The Sunday Mail
Veteran Zambian politician, Dr Vernon Mwaanga who held different positions in the Zambian government during the days of the liberation struggle last week spoke to our Deputy Editor Munyaradzi Huni about how Zambia took the decision to host liberation movements during the struggle. He spoke about allegations that the Zambian government supported Zapu and was anti-Zanu.
He continues the narration this week talking about his chilling last moments with Cde Herbert Chitepo and many other controversial issues. Read on. . .
MH: Dr, you say there was no discrimination between Zanu and Zapu and if it was there it was at party level. But sometime in 1974, a tragic incident happened at Chifombo where some Zambian soldiers shot and killed some Zanu comrades following clashes between Zapu and Zanu officials. How do you explain this incident in which many commanders from Zanla that I have interviewed have confirmed that it indeed happened?
Dr Mwaanga: Well, I don’t know the details concerning that particular incident. We did get information, I was Foreign Minister, that this had happened. But I hope the comrades you have spoken to go back a little further down because they were also problems within Zanu itself. Splits within Zanu itself where they started attacking each other. Even killing each other and burying each other in shallow graves.
MH: I know what you are talking about. Its the Nhari rebellion. We will get to that but for now let’s talk about this incident at Chifombo were quite a number of Zanu comrades were killed by the Zambian soldiers.
Dr Mwaanga: Like I said I don’t have much details regarding that incident but I can tell you that even people like Emmerson Mnangagwa for example, he had been kidnapped by a rival group. It took the Zambians to go and liberate him. There were problems which we had even within Zanu itself. We had to deal with these problems because they were not good for us. Our people then started to complain that we were allowing lawlessness among liberation movements. We had to take some kind of action to restore some order within our country.
We realised that security was a major concern for our citizens. A lot of our citizens died because of raids which were undertaken constantly by the Smith regime and by the South African regime.
So there may have been incidences like the one you are referring to, but if you ask the Zambian army I am sure they will tell you that at no time did they deliberately target Zanla forces or Zanu cadres. Different interpretations have been given to these incidences depending on who you talk to.
You will probably recall also that we had the national chairman of Zanu, Hebert Chitepo assassinated. Herbert Chitepo came to see me at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and told me that he felt threatened by certain elements within Zanu in Zambia. That they wanted to take away his life.
MH: Which year was this?
Dr Mwaanga: It was 1975. I remember I met him on a Thursday. He asked for an appointment to come and see me. I granted him the appointment. He felt that he was not safe because some of his comrades were after his life according to what he told me. So I said to him, well, we can give you protection. I can ring the commissioner of police now to give you protection. He said to me, let me see how this night passes. Tomorrow morning, I will call you or I will come and see you to say whether I need the protection or not. That was a Thursday afternoon. I said if you do please make sure you let me know so that we give you the protection right away.
I reported this meeting to President Kaunda and he said why didn’t you offer him police protection and I said I offered him protection but he said he wants to get back to me the following day.
The following day was a Friday. I was at Parliament because our Parliament meets in the morning on Friday. I got a call from my permanent secretary that Herbert Chitepo had been killed. Just a few hours after I had a meeting with him where he told me that he was afraid for his life.
MH: What did he say were the reasons why his life was in danger?
Dr Mwaanga: It had to do with the internal differences. The factions in Zanu.
MH: Did he mention names?
Dr Mwaanga: Well, yes he did but I don’t think it would be prudent to begin mentioning those names. I wrote those names down at the time. I even gave the names to our police and the intelligence services.
MH: Was it a big list?
Dr Mwaanga: It was not a big list. It was a small list but significant enough. The fact that he didn’t come back to me only a few hours afterwards, I said to myself oohh, my God. I wish he had accepted police protection.
MH: So these people you are saying were after him as he said, where they people living in Zambia at that time?
Dr Mwaanga: Ooohh, yes they were people living in Zambia. Its just like the people who had kidnapped Emmerson Mnangagwa. Took him to some camp. One morning his wife came to my house and told me that my husband has been kidnapped. We had to mobilise first of all the police but when they went there, they faced military resistance. So we had to send the army. We used force to go and release him from this rival group in Zanu.
MH: Who were the leaders of this rival group?
Dr Mwaanga: Well, I think the Zanu leaders know themselves and I don’t think its for us to begin to name names. As a host country, we agreed that we would not go into those details.
MH: We will at a later stage of this interview come back to the assassination of Chitepo because we want to hear from you who you think killed him. For now, let’s go back to 1965 in November. Smith declares UDI in Southern Rhodesia and it looks like the Zambian government was taken by surprise?
Dr Mwaanga: It wasn’t a surprise. There was advance information which indicated that UDI was coming. We were even given exact dates. So there was no surprise.
MH: But a few weeks before the declaration, Dr Kaunda was quoted saying ‘I don’t think this will happen.’
Dr Mwaanga: Well, yah, that was a political statement. He couldn’t say we know it will happen. He had to say he didn’t think it would happen because it was not something logical. It was not a logical thing for Ian Smith to do, although we knew it was coming.
Even in discussions which we held as the Zambian government with the British government, we warned the British government that there would be rebellion against the Crown by Ian Smith and his colleagues before the 11th of November when UDI was declared.
We told them to prevent it from happening and they said they didn’t think it would happen. When it happened we told them that they should take action because this was a rebellion against the Crown, but they were not prepare to use force.
MH: Do you think it would have been strategic and possible for them to do that?
Dr Mwaanga: It would have been logical to use force because it was a British colony. For Britain to accept that they cannot use force in a colony when they had used force in all the other colonies, it was not logical. It didn’t make sense.
I remember at the time we had the Labour government under Harold Wilson. The Labour Party had a very strange history in terms of their relationship with African countries. They had good relations with us even as liberation movements when they were not in government. The moment they got into government, their positions changed. And we had a more difficult relationship with them when they were in government than we had with the Conservatives. The Conservative party were much more decisive in dealing with these issues than the Labour Party.
But on the other hand, UDI intensified the resolve to fight the liberation struggle.
MH: When UDI was declared, we hear that Dr Kaunda was furious at the liberation movements, both Zapu and Zanu and he went on to call them “stupid idiots” and he described them as “always eating chickens in a basket.” He was saying these two liberation movements had not done enough to avert the declaration of UDI?
Dr Mwaanga: He made the statement not so much in response to the UDI. It was made in response to activities which they were supposed to undertake. One of the things that happened after the Declaration of Independence, the OAU Liberation Committee which was based in Dar es Salaam asked for a permission to set up an office here in Lusaka to actively pursue the liberation struggle.
They were given the permission. There was concern about the conduct of some of the leaders of Zapu and Zanu because for example, they were found in hotels eating chicken in the basket which was a very popular dish among the elite in Zambia at the time at the Southern Sun Ridgeway Hotel.
So a lot of leaders from both Zapu and Zanu were found eating chickens in the basket at the hotel. That was how the anger began to build up that instead of eating chicken in the basket, they should intensify the struggle against Smith. The statement was made in the context of some of the affluent lives that some of the leaders of Zapu and Zanu appeared to be living at the time at the expense of the struggle. There was widespread complaints among our citizens that look we are spending our money to support these people, yet they are spending the money eating chickens in a basket. What is happening to the liberation struggle in Rhodesia? We want to see a more intensified struggle against Ian Smith.
MH: Who were some of these leaders who were enjoying this chicken in a basket?
Dr Mwaanga: Leaders from both Zapu and Zanu. Again no names because we agreed as a host country never to name names. The struggle was not about individuals.
MH: Surely, Dr Mwaanga after all these years isn’t it time to name names?
Dr Mwaanga: Some of the comrades are still alive. (Laughs) We don’t want them to be cast in unfavourable light you know. We faced many problems here. Even with other liberations movements from these other countries, but we tried as a host country to ensure that we kept these as in-house as possible so that they wouldn’t get out of hand. There were times when some of the leasers of liberation movements were involved in fights or they had fights over other people’s wives. They made other people’s children pregnant and the families made lots of noise. We had to play dual roles to try and protect freedom fighters from this unpleasant side of life.
Some of them were involved in violent acts with our own people in bars or in restaurants. They ended up getting arrested and we had to find ways, imaginative ways of releasing them and dropping charges against them. So we had a very difficult role as a host country, but we had to do so for the sake of liberating the African continent.
MH: What would you say were some of the problems causing the clashes between Zapu and Zanu?
Dr Mwaanga: I think they had to do with personality issues. I don’t think they had to do with any ideological issues. I must stress here, those fights and clashes were not common between Zapu and Zanu. Not common place. They were isolated incidences. They didn’t occur on a regular bases because these people lived in different areas and different towns.
They were separated for fear that these issues would begin cropping up. We had to separate them. The issues to do with liberation were dealt with by the Ministry of Defence, but at the political and diplomatic level, they were dealt with by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the President’s Office. We had to be very careful how we handled these issues. They were capable of getting out of hand. We didn’t want them to get out of hand.
Even at the liberation centre, they operated from the same offices and they were no problems there. Occasionally you would hear that a letter bomb has been sent to somebody and exploded in the office. We then changed the system and said letters meant for freedom fighters should not be delivered to them without going through the Ministry of Defence. There were scanning mechanisms to ensure that there were no explosives in the letters. That is how we put an end to it.
MH: As a former Minister of Intelligence, would you say there was a lot of infiltration of the Zambian intelligence by the Rhodesia’s Special Branch?
Dr Mwaanga: Not infiltration of the Zambian system. The infiltration had occurred among freedom fighters. So they had to tighten up the system of recruitment and vetting to ensure that they recruited the right people.
We were disturbed by the level of information that the Smith government seemed to have. Even Forster in South Africa.
They knew where the camps were based, who was where and who was doing what. We discussed this issue very seriously with the liberation movements. Security was really a major concern at that time. We couldn’t have parcel bombs being sent to kill freedom fighters in our country. It reflected very badly on us as a country.
MH: So you said the clashes between Zapu and Zanu were not common. Do you think these clashes derailed the liberation struggle?
Dr Mwaanga: No they were not common and I don’t think they derailed the struggle that much. They were on such a small scale and they couldn’t have impacted on the liberation struggle that much because the bulk of the people were being trained outside Zambia. When they came back after training, under the supervision of our government, we would give them free passage into Rhodesia.
When Mozambique became liberated, we then had two fronts so some comrades went through there. So you see most of the comrades who were here were mainly in transit – either to go for military training or to re-enter Rhodesia.
MH: In 1969, we hear of the signing of the Lusaka Manifesto on Southern Africa. Can you tell us briefly what this manifesto was all about?
Dr Mwaanga: The Lusaka Manifesto on Southern Africa was produced jointly by Zambia and Tanzania. The purpose of it was to give the colonial authorities the option of a negotiated settlement as opposed to the armed struggle which we were also committed to.
We were committed to the armed struggle and a lot of the supporters of liberation movements Scandinavian countries, they felt that they had moral difficulties in supporting just the armed struggle without an option for negotiations. We understood that.
As a result of that we sat down to say in the Lusaka Manifesto that we prefer to negotiate rather than fight to achieve the objective of political independence. But we said if negotiations fail to achieve this objective, we would continue supporting the armed struggle.
So it was a dual approach, which supported both the armed struggle and also the path of negotiations. We wanted to give the colonialists an option to negotiate.
MH: And what was their response?
Dr Mwaanga: Well, the Portuguese as you know they came to Lusaka and we hosted them here. They negotiated with Frelimo in Mozambique and they negotiated with MPLA in Angola. The negotiations also started in South West Africa.
This manifesto was quite a famous document. Initially it had been misunderstood that we were saying we are abandoning the armed struggle. No we said if negotiations failed, we would continue to support the armed struggle.
The manifesto didn’t even allow the stopping of the war.
This is how we ended up hosting these other liberation movements and governments from their respective countries.
Smith’s reaction to the manifesto was muted. At that time we didn’t think that Smith was really the guiding factor with regards to negotiations. We had to discuss that manifesto with the South African government because they were the de-facto colonial power. They are the ones who were capable of having influence on Smith. Remember Smith was under sanctions after he declared UDI. So we had to be realistic. There was no point going to tell Britain to say go and persuade Smith to negotiate. They had lost influence on Southern Rhodesia.
The people who had the influence were the South Africans and they are the ones we focused on in terms of discussions. Subsequently, those discussions led to the release of the liberation leaders.
Contrary to some of the allegations which have been made by some individuals that we wanted to negotiate for independence. No.
MH: I was coming to that. Some people say you were calling for negotiations just because as Zambia you had not fought a war to free your country. Others even say you wanted to negotiate for independence on behalf of the colonised people.
Dr Mwaanga: We said in the document we wanted the leaders of liberation movements to be released so that they could negotiate on behalf of their people. We stated clearly that we were not interested in negotiating for independence on behalf of the colonised people. That was the responsibility of the leaders of the liberation movements. That’s why in all our dealings, either with South Africa, the Portuguese, or the British we were saying you have to negotiate with the leaders. Not the leaders of the people of Zambia. We were fighting so that the leaders of the liberation movements were released so that they could negotiate on their own. There is no time we suggested that we wanted to do the negotiations on our own. We put political and diplomatic pressure for the release of the leaders.
Even when the time came for constitutional conferences, they asked us to go with them just to observe the process and to be around to make sure that there was someone they could trust.
We never participated in those negotiations because that was not our mandate.
MH: In 1971, Zambia managed to bring Zapu and Zanu together to sign some pact to work together. It didn’t work, isn’t it?
Dr Mwaanga: Well, it may not have worked but at least it demonstrated our commitment as a country to make sure that liberation movements don’t begin fighting against each other.
We wanted to see liberation movements work against their common enemy, not to work against each other. This was our attempt to hammer this point home. It may not have worked but part of it did work as subsequent events proved. Later on, sufficient trust had been built among some of the leaders and this made it possible for them to work together.
MH: Some say this pact didn’t work because there were moves by the Zambian government to engineer the swallowing of Zanu by Zapu. What is your comment?
Dr Mwaanga: That was never our intention. We wanted them to work tougher as equal partners. We wanted them to go for negotiations with a common position. There was never an intention for one party to dominate the other.
You see the differences that the liberation movements had only pleased the enemy. They were pleasing Ian Smith and we didn’t want to give comfort to the enemy. We wanted a more united front even if they were working separately.
Even the meeting in Victoria Falls between Dr Kaunda and Vorster from South Africa, it was us who engineered that because we thought the timing was right.
After we produced the Manifesto on Southern Africa, we thought it was time to start the negotiations while the struggle continued.
There were various other moves that had taken place and according to us, the timing was good to start the negotiations.
The negotiations which had been done in New York by myself and Botha who was then the South African Ambassador to the UN, we had negotiations there and the result of those negotiations and supplementing negotiations which took place at the level of Foreign Ministers determined that the timing was right for Dr Kaunda and Vorster to meet.
We now wanted the leaders of Zambia and South Africa to actualise what we had agreed in the manifesto. I can tell you that all the negotiations that subsequently took place were based on that manifesto. So in the final analysis, we made the correct decision.
MH: Maybe it was a good decision suggested too early?
Dr Mwaanga: Well, we had to make that determination that the time was right. According to us, that time was right. We dispute anyone who says the timing for negotiations was not right because like I said, we determined that on the basis of other secret negotiations that had been going on.
MH: What were these secret negotiations all about?
Dr Mwaanga: They were talks about releasing leaders of the liberation movements. We couldn’t conduct those talks in public. We had to conduct them privately. Open negotiations are difficult because the parties are then subjected to pressure. We had been involved in negotiations in Zambia and many other fora and we knew we couldn’t negotiate in the open. The negotiations had to be kept a secret up to a certain time. If the idea was just to get publicity, we could have just said done so but we were not going to achieve anything.
And you need to know these negotiations were very difficult. Sometimes we would part while insulting each other. It was difficult to tell a South African minister, President, that one day you will be governed by a black president.
They would not want to hear that and we would tell them that these freedom fighters do not want to drive you to the sea, that they want you to accept majority rule. It wasn’t easy for us to tell them this.
Smith was entrenched. Each time he was asked “when do you think there will be black majority rule in Southern Rhodesia” his standard reply was “not in my life time.” So we had to guard the integrity of those negotiations.
MH: Don’t you think this secrecy gave birth to suspicion?
Dr Mwaanga: Yes, but people were supposed to place faith in us. The fact that we could host liberation movements and give them all the facilities they needed meant that we were committed to the struggle. The struggle was about independence and to us we said there are different ways of gaining independence. Either through the armed struggle or through negotiations. We were committed to both.
If you look at the history of the world, there is no war that ended without negotiations. Not even one.
MH: Some say you really wanted the negotiations because Zambia was suffering because of hosting the liberation movements. The cost was just too much?
Dr Mwaanga: Yes, Zambia was suffering. We had accepted that there had to be a price to pay for Africa to gain independence. For us no price was too high. We were prepared to pay anything.
We just had to fulfill our obligations to Africa and to the colonised people to ensure that they attain their independence.
The issue of personal gain for Zambia was never an issue. We did it because we were committed to the principle of doing it.
We felt that if we didn’t play our role, the other countries would find it more difficult to achieve their independence. We didn’t want independence to be delayed.
You will probably remember in the case of Zimbabwe, there was a famous slogan – NIBMAR – No Independence Before Majority Rule. That slogan came from Zambia.
Next week, we carry the last edition of Dr Mwaanga’s interview where he will speak about the reasons why Zambia arrested some Zanu leaders after Chitepo’s death. He will talk about the cost of hosting the liberation movements and whether Zambia thinks it has been thanked enough. Don’t miss your copy of The Sunday Mail.