from the Ndebele, the smaller of Rhodesia’s two largest ethnic groups. Kaunda’s long-term aim was to subsume Zanu within Zapu, calculating that one day, using Nkomo as his mouthpiece, he would be in a position to call the shots in Zimbabwe.

In Mozambique, after due consideration, Tongogara agreed that Mhanda should go back to Rhodesia disguised as an ordinary recruit. For eight months he acted as secretary and assistant to the man the Zambians thought commanded the Zanla forces, though it was Mhanda, who now ranked second only to Tongogara, who gave all the orders.

‘Kaunda was pretty ruthless,’ Mhanda remembers. ‘The big watchword for the leaders of the Front Line States’ – i.e. all the independent countries bordering the white minority regimes of Rhodesia and South Africa – ‘was unity, but usually when they said we must accept unity it meant we must do what they said. In this case, Kaunda had decided we must all join Zapu’s armed wing, Zipra, and intended to starve us into submission.’ Some 1200 Zanla people were under arrest in Zambia but of these only 400 were seasoned fighters: the rest were raw recruits plus women and children. The Zambian Army didn’t let any supplies get through to the camp and 105 hungry fighters defected to Zipra, but Kaunda was wary of taking his starvation tactics too far and eventually the Zambian Army was sent in to bully the camp inmates into line.

Mhanda and his colleagues wanted to consult Sithole before making any deal about uniting the two movements. When their demand was rejected they engineered a mass escape, effectively daring the Zambian soldiers to shoot the women and children – which they didn’t. A new camp was established and again the Zambian troops surrounded it. This time Mhanda led a phoney hunger strike (‘we had hidden rations and ate in the dark – but the Zambians thought we were starving’) until it was finally agreed that they could consult Sithole.

Robert Mugabe, another of Smith’s nationalist prisoners, had already led a bid to topple Sithole in August 1974. No one outside Que Que Prison knew Mugabe. As a militant youth-wing leader he’d been in jail in Rhodesia ever since 1964. Before that, he’d spent three years in Ghana. At the end of the year Smith let out all the prominent black nationalists and Mugabe led a Zanu delegation to the Front Line leaders, Kaunda, Julius Nyerere (Tanzania), Agostinho Neto (Angola) and Samora Machel (Mozambique). But Nyerere especially was so angry at the idea of a leader being so obviously sent to them with Smith’s connivance that he refused to talk to Mugabe and demanded that he and his followers go back to Rhodesia and return with Sithole. Nyerere got his way; Sithole was quick to understand the situation and agreed to a unity pact with Zapu.

‘Are you saying that Mugabe was really Smith’s man?’ I asked. Mhanda grinned and later when I tried the question on a number of his old guerrilla comrades they all grinned together. ‘We’ve thought about it a lot,’ they said. ‘Nothing can be proved, but if you look back you see that over and over again Smith acted so as to create openings for Mugabe. Maybe he thought Mugabe was so extreme that he would destroy African nationalism in Zimbabwe. If so, he was right in the end.’

Sithole, they explained to me, was still in charge but his power was diminished; and Mugabe refused his instruction to attend Chitepo’s funeral. Instead he went off to the Mozambique border, where he sat for three months. Machel said he was a Smith agent and wouldn’t let him into the country. (Machel had emerged from the Frelimo guerrilla movement and believed that a future Zimbabwean leader should also have fought in the bush.) In the end Mugabe crossed the border disguised as a refugee. He had wanted to build a following in the refugee camps in Mozambique, but Machel was furious when he discovered his whereabouts and put him under house arrest to keep him out of trouble. What we suspect now, Mhanda said to me with a sad smile, is that he had help getting into Mozambique: maybe Smith was still behind him.

Meanwhile Mhanda and his fellow Zanla fighters were discovering how wrong they’d been about Sithole. Above all he had revealed himself as an out and out Shona tribalist. ‘Maybe we all started that way,’ Mhanda said, digging the ground unhappily with a stick. ‘Once you became a fighter all you cared about was that your comrades would literally lay down their lives for you and you for them: tribe had nothing to say to you after that. The problem was that our leaders had never been fighters themselves, so they remained tribalists.’ By now he’d dug quite a pile of soil and as he spoke I became very aware of the terrible unhappiness of the thing, the devotion of the fighters to their cause, the depth of their betrayal. Maybe they’re wrong about Mugabe being Smith’s man, maybe that’s all post factum suspicion and nonsense, who knows? But what no one can gainsay are the extraordinary sacrifices these fighters made and how little they got out of it.

With Sithole still in place, things went from bad to worse. The Zambians shot and killed ten Zanla fighters. Sithole didn’t protest, didn’t want to know, didn’t even want Mhanda and his comrades to attend the funerals or visit the wounded in hospital. Sithole believed that he was close to a deal with Smith and the fighters were, at best, an irrelevance. ‘I will never forget the way he turned to us and said: “I can certainly talk to Ian Smith but as for you, my children, I don’t know what’s to become of you.” Our blood ran cold. He saw us as mere cannon fodder. The final straw was that he wouldn’t attend the memorial services for our dead comrades but then said he had to go to the US to see his daughter because she was suffering from headaches.’

Mhanda and his friends realised they were now in danger. It was rumoured that Sithole, seeing them as potential mutineers, had arranged with the Zambians to have them arrested. They melted away into Tanzania. When Sithole returned from the US, he asked Nyerere to arrest all 42 Zanla commanders. Nyerere refused. The 42 met, voted to depose Sithole and decided, in desperation, to put Mugabe forward as a mediator. Though they didn’t know him they realised they needed a politician of some sort – that a simple fighter wouldn’t do. But the Front Line States continued to insist on unity so the fighters united the two military wings of Zanu and Zapu – Zanla and Zipra respectively – forming Zipa, the Zimbabwe People’s Army, under the leadership of Rex Nhongo. ‘The number two position had to go to a Zapu man, so I was number three in the command structure,’ Mhanda explains, still steadily digging the soil with his stick. Together they sat down and worked out a new war strategy and in January 1976 resumed military operations as a united force.

Machel was very unhappy with this outcome: he had always supported Zanu, and now he had no one to sponsor. He demanded that Mhanda and his friends find new Zanu leaders, so they came up with Mugabe and Tongogara, the guerrilla leader. Machel was furious: he didn’t trust Mugabe and he knew the fighters didn’t trust Tongogara. (‘He was quite right,’ Mhanda says sadly. ‘We knew Tongogara would be an absolute disaster.’) They settled for Mugabe, not really knowing him, and with the greatest reluctance Machel accepted him. Scared that a single united movement might end up under the leadership of Nkomo, the senior African nationalist, Mugabe closed down all organisations such as Zipa which united the two movements. He led the Zanu delegation to the Geneva talks later that year – 1976. But by then Mhanda was so disillusioned he refused to be a delegate. What he failed to take into account was that Mugabe was bound to see this as a threat.

The real irony – and the stroke which sealed Mhanda’s fate – was that just as the guerrillas were losing confidence in Mugabe, Machel threw his weight behind him. Mugabe got enormous international exposure as a result of the Geneva talks and even though they failed Machel was now convinced that Zimbabwean independence was just around the corner. In the circumstances the best thing he could do was to make sure he was backing Zimbabwe’s first President. This was clear enough to Mugabe and when he returned from Geneva, where he had been furiously brooding over Mhanda’s refusal to join the delegation, he told Machel that he must act swiftly to prevent Mhanda and his friends leading a military rebellion. Machel swooped and arrested 600 Zanla guerrillas, including Mhanda and the rest of the high command. The 64 top commanders were kept in jail for three years.

The prisoners were packed into the cells like sardines, they slept on cement floors and weren’t allowed to wear clothes. There were no toilets, so they had to defecate on the floor and eat and sleep in their own filth – the cells were cleaned once a month. They were infested with lice, had so little food they would put sand in their rice to bulk it out, had malaria and other fevers and froze in winter. Luckily, someone told Nyerere about the conditions under which they were being held and he prevailed on Machel to relocate them to another camp where life was hard but bearable. They were freed when Lord Carrington insisted that all political prisoners be released at Independence.

Mhanda went back to Zimbabwe and found Mugabe being treated on all sides as a great and magnanimous hero. Machel had tried to make the prisoners’ return conditional on their joining Zanu-PF. Mhanda and 26 others refused – which meant that in the first week after Independence they were arrested again and spent ten days on hunger strike before Nkomo intervened. Even so all doors were barred to them and getting a job was impossible. After a year Mhanda met the man in charge of the President’s security, who told him that he was ‘mad’ to hang around, that he must be looking for trouble and that he would certainly get it if he didn’t leave the country very soon.

He went to Germany on a scholarship, studied biotechnology, acquired a German girlfriend, was offered a university lectureship in West Berlin: as far as he was concerned he’d emigrated and would never see Zimbabwe again. But the Zimbabwean authorities told the Germans he was a Communist and the lectureship was withdrawn. He shuttled around Europe, wasn’t allowed to stay anywhere and in 1988 crept back into Zimbabwe, where eventually a deal was struck allowing him to work provided he stayed out of politics. This deal he has now broken by coming out openly against Mugabe. ‘I’ve got to,’ he says. ‘Most Zimbabweans agree with me now – and it’s important that we stand up and say we are the real war vets, not these criminals who are occupying farms and terrorising the farmers and their workers.’ Today he is a passionate believer in all the liberal verities: the importance of the rule of law, of a strong opposition, of free speech and all the rest. He sympathises with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change but is quick to say that if they win power he wants to see a strong opposition to them, too – ‘as long as it’s not Zanu-PF.’

It’s difficult to know what to make of his story. Mhanda doesn’t regret being a guerrilla or fighting for independence but it’s hard, as you listen to him, not to wonder at the sheer frenzy of it all. Smith and his supporters fought for a white supremacy which was both morally and practically mad. (I talked to Smith a year ago and it’s obvious that he now considers universal suffrage perfectly normal: so what was all that murderous lunacy about?) Mugabe and his like fought for a ‘scientific socialism’ which turned out to be a cover for self-enrichment and authoritarianism. The one thing both sides had in common was their contempt for democracy. Ignorant armies clashed by night and Mhanda – bravely, naively – led one of those armies until his usefulness was over because he hadn’t understood the rules.

In the 1970s the battle between the white elite and an army of African nationalists was fought on the lands of the rural peasantry, who paid a heavy price as both sides bullied, tortured and killed in their attempt to get the upper hand. A generation later, the nationalists have turned into fat cats: they have had the cream and nationalised the cream factory. Their control is contested by a new black elite, the trade-union and middle-class ‘outs’ (those who have no share of the spoils or the patronage) supported by the few whites who have remained in the country and by the mass of the poor who have derived no benefit from independence. Once again the battlefield is in the countryside and once again the people who are getting beaten, tortured and killed are primarily the rural poor.

I’ve been thinking about what might have happened to Mhanda had he not stuck to his guns and fallen out with Mugabe. His comrade in the Zanla high command, Rex Nhongo, went on to become head of the Army and the biggest landowner in Zimbabwe. Mhanda trained the men who are today the heads of the Air Force and the police: he could have had their jobs, been a cabinet minister or run one of the big state corporations. But he says he has never had the slightest wish to go into politics: he simply grew up surrounded by the mystique of the African freedom fighter and never considered being anything else.

In the end neither Kaunda nor Machel succeeded in making Zimbabwe a client state. If Ian Smith’s dream of a white Rhodesia came crashing down, so did the dream of socialism in the neighbouring states. Nkomo became immensely fat and rich but is now seen as having betrayed his Ndebele people. Rex Nhongo was so embarrassed by the whispering about his ill-gotten gains that he changed his name. Tongogara died in mysterious circumstances and some point the finger at Mugabe. As for Mugabe, he has reduced his country to near-ruin and is widely hated. Mhanda still dreams of a peaceful, democratic Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe he fought for. Of the four friends with whom he skipped the country to start his military training, one was killed by Smith’s forces, two were killed by Zanla itself; the fourth was killed in a way Mhanda still doesn’t understand. ‘I have had such a lucky life,’ he says: ‘I’m the only survivor.’

 

 

Tagged with:
Posted in the latest articles
8 comments on “How Mugabe came to power: Wilfred Mhanda
  1. Angela Wigmore says:

    A most interesting story. Certainly sounds feasible, except Mugabe being ‘Smith’s man’. I totally doubt that – Smith knew how evil Mugabe is and I don’t think he would have risked Zimbabwe’s fate based on a dubious possibility. But if Mhanda is so regretful about the outcome of Mugabe and Zanu’s control, why is he not helping some other political party? Afraid of things that go bump in the night, or motor accidents perhaps?

    • Kevin Watson says:

      Ian Smith knew nothing of the sort. He refused to accept Ken Flowers advice and believed the Nkomo was a bigger threat to his racist version of Rhodesia. The real stupidity of Ian Smith and his fellow travellers (Dupont, Harpur, Graham, Van Der Bijl, Lilford etc) was they thought that 260 000 whites could subject 5m blacks to second class citizenship in the land of their birth. Garfield Todd was correct that multiracialism and non-racist institutions and services was the way to resolve the problem. Smiths short sighted stupidity allowed people like Nkomo and Mugabe to become the leaders whose voices spoke for the black majority and led Zimbabwe to its present state.

      • Angela Wigmore says:

        How old are you Kevin Watson? How much of what you believe is fact and how much hearsay? Didn’t Ken Flowers go on to head-up Mugabe’s notorious CIO? Would he have done that if he feared Mugabe? Or was he simply a traitor who knew which side his bread was buttered? Intelligent answer please.

      • Angela Wigmore says:

        Incidentally, Kevin, you may have regarded yourself as a second-class citizen, but I never treated any black Zimbabwean with that disrespect. However, under the current regime I am disenfranchised completely, not even a second-class citizen in the country in which I was born 63 years ago! Now tell me about racism!!

  2. ntaba says:

    Wilfred did stand up in his time and publicised the modus operandi of Zanu and Mugabe.

  3. Gandhi Mudzingwa says:

    In Memory of Dzinashe Machingura

    I knew Cde Dzinashe Machingura way back at the start of my teen years in Zambia. I was only 11 years when with my mother and late young brother we crossed into Zambia, of course ahead of Dzinashe Machingura early on January 28, 1971. By some coincidence it was the same year that Wilfred Mhanda would voluntarily abandon his university studies to cross into Zambia and put his own life at risk for the freedom of the people. He was by no means the first Zanla combatant. Yet later even to us then as mere teens he was an inspiration beyond measure. The life history of Cde Dzino describes the true history of the struggle for the liberation of Zimbabwe. I would challenge anybody to step forward and contest the proceeding Dzinashe legacy that I present here. As I make this presentation I also toast his achievements as a cut above the rest; written in stone; and an awesome embodiment of selflessness; a true patriot to the end. I say to Cde Dzino, Adios amigos! Do Svidania!

    By wilfully foregoing his university studies Wilfred Mhanda not only abandoned an assured promising future but in the same vein a sure ticket one way ticket to privilege. Lest we misunderstand the significance of this act and end up distorting the context and the emotions, motivations underlying this act of supreme sacrifice. You will appreciate that most of the leadership of the struggle could not fathom abandoning this sure ticket to privilege and only pursued political confrontation with the Smith regime in what looked like an afterthought. And for a young man, most probably of 21 years to arrive at the decision to say my life is nothing unless my lot are free is but the extreme definition of the character of the man that lies before us, departed of course and waiting to be interred in any way we see fit. University education for blacks in those days was not only bottlenecked but also ensured one’s entry into privilege albeit at the lower end of the predominantly white elitist society. In French and Portuguese colonies university education assured assimilation of blacks as fully enfranchised citizens of the metropolis. In Rhodesia it meant the opening of doors to educate your kin and kith; to enjoy an elevated status in life; a sure way to ‘reverence and salutations’.
    To Wilfred Mhanda, the man that lies here, all that represented a pursuit of vanity. He did not need to think twice and he left on this journey of national duty and national sacrifice. The pursuit of vanity that had seen many go to Fort Hare and opened way for travel to faraway places like Ghana stood for nothing unless his broader family the black man could enjoy it as well. Wilfred decided it could wait. First the black man should be free from the white man’s bondage.
    Yet this was nothing in describing the extent of selfless character, the love that Wilfred had for his people; his abounding desire to sacrifice work for his fellow men. The people came first, even if that meant foregoing all personal opportunity.
    In those early days the majority of Zanla combatants enlisted for this service to the nation on the back of press ganging. Yes, I recall the legend. It was in Zambia that it all started. Headed by the building construction magnate, Chakabva, who was later to be the bona fide representative of Zanu in Lusaka, a task force constituted by committed supporters was set up that was headed by John Kadzviti to discharge the task. The task team was charged with the onerous task of seeking out reluctant young Zimbabwean men that could not abandon sampling the bliss of life in an independent Zambia, press gang them and carting them away to military training. Without this Zanu would have found it difficult to get recognition and support from the OAU liberation organ. Brigadier Hashim Mbita would just not budge. For logistics they fell back on a Land Rover donated by from within the Chakabva led Lusaka of zanu. As the saying goes; you can take the horse to the river but you cannot force it to drink. And so it was with most of those that were press ganged. Soon we witnessed the likes of Mugwara abandon the ranks upon completion of training and coming back to live among us in Zambia.
    Worse still those of a nervous disposition who continued in spite adopted a compensatory behaviour that was later to give a negative character to Zanla combatants right up to this day. It would appear that with this out the window vanished the very fundamentals that defined the attribute of sacrifice. In its place came the craving for reward, privilege, status and above all a penchant to deprivation and dispossession of citizens with regards the ownership of the struggle. The struggle for the independence was usurped into narrow confines.
    Now to Dzinashe Machingura; Our comrade in arms; Cde Dzino
    His nom de Guerre, Dzinashe Machingura by itself spoke volumes about the true aspirations of our lot of Zimbabweans. The name invoked feelings of inspiration; an awakening and a rich heritage on which blossomed a peculiarity to our distinct Zimbabwean pride. It spoke nothing less than our inevitable victory over the awesome force that Rhodesia Light Infantry situate only 96 miles south of Lusaka the capital of Zambia where the liberation war effort was then headquartered. It was in itself the reinvigoration to the clarion call to fight for what is rightfully ours no matter the obstacles. Yes, there were names like Musungwa Gava, Rex Nhongo and many others that played a part in rallying feelings to enlist into a formidable force in readiness for confrontation with the racist Rhodesian system. Though a short man by any standards however, at that moment he stood taller than life. In no time Dzinashe rose to the position of Political Commissar. Woe and be tide! It awoke the beast in many of us now our youth.
    A new pair of hands
    Then a sad chapter visited upon Zanu. It was an internal focus that was rooted on failure to provide leadership to the struggle; an abiding cluelessness on how to build and progress the institutions of the struggle. Characteristic of this period was the emergence of vulgar attributes of the struggle that would later entrench themselves in Zanu. Personality cults, regionalism, blame shifting; you name it, all seized hold of Zanu.
    Those who had risen in rank lacked humility as a fundamental quality of national leadership. Rather than accept the apparent absence of capacity and give way for the good of the nation instead pride overcame them like a vice and possessed them in a manner like a demon. Already, in spite of their cluelessness they coveted the privilege and status that went with rank.
    They turned the focus away from the objectives of the struggle whose focus was confrontation with the enemy south of us. They turned focus 180 degrees to focus internally within Zanu, alternatively at Zipra or on the host, Zambia. It had to be someone else and not them. Among those that would be caught up in this needless internal fights would be the current Commander of Zimbabwe Defence forces General Constantine Guveya Chiwenga whose name de Guerre was Dominic Chinenge. This is sure a familiar territory even to this day. Blame the sanctions; blame Blair!!! The story goes on.
    In short as with all situations where groups fall in to the grip of cluelessness the blind also rise up claiming divine intervention. In this they claim that now they not only can see but can steer the ship through a delicate path full of mines in the direction of its ultimate goal. Vile and glory seeking men of no rank and real station in organisations like Kombayi would pitch. They proceed and make a dash to seize the navigational tools of the ship. This first manifests itself among the Zanla combatants as the Nhari and Badza rebellions. In no time the objective was lost on the entire organisation. People like Mataure and Madekorezwa would be whisked away in the dark of the night never to be seen again. Internal power struggles had taken centre stage. Then the Rhodesians came in to finish off the work of destabilisation by successfully eliminating Herbert Wiltshire Chitepo. With that last solid pillar gone Zanu was virtually without a leader.
    The core group of genuine volunteers in Lusaka was left shell shocked. The host Zambia and its leader Kenneth Kaunda were tongue tied in disbelief. Zanu needed a fresh pair of hands to be resuscitated back to life. At the time Zanu’s fate appeared sealed in the one direction of imminent doom. I want to note that even at subsequent times when this ghost revisited Zanu it would now be Rex Nhongo who would rise to the occasion and rescue. We leave that for elsewhere.
    It was at this time that Dzinashe Machingura and Rex Nhongo rose to the occasion. First Dzinashe and Rex separated themselves from the chaos of the self-serving brigands that had come to symbolise Zanu. It was specifically Cde Dzino that spearheaded the campaign to distance the fighting force from the maddening crowd that constituted the chaos. He spearheaded the denunciation of the role of the political leadership at the head of Ndabaningi Sithole. This resulted in the so called Mgagao declaration. The truth is there was never any Mgagao declaration. Mgagao declaration was just smokes and mirrors; a creative way of arresting the chaos created by the failure of political leadership then in Zanu with the motivation of focusing the struggle back to its objective. At the head of that chaos was Ndabaningi Sithole. But the canker that manifested in Zanu was so debilitating that it could not have been without victims even on these exceptionally endowed two young men. Later it would return to haunt them.
    In its forward base of Chifombo at the time Zanla boasted far less than 500 mobilised combatants. Some accounts put the figures at less than 50 combatants all told. Dzinashe had the sense that the divisions in Zanu had taken on negative tribal and regional lines and together with Nhongo proceeded to reach out across the political divide. Dzinashe made efforts and invited Zipra to form a joint force. In this they were supported Gen. Magama Tongogara who was then in a Zambian jail. They found a warm reciprocal in the like-minded fighters in Zipra, Mangena, Dabengwa and Masuku. With this reciprocal they combined to form Zipa in 1975. Self-motivated and with the support of the newly constituted combined force under ZIPA Nhongo and Dzinashe would proceed to reorganise Zanla into a robust fighting machine with a cutting edge that in a space of five years would bring the Rhodesian regime to heel.
    After reaching out across the political divide and now based in Mozambique Nhongo and Dzinashe would proceed to reconfigure the command structure of Zanla. DARE Rechimurenga, (war council) constituted by both civilians and military people was replaced by a professional fighting structure the military High Command. It was constituted by 12 twelve military trained people. Among them would be the late Gen Mujuru as overall commander, Dzinashe as deputy, Parker Chipoyera, (Bernard Manyadza) Pfepferere, (Col. Mudambo) Barnabas Todhlana, the late Dr. Agustus Tichaona Mudzingwa and others. The reconfiguration stirred a hornet’s nest because it had cut off the status, the privilege and the rank; in short the rich pickings that were associated with old order, especially of the members of DARE Re Chimurenga. It festered and boiled to reappear later.
    Dzinashe, as a political commissar would demonstrate his dexterity on the political front. Almost at once Zanla changed its constitution as there begun to emerge a cadre based on a clear ideology. It should be noted that it was ZIPA under Dzino and Rex that anchored the struggle on an enduring partnership between the fighting force and the citizen. The Maoist maxim of the fish and the water took root. Thanks to Dzinashe and Nhongo the struggle took on a new character from an elitist formation transforming itself into a movement of the people of Zimbabwe regardless of one’s station in life. It now belonged to the people of Zimbabwe as a whole. The struggle for independence was now structured as a bond on which the future independent Zimbabwe would take pride.
    At the instigation of Cdes Dzino and Nhongo new methods of rallying people to the war effort were introduced through political education at both the war front and at the rear. In a short period of time Zanla would be overwhelmed with volunteers for the struggle. By end of 1976 when the holding camps would be so full with excess volunteers that by March recruitment into the fighting force would in principle cease. We all wanted to be there. Meanwhile the new training of combatants included the use of maps and other aids as instruments of planning, deployment and support of the war effort.
    The Fortuitous Moment
    Sensing defeat in the face of the restructured and reorganised force Smith sought to forestall the tide of the wave of advancing Zanla troops that spelt his inevitable demise. He accepted the idea of talks. The political leadership that had been fortuitously removed from the theatre of the struggle was once again released. ZIPA had not had the time to reconnect with the political leadership. On hand was Mugabe claiming ownership of the fighting force. This was in spite of the fact that after crossing into Mozambique in 1975 he had spent an entire year without connecting with ZIPA and the fighting forces. He saw the opportunity to seize power and enlisted the support of Cde. Samora Machel and Rex Nhongo.
    Standing on principle Cde Dzinashe Machingura and the members of the ZIPA High Command resisted this apparent attempted Coup de Etat and insisted that Mugabe be accompanied by all members of the political leadership. Cde Dzinashe Machingura together with members of the high command would be arrested by Samora Machel and thrown into detention for the next three years to pave the way for Mugabe to take over the political leadership.
    At independence Cde Dzinashe Machingura was released and came back into the country. Attempts were made by none other than Rex Nhongo to get him to accept the leadership of Robert Mugabe and recognise him as the legitimate leader of the struggle for independence. Being a man of principle Dzinashe stood steadfast and declined.
    But Dzinashe did not abandon his quest to serve his people from oppression. He continued on the fight. Dzinashe Machingura was part of the body of people that nurtured the most robust of Zimbabwe’s post liberation formations- the MDC. Being the humble person that he was this time he took the back seat preferring to offer advice and guidance to the new party. Be that as it may he remained a founder member of that post liberation movement.
    Such was the history of the man whose life we celebrate today.
    Once more again, Adios Amigos! Yours was a life well lived and never fully appreciated!

  4. pati says:

    Thanks Gandhi Mudzingwa. I am sure there are many more out there who can enlighten Zimbabwe about the true history of the struggle. Please do as much as possible, before it is too late. There are many true heroes who are dying quietly without telling. I think that is wrong. I understand the frustration but the future generation will want to tell a true story of Zimbabwe and make amends, not to rely on a distorted account from the corrupt. The voices of the unadulterated is invaluable.

    We all thought that the struggle for independence ended when the Smith regime was defeated. It surely would have been nice if that was the case, but apparently, we were all wrong. Most of our heroes, like Dzino, who fought the last phase for true liberation are dying, so I cannot emphasize enough the need for an accurate account of that phase, otherwise our Zimbabwe we look forward to will be built on a false foundation which will once again crumble.

    Come on out true heroes of the motherland tell us more about what really happened and expose these charlatans who have hijacked the struggle. Your silence will betray all that you fought for.

  5. Straight Shooter says:

    Frankly I have no sympathy with Mugabe’s former Shona supporters now turned victims of his cruelity. They deserve all that has befallen them.

    We suffered under gukurahundi while they urged him on to “kill Ngomo, zimundevere”!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>