Dr Mzee and the struggle for Zimbabwe’s liberation

Professor Ngwabi Bhebhe

The process started with the arrival of Muzenda in Lusaka, which led to his being asked by the detained leaders to link up with Zapu leaders to get the armed struggle resumed and to the transfer of Zanu followers to Mozambique.  His elevation to the vice-presidency caused a crisis in the party, which was only brought under control with the arrest and detention of the dissidents.
The immediate task for Muzenda, however, was to get the military and political affairs of the party on an even keel.To achieve that, Muzenda had to link up with the former leadership of the external wing of Zanu in prisons, namely, Henry Matuku Hamadziripi, Josiah Tongogara, Rugare Gumbo, Kumbirai Kangai and Mukudzei Mudzi.
Muzenda says: “We failed to form a fighting wing of ZLC. Jason Z Moyo and I went to see Tongogara and others, who were jailed at Mpima in Kabwe. They advised us to get Nikita Mangena (of Zipra), Rex Nhongo and others (from Zanla) to co-operate with me.
“We also called Nhongo from Mgagao in Tanzania. When they came, we formed Zipa, which comprised nine members from Zanla and the other none from Zipra.”
He had, moreover, to open discussions with his Zapu counterparts because it was a requirement of the OAU that they must come together if they were to get military support.
The imprisoned leaders were already in touch with the commanders in the camps and were urging them to unite with Zapu in order to get independent Africa’s support.  Zapu, too, had been quite keen to co-operate with Zanu.
The Zanu leaders then mandated Muzenda, as the “party principal functionary” at liberty, to enter into unity talks with Zapu. Thereafter, he led Zanu’s sub-committee of four to the talks.

The detainees further assisted Muzenda by urging guerrilla commanders to go into a unity pact with Zapu.
The agreement was finalised on November 12, 1975. The second task for Muzenda was to try and establish contacts with Robert Mugabe so that together they could give needed political direction to the struggle.

For Muzenda, the detainees and combatants in Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania camps, the cue about the whereabouts of their secretary-general came after Zipa resumed the war.
On January 21, 1976, Mugabe was interviewed on BBC and he unreservedly reaffirmed his support for the stand taken by the authors of the Mgagao Declaration.

He lambasted Sithole and his ANC colleagues for their failure to support the combatants who were languishing in the camps and called upon the irresolute ANC leaders to disband their Zimbabwe Liberation Council.

Formation of the Patriotic Front
The leaders who had already gone to the Maputo meeting all turned up for the September 5, 1976 meeting and, in addition, there were other leaders such as Joshua Nkomo, who flew in from Zimbabwe.
Muzenda’s recollection is that from the Zimbabwe side as opposed to the Frontline group, there were four groups.
Joshua Nkomo flew in with Clement Mahachi, Jason Z Moyo and George Silundika.

Robert Mugabe brought along Simon Muzenda, Edgar Tekere and Crispen Mandizvidza; Muzorewa had Max Chigwida, Ndabaningi Sithole and James Chikerema.
Meanwhile, Zipa, which was basically Zanla, sent in Rex Nhongo, Webster Gwauya, Elias Hondo and a fourth one.
Joshua Nkomo refused to recognise Zanla as a separate group, except as coming under Robert Mugabe, then acknowledged as leader of Zanu.
After two plenary sessions, the Frontline leaders retired, leaving the Zimbabweans in the Kilimanjaro Hotel to work out a unity agreement on their own.
Zimbabweans were told “not to leave Kilimanjaro Hotel until we agreed on the way forward”.
Moreover, there could be no unanimity on who should chair the meeting, “until Vice-President Nkomo said Muzenda should be the chairman and I immediately accepted the chairmanship. Sithole tried to block me but I told him, ‘you sit down, otherwise I will expel you from here’. And he sat down. Throughout the night, we discussed but failed to agree on a number of issues”.

One of the main reasons for this was that Muzorewa refused to step down from the ANC leadership in favour of the right people as he had only been chosen to lead until the right people had come out of prisons and detention.
Another problem was that we insisted only those leaders with fighters had the right to take decisions in the meeting.
Such people were those who belonged to Zapu and Zanu.

“On the following day, I had to report to the Presidents of the Frontline states, who, when I stood up to report, asked, ‘Who are you?’ I then said that I was the one chosen to rule Zimbabwe the whole of the previous night and Mwalimu Nyerere laughed.
“I told them that we had disagreed over everything. Then Nyerere said, ‘I want to see Mugabe and Jason Z Moyo at my villa together with your lieutenant.’”

Sithole then immediately announced his withdrawal from the ANC and his intention to go back to Zanu. But then he collapsed immediately and fell ill.  As a way forward, President Julius Nyerere suggested, on behalf of the Frontline States, that only those political parties with fighters should meet him at his villa.

Mugabe and Jason Z Moyo went to the meeting, where they were told that they should form one organisation in readiness to negotiate with the British.
Nyerere was aware of the Smith-Kissinger proposals that were in the offing.
This initiated the discussion between Zanu and Zapu leaders, which culminated in the launching of the Patriotic Front between the two parties in October 1976.
But even before the Zanu delegates left Dar-es-Salam, they decided that their combatants and refugees, who were marooned at Mboroma in Zambia, must be transferred to Mozambique.
The man to organise that transfer was Muzenda, who had to do it with the OAU Liberation Committee.
He had them ferried by lorries to Lusaka Airport, where they were supposed to be airlifted to Tete in Mozambique.

Among the refugees they had traditional leaders – chief, headman and spirit mediums of such important cults as that of Mbuya Nehanda. When they got to Lusaka, they refused to be flown, as that was very much against the practice of their ancestors.
Muzenda tried to negotiate for transit land route via Malawi, but the Malawi government would not co-operate.
In the end, Muzenda came up with a plan, which was accepted by the elders.
“We told them,” he says, “that it would be wise to appease the ancestors so that they could board the plane and when we got to Tete we would brew beer and persuade our ancestors to bless the trip, by telling them that they boarded the plane against their wishes.”

Post Geneva
On their return from Geneva, Zanu leaders declared 1977 the year of the party, when no effort was spared to strengthen the part so that it would not only take charge of the army, but the prosecution of the whole struggle as well.
Thus, at a two-day meeting held on March 31 and April 1, 1977 at the party headquarters in Mozambique and chaired by Robert Mugabe, the leader and secretary-general, Zanu fashioned its new leadership. It was at that meeting that Muzenda emerged as the number two to Mugabe.

Hamadziripi Rebellion
The arrest and subsequent trial of the Hamadziripi group, however, represented one of the most painful experiences in Muzenda’s political career.
He had brought up Rugare Gumbo and Crispen Mandizvidza politically during the National Democratic Party and Zapu.
He had worked with Hamadziripi and he considered all three not only his political allies, but also proudly, his home-boys as well.
Their presence in Zanu epitomised to him, the dominant contribution of the Karanga to the liberation of Zimbabwe.
Their presence again represented the concrete materialisation of his early efforts to develop the nationalist struggle in Masvingo province.
Rugare Gumbo was his most successful protégé.
Muzenda’s staying of the execution of the Hamadziripi group demonstrated his immense humanity, which many people during the war appreciated and came to depend upon.
People ceased to call him Muzenda and instead referred to him as VaMzee, to show their deep respect for him.
A case in point, which brought out Muzenda’s pragmatism, was that of pregnancies during the war.
Mnangagwa remembers that there were many cases of pregnancy among female cadres in the camps, especially where commanders stayed.
He says, “The leaders were angry as they pointed out that girls had not come to be sex machines and objects but had come to wage the struggle. So, the President threatened to descend hard on the culprits. The President was now breathing fire.”
Commanders decided to have the girls fitted with contraceptives such as loops to stop them from getting pregnant.
They even sent the girls to Maputo to have the tubal ligation and other contraceptive operations performed on them.
The president got wind of it and again he hit the roof, and this time, he wanted to get hold of the girls who had had the operations so that they could be sent to correction camps as some form of punishment.
The President was not alone in taking a hard-line against both girls and the commanders who were involved in pregnancies. The majority of the Central Committee supported him as well.
Muzenda, however, differed with the Central Committee and resisted the move. He argued that sex was natural, war or no war.
Males and females were bound to be attracted to each other sexually.

He said that those who had had operations carried out on them had been wise as they were preventing unwanted pregnancies, and that operations constituted no criminal offence.
Apparently, Tekere dared to continue contradicting his Vice-President and earned Muzenda’s biting and sharp tongue.
In response to Tekere, Muzenda reminded the Central Committee that he had a daughter in the camps and he had personally arranged for his daughter to have contraceptive devices.
Then (Muzenda) turned to Tekere and said, “And some of you are rejecting the use of contraceptives. Can I ask you, Tekere, why you have a young wife, who is still without a child?”
That sobered up the debate totally.

He had now shown how the most vocal of them was using double standards, as Tekere’s wife surely practiced birth control since she was still childless.
Muzenda had now contradicted not only the majority of the Central Committee, but the President as well, and Tongogara was worried by the implications of such differences at the top.
Tongogara consulted a few colleagues, who advised him that he should find a compromise and then plead with the President to buy it.
The compromise, which the President finally went along with, was that pregnant girls would be removed from the camps and put on a farm, but would not be punished.
The compromise further stipulated that any two persons who made each other pregnant must marry. Muzenda and Mayor Urimbo, the party Chief Political Commissar, registered such marriages.
That cut down considerably on the abuse of girls, because people feared to be forced to marry.

This excerpt was taken from Professor Ngwabi Bhebhe’s biography of late Vice-President and National Hero Dr Simon Muzenda.

 

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