Retired Colonel Tshinga Dube is a very down-to-earth former Zipra commander, who speaks softly and, like a true soldier, does not believe in speaking a lot. He lets his deeds do the talking. In this interview with our Assistant Editor Munyaradzi Huni, he speaks frankly about his journey during the liberation struggle and explains why many Zanu-PF politicians from Matabeleland in Government have not been winning elections in their constituencies.
MH: People have heard a lot about Colonel Tshinga Dube, but many still ask, who exactly is Colonel Tshinga Dube?
Col Dube: I was born in Matopo, near Bulawayo, in 1941. My father at the time was a teacher and so was my mother. My father was also a pastor. As for my education, I went to Fort Usher, later went to Mzilikazi and later on to Solusi.
MH: How would you describe yourself?
Col Dube: I am just a simple man, like everybody else. I grew up like most boys in Zimbabwe, starting off from the village, going to the city, going to boarding schools and later on to work.
MH: So when and how did this ordinary and simple man join politics?
Col Dube: The situation was confusing for everybody to join politics. When we were at school, there was so much influence. We found out that some of our teachers were very political but afraid to come out in the open, but once in a while they would tell us what was happening. We knew that there was some political activity in the city. One of the people who influenced me a lot was one teacher who quietly showed us a book that was written by Kwame Nkrumah, which said Africa would be free.
The teacher used to tell us how Ghana was now a free country and that Africans are able to rule themselves and determine their future. That teacher and that book had a huge impact on me. We could not believe it that we could be free because we were like dogs. An African was just one of the many animals.
MH: So when exactly did you join national politics?
Col Dube: When I left school, I was very determined to do something. My first attraction was to go to Ghana. I thought I would go to Ghana to see this country where there was freedom, but at the same time, I had already been going to meetings, to NDP meetings. There was a lot of influence from all spheres.
MH: When you went to these meetings, who are some of the people who addressed these meetings?
Col Dube: The old man, Joshua Nkomo, Joseph Msika and many other people, including President Mugabe. We were little boys, but we were quite interested to know what was going on. Papers like the Bantu Mirror and Drum, carried a lot of political material. All this influenced us.
MH: So, which year did you decide that it was time to join the liberation struggle?
Col Dube: I left in 1961, went to Zambia. My first aim was to go to Ghana, but, you see, I had no passport and I had nothing. I went up to Congo and found out that I could not proceed because I had no passport and there was war in Congo. So I came back to Zambia, lived there and discovered that there was a lot of political activity that was going on.
I then got into the party in 1962 and became one of the district leaders. In 1963, there was a lot of people who had come from home. The Dabengwas, Amos Ngwenya and others. We were recruiting a lot of young men to join the struggle. At the beginning of 1964, I went for my training.
MH: Where did you go for your training?
Col Dube: I went to Russia. We were among the very first groups that went for proper military training. Before that, people used to go for sabotage training. They would be taught how to throw a bomb. But when we went it was now proper guerilla training, trained military tactics, how to use weapons and these were very exciting times for us.
MH: How old were you?
Col Dube: I was 22 years old.
MH: Who are some of the people you remember that you recruited?
Col Dube: There are too many. Most of the prominent names you hear. I was recruited together with people like Nikita Mangena, John Dube, Lookout Masuku and many others.
Later on came people like Solomon Mujuru. I later recruited many other people. There were people who were recruited at home and we received them in the camps.
MH: In Russia you trained for how long?
Col Dube: I trained for a year and after completion I became an instructor in communications but still remained in Russia training our own communications people before I was redirected to Zambia.
MH: So you came back to Zambia which year?
Col Dube: 1966 and then I was deployed to the front in the country.
MH: When you were deployed to the front who were some of the people you worked with if you can remember?
Col Dube: Most of them are all dead. There is only one in Bulawayo called Sharpshoot Moyo, but most of those in my group are now dead. But people who still remain who were there at that time are a few like the Nkomos, our Ambassador to South Africa (Phelekezela Report) Mphoko, Dabengwa and others.
MH: When you were deployed to the front, what was your rank?
Col Dube: When I went to the front I was mostly doing communications and commissariat work.
MH: What was the role of signals during this time?
Col Dube: It was important because you know without communications it means once you break off from the headquarters and you are in the bush there is no other means of getting in touch with others, you will never know what was going on because you cannot depend on the radio, an ordinary radio. Sometimes we used to tap into the communications of the enemy so we would know what was actually happening. You know the Rhodesians were not really intelligent.
MH: Is it the time you worked with Cde Bulukani Masola?
Col Dube: Yes Masola came in the 1970s.
MH: When you were deployed to the front, what were some of the the battles that you remember that you fought?
Col Dube: There were various, you know they were not exactly battles but skirmishes because we were small groups we couldn’t have fought a battle. We were fighting against a regular army so we would attack or retaliate then retreat to our bases.
MH: During these skirmishes, did you lose any of your comrades?
Col Dube: Fortunately enough we did not lose many comrades. We nearly lost comrades in one of them but we were only five in our group. This was in Maitengwe area of Tsholotsho. I would say that we were very lucky that we got to work very well with Bushmen who were very good at using the terrain, they used the terrain so well and they were very helpful in our tactics. They knew where the enemy was because the enemy despised them, they didn’t take them seriously.
MH: You are bringing a very interesting angle here. So the Bushmen helped you?
Col Dube: The Bushmen are very good people when it comes to the bush warfare. We would bring them some food, some Indian ham, they liked that a lot, we brought them Tanganda, they smoke Tanganda and once you gave them that you became a very great friend and they will help you as much as possible.
They knew where the enemy was coming from. The enemy despised the Bushmen and so they did not take them seriously but they helped us a lot with information. The Bushmen would even go to beer parties and listen to what people were saying. They listened very very well and would come and relay everything to us. They were a very developed version of mujibhas, because they knew the terrain and knew how to survive in the bush.
MH: So you were at the front for how long?
Col Dube: For over a year, but after a year we were pressured by the Rhodesian forces because at the time Botswana was not yet free, mind you. So Botswana was working with the Rhodesians so when we were pressured, we crossed into Botswana and we were arrested. We could not fight Botswana, we were told never to fight with Botswana.
At the time Botswana was still under British rule. So we were arrested in Botswana and put in prison. We had to serve in prison for a year and after prison they wanted to repatriate us to Rhodesia, but then there was OAU which was operational and so our leaders fought very hard that we should be sent to Zambia. So we were flown back to Zambia after serving our sentence. In Zambia I was then given a camp to command. It was a recruitment camp where we were getting a lot of people now coming from home.
At the same time, we were recruiting in Zambia. During this recruitment there was a phase when we persuaded people to come, they would all promise that they wanted to go to war, but when the trucks that were sent by the OAU came, nobody would come.
Col Dube: Well, it was excitement during rallies. When we addressed rallies, people would be excited that they wanted to go to war. They seemed very determined to go, but when the time came, many would give excuses. So we decided to go on a operation called Chikuwa, this is a Swahili word which means grab. So we would take all the addresses of these people who would have registered and go at night to take them by force.
MH: So there were many Zimbabweans in Zambia at this time?
Col Dube: Many of them. You know there was a flood of Zimbabweans during the Federation to go and live in Zambia. But these people continued to identify themselves as Zimbabweans. They used to attend rallies both by Zapu and Zanu.
MH: What was the name of this camp that you were commanding?
Col Dube: It was Nkomo camp. It was one of the biggest recruitment camps. We would receive those who would have been recruited back home and those we would have recruited in Zambia. The likes of Mujuru came into that camp, people like Cain Mathema and many others. At one time we had more than 500 people in this camp. But then there was rivalry between Zapu and Zanu. They were accusing each other of grabbing their own people.
MH: Yes, Colonel, explain to us, what was this rivalry all about?
Col Dube: It was because of supremacy. Who had more people than the other. Zanu wanted to recruit for its side and Zapu want to recruit for its side. So sometimes you would grab someone who claims to be Zanu or sometimes you grab someone who claims to be Zapu. So this created a problem.
MH: Is this what led to the shooting of some Zanu comrades by the Zambian regiment at some point?
Col Dube: Ahhh, that was much later in the struggle. What I am talking about is one incident where some comrades from Zanu raided the camp trying to look for their people and then we had to shoot in the air. We just shot in the air to disperse them.
MH: After this recruitment exercise, let’s continue with your journey.
Col Dube: I then became a member of the Zipra high command in charge of communications. At that time, there was preparation for the Wankie Battle which was a combination of Umkhonto Wesizwe and Zipra. I remember I assisted the drawing of the route that they would take. People like Chris Hani, John Dube and others were also there to command this battle. I was part of the Zipra high command together with Dabengwa, Ackim Ndlovu, Report Mphoko, Robson Manyika, Joseph Nyandoro and others. We formed an alliance with South Africa, where there were people like Joe Modise, Walter Mabuso and others. We had to work as a combined force.
MH: You mentioned the Wankie Battle. We hear things didn’t go according to plan. What exactly happened?
Col Dube: No it’s not correct. You see, I think it’s not correct for some people to discuss an operation where you were not involved. That operation was properly planned and well executed. The only thing is just that when you are fighting in conventional warfare with an established enemy, that becomes very difficult.
We are talking of a detachment fighting a whole army. They did a very good job. For the first time, the Rhodesians were hit very strong. This is what made the South Africans to come and reinforce the
Rhodesian regime. They discovered that this was no longer guerilla warfare but conventional warfare. The Rhodesians lost a lot of people there.
MH: In one of his books, Ken Flower writes that it was easy to fight Zipra forces because they fought in big numbers . . .
Col Dube: It’s not true that we fought in big numbers. The only groups that were big were this Wankie one and the Sipolilo one. All others were small groups, mostly five comrades. He is not being honest. You see, we didn’t have the best weapons. Russia and China were not yet sure whether we were serious, so they gave us inferior weapons to prove to them that we were serious about the war. So we would use very primitive weapons like the machine gun, semi-automatic rifles.
MH: So how many comrades died during the Wankie Battle?
Col Dube: We lost a few. The enemy lost many of its soldiers. Most of their trucks left the battle empty. We lost maybe 15 to 20 people. The enemy lost more than this because they never thought guerillas could fight such a war. They thought all we were doing was to scare them.
MH: And the Sipolilo Battle, what happened?
Col Dube: The Sipolilo Battle was in 1968. Almost the same thing happened. The boers were hit really hard. There was very strong firepower from our side. We used guerilla warfare right up to the end of
the war. Towards the end of the war, we had prepared some conventional forces. We had one battle near Zambezi led by Brigadier Khumalo, that was conventional warfare. These chaps were trained to fight conventional war. They really hit the Rhodesians very hard.
MH: So you continued in the Zipra high command till when?
Col Dube: I continued in the Zipra high command until the late ’70s. I was later sent to Russia to be a party representative as well as do some studies. When I finished my studies I was sent back to the war front, still as head of communications. I was operating mostly in the Tsholotsho area and the western part of the country.
MH: You were head of signals until when?
Col Dube: I was the head until ceasefire. Ceasefire came when I was still at the war front. Later we got to integration.
MH: Colonel, can you really tell us why Zanu and Zapu couldn’t fight the war as one force?
Col Dube: Well, there were very petty differences. I don’t think we had any ideological differences. There were more personal differences in leadership which could have been resolved and made the struggle much easier. But you see, once there are differences, people find a way to widen the gap of differences, even the enemy gets involved to make sure the problems are not resolved. At some point we came together under Zipa, but again there were individuals who were not for it. It was more of: where do I stand in this arrangement?
MH: Are you of the view that you should have gone to the elections in 1980 united?
Col Dube: We went to Lancaster as one, but when elections came we went separate ways. If we had gone to elections as one, our country would have gone much further in terms of development. We wouldn’t have many teething problems that we had.
MH: Why couldn’t Zapu and Zanu go to elections as one? What were the problems?
Col Dube: I must say again it was because of personalities. It had nothing to do with ideological differences. Up to now we haven’t had any ideological differences. Zapu and and Zanu are one. We have people like Dabengwa who have formed his new Zapu, if you look into it, some of the ideals he believes in, you will find that they are not different from those of Zanu-PF. But just some minor differences.
MH: You are saying there were personality clashes, who are these personalities who caused the clashes?
Col Dube: (laughs) Well, most of the people in the leadership then. You cannot single out one person.
MH: You worked with people like Dr Joshua Nkomo and others. How would you describe the late Joshua Nkomo?
Col Dube: Well, Joshua Nkomo was mostly in prison. He came out around 1975, but even in detention they continued the struggle. He was a very determined and vibrant leader. When they came out of prison they found out that those who were out of prison had played their part in continuing the war. Nkomo gave up all his life to liberate this country. He had time for everybody.
MH: We also hear there was an attempt to kill Nkomo in Zambia?
Col Dube: Yes, the Rhodesian Selous Scouts crossed into Zambia and went to attack his house. They thought he was there but we had information that they wanted to do this and so he wasn’t there when they attacked his house. They wanted to kill him but they couldn’t find him. That was in 1978.
MH: Tell us briefly about Nikita Mangena and Jason Moyo.
Col Dube: JZ was a great revolutionary, a determined man. He started as a trade unionist and grew up to become a very prominent politician. Mangena was also a very good commander. He was trained in Algeria as one of the commandos. He was at Morogoro training camp training the fighters. In the ’70s he was made a commander.
MH: You also worked with Ambrose Mutinhiri?
Col Dube: Yes, yes. Ambrose Mutinhiri, we worked together. He also spent most of his time at Morogoro camp. He was one of the senior commanders at Morogoro.
MH: And Cde Dumiso Dabengwa?
Col Dube: Ooh, yes, we worked together for many years. He dedicated most of his life to the liberation struggle. I would say he was one of those people who recruited me. He was the head of our security.
MH: Cde Dabengwa has gone back to revive his Zapu? What has happened to this comrade? Are you surprised?
Col Dube: As I said, I look at it as politics of personalities. It’s not so much about ideology. These differences sort of grow and grow wider and wider, but if you were to ask him about his ideology, you may find it’s not different from yours or mine. It’s just minor differences of approaching issues.
MH: What does his departure mean to the Unity Accord?
Col Dube: The Unity Accord is not based on a single person. It was an arrangement that was agreed upon by two leaders and their signatures still stand. Nkomo’s signature still stands and President Mugabe’s signature is still there. So the Unity Accord is very much alive.
MH: So you are convinced if VP Joshua Nkomo was alive, he would not approve of Cde Dabengwa’s moves?
Col Dube: No, not at all. He would have done so if he wanted, but he went into the Unity Accord genuinely. He wouldn’t have done that. Some of these issues come about because of frustration. If you are not happy, that dissatisfaction gets deeper and deeper, then you say let me think otherwise. Like I said, there were no ideological differences. It’s about personalities.
MH: During my interviews with Cde Dabengwa and Cde Mutinhiri, they told me that things did not go well during integration, leading to the disturbances in Matabelelend.
Col Dube: Yes, these were more on suspicion and counter suspicion. But you must also remember that when we came back home, we had an enemy. The Rhodesian forces wanted to cause instability because they were losing power.
When you find that there are two people with potential of being rivalries, then one can create artificial problems to make it appear as if the two are real enemies. Most of what actually took place could have been solved at a roundtable as comrades to comrades. But then there was a third hand. They instigated these skirmishes and fights. We then became victims of circumstances. We should have known better that though we had won the war, the enemy was still intact. The enemy almost divided our country and created very serious problems.
MH: I have tried to speak to many Zipra comrades who were at the war front but many are not willing to talk. Why?
Col Dube: I think it’s just suspicion, you see, when you are not sure who you are talking to.
MH: I also hear that there are some Zipra forces who think their role during the liberation struggle is not fully appreciated. Is this true?
Col Dube: Yes, some comrades think like that, but again I think that is wrong. If you don’t speak up, people don’t get to know your contribution.
MH: Colonel, we are now in independent Zimbabwe and there is an issue coming up. You see, the majority of ex-Zipra comrades who are in Government through Zanu-PF were appointed and not elected. They no longer have grassroots support. What exactly is the problem?
Col Dube: This is not their fault. It’s because of the mishaps that took place in Matabeleland. The ordinary people are still hurt because of some of these things. I believe as a government we have not done enough to address some of those problems.
MH: You are talking of issues like Gukurahundi and the dissident menace.
Col Dube: Yes. You know people won’t go shouting in the streets talking about Gukurahundi, but some of them have it in their hearts. They are just quiet, but when it comes for them to show their feelings, one of the ways is not to vote for us. So we the people from that area, when we ask for their votes, they don’t vote for us. They vote for opposition not because they like it but because they feel they are a better devil than us. I think we need to address those fundamental issues. We take them lightly sometimes, but deep in their hearts the people still have them.
MH: So how can these issues be addressed? You are the generation that should find a solution to these problems. Future generations may not understand it at all and this may create problems for the country.
Col Dube: We should never sweep these issues under the carpet. We should come out in the open and say we made some very serious mistakes. These are what we call teething problems. There are certain issues like economic issues which must be addressed. Everybody in the country knows that Bulawayo is a dying city, most industries have closed down, unemployment is at its highest and yet not long ago, Bulawayo was the industrial hub of this country. Those things must be addressed. We talk of funds meant for Bulawayo, but we haven’t seen them. All these things may not mean anything to you and me, but for someone who is down there, they feel it. There are also very few schools out there, in some areas people have to travel for about 15km to go to school.
MH: In light of all these problems, what then do you think are the chances of Zanu-PF during the coming elections in Matabeleland?
Col Dube: We have to work very hard. I know that we have a lot of supporters out there, but there are a lot of detractors as well.
MH: Could these reasons be linked to the talk about devolution in Matabeleland?
Col Dube: Yes, I think so. Some of the people believe that there will be equal share of resources of the country . . . That’s the thinking in some people.
MH: But do you believe in devolution yourself?
Col Dube: I don’t know, you see, we in the Politburo we have called it decentralisation which I believe is one and the same thing. Only that the connotations change according to what you think. I don’t think there is much difference between devolution and decentralisation. The issue about devolution and decentralisation has been misconstrued . . .
MH: So what do you think are the chances of people like Tsvangirai and Prof Ncube in Matabeleland in the forthcoming elections?
Col Dube: I don’t think it a question of Matabeleland only. One may have pockets of support in Matabeleland, but if at the end of the day you lose in other parts of the country, then you have lost the election. If you are looking at Matabeleland alone, it doesn’t make much of a difference because there are many other provinces.
MH: After all these years after independence, do you think anyone should be using tribalism to win votes?
Col Dube: No. You see tribalism is a very easy way of approaching people. You appeal to the sentiments of the people and not to their reason. If you persuade someone to support you because he is your homeboy, he has the same problems and you — it’s much easier to convince that person but you have to look at issues from an umbrella form and see what is good for the country. People should vote on policies than regions.
Zanu-PF has progressive policies, like land and indigenisation, but we need to really market them and implement them properly.
MH: Do you think the countries in Sadc are united?
Col Dube: I don’t think so. You can only be united if you believe in the same ideology, but Sadc is not about ideology, it’s just a philosophy that we are in the same bloc and we must share what we believe in . . . You see for the forces to be united, the leaders at the top should be united. I don’t know how united the leaders in Sadc are. We cannot say we have the same ideology as South Africa.