At last, honours for Cde Tongo

After many years of bloodshed, as the ink was drying on the Lancaster House Agreement, General Josiah Magama Tongogara landed in Maputo, Mozambique from London, where he had just witnessed history being written.

Within hours of touching down in Maputo, he was on the road to Chimoio to inform his comrades that, finally, the war was over.

Chimoio, then Zanu-PF’s headquarters, is 1 100km north of Maputo, and Mozambique’s President Samora Machel offered Cde Tongo a plane to take the news to his comrades.

Some accounts suggest then Zanu leader, Robert Mugabe, also insisted that Cde Tongo fly instead of drive.

Why Cde Tongo opted to drive remains a mystery, because halfway through the journey, 20km from Massinga, Cde Tongo died after the vehicle he was in was involved in an accident.

Some say the crash killed him, others say someone shot him after the collision.

Cde Tongo’s remains were interred at the National Heroes Acre soon after Independence, and the Josiah Magama Tongogara Legacy Foundation has been working hard to preserve his memory.

For years, people queried why Government was not doing more to honour Cde Tongo.

The rise of a new Government, headed by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, is starting to correct that and is investing in ensuring that Zimbabwe never forgets one of its greatest soldiers.

A few months after re-naming the Zimbabwe National Army Headquarters from KGVI Barracks to Josiah Magama Tongogara Barracks, a cenotaph has been built at the 20km mark in Massinga where Cde Tongo died.

A cenotaph is an empty tomb or a monument erected in honour of a person or group of people whose remains are elsewhere. It can also be the initial tomb for a person who has since been reinterred elsewhere.

Just across the road from the cenotaph, the Government of Zimbabwe has built a modern maternity clinic, in conjunction with the Tongogara Foundation, to serve the community in and around Magacaia village.

All this in memory of Josiah Magama Tongogara (1938-1979).

The cenotaph and clinic are due for unveiling soon, an event that is likely to be officiated by the Presidents of Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Fernando Joao Techeina Dias, known as Titi by fellow villagers, last week recalled the events of that December 26, 1979 morning when Cde Tongo met his death.

“I heard a loud bang and I rushed to where the sound had come from. When I got there I saw a ‘Jeep’ that had rolled by the roadside. There was one dead person by the car’s side.

“We later learnt that the car that carried Cde Tongo was following another one. The lead car overtook a lorry on this bend and the second car rammed into the lorry by the right side as it was trying to overtake. Later on, the lead car made a U-turn, to check what had happened to the other car.”

Besides opting to make the 1 100km drive to Chimoio rather than a 40-minute flight, questions are also raised on why Cde Tongo, a whole general, opted to sit in the front with his driver rather than follow security protocol and sit in the back.

There are many unanswered questions. But what is indisputable is that it is time to finally honour this soldier of Zimbabwe.

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