The Sunday Mail
Cde. Angeline Kumbirai Tongogara
I was born to peasants who lived in the reserves. My father later studied agriculture and attained a Master of African Tillage Certificate.
He then qualified for a small piece of virgin land in Chivhu where we lived at that time.
In 1962, I went to stay with a cousin in Zambia and studied nursing at St Francis Hospital (Katete). A relative – whose nom de guerre was Musikavanhu – lived in Lusaka, so I visited often during vacation.
Musikavanhu’s communal house was always packed with cadres.
Evidently, I could not stay there and moved to party representative Sithole’s house where I was treated just as one of the children. It is there that I met Tongo: it was love at first sight . . . you know how love is.
When the vacation ended, I returned to school and kept in touch with Tongo via letters. I relocated to Lusaka after completing training in 1967 and later moved to Kitwe Central Hospital where I worked for only six months before proceeding to Chingola.
In 1968, Tongo paid lobola and we welcomed our first child the following year.
Then, I lived in Chingola while Tongo was based in Lusaka. He visited often though, especially after delivering recruits to Tanzania for training.
I later moved to Lusaka again, to New Kabwata. We lived there with many comrades – Kadungure, Peter Baya and many others.
I first came across President Mugabe when he and the likes of Muzorewa and Sithole were summoned by President Kaunda for meetings.
I worked in Kamwala at the time.
He came home with Tongo one evening, and that was the first time I met him. I prepared dinner for them. The meal was sadza and okra because my husband had told me that the President loved okra, especially served with a bit of chilli. I also cooked vegetables and meat.
As they ate, I noticed he was a very quiet man. Reserved, very composed and chose his words intelligently. He symbolised a true leader in both word and deed. I never got to learn, though, what they discussed: Tongo would never disclose any such details to me. Most planning occurred at the Liberation Centre where the Dare reChimurenga met. However, he rarely mentioned the war plans on his return.
Tongo was arrested during the days of the American and South African-organised détente. The Zambians agreed to the plan and we had to accept this because we were in their country. At the time, Ian Smith’s regime was under lots of pressure since the war had taken a whole different dimension. They were losing.
They couldn’t deal with guerilla war tactics and needed time to re-strategise. So, the arrests resulted from our Chair’s car bomb assassination. We always had guns in the house, but I had a premonition that night. I took the guns, wrapped them in plastics, dug a hole in the fowl run and buried them.
There was nothing when police came to arrest all the comrades.
Tongo had crossed into Mozambique as all this occurred. He was then followed, arrested and brought back to Zambia.
We visited him in prison; he had been badly beaten, tortured.
We later heard that they wanted to arrest all liberation war leaders in a bid to stop the war. A government-owned newspaper, The Times of Zambia, even published a cartoon mocking President Mugabe.
The cartoon captured a dog paw and a man’s hand side-by-side. The dog’s paw was labelled Mugabe and the hand KK.
The caption read: “Mugabe – Biting the hand that feeds him.”
Our people remained behind bars for almost a year. We visited them, though we did not have a vehicle. Patrick Kombayi then bought Vice-President Muzenda a vehicle to transport us to the prison in Mpima. I alone had a driver’s licence, so I always drove. We were, at times, not allowed to see them, but Kombayi was appointed courier and delivered goods to the prisoners. I used to smuggle letters into prison in my third son Bvumai’s nappies. The prisoners would pretend to play with the baby and take the letters without rousing suspicion.
They also transmitted their own letters in this way.
A commission of inquiry was later set up and the likes of Ambassador Simbi Mubako defended them, leading to their acquittal.
I met the President again in 1976 when I was part of the delegation to the Geneva Conference. I was the official delegation nurse, serving under Dr Ushewokunze.
In Geneva, we booked into Hotel International.
The problem there was Western food: Zimbabweans love their sadza.
On the fourth day, some delegation members looked for alternative self-contained hotels where we could prepare our own meals. We found one such place and moved. We somehow secured mealie-meal and vegetables, and I began preparing sadza there. President Mugabe was to later inquire why most of our people were no longer eating at Hotel International.
“They are having meals at Mai Tongo’s place. They no longer want this European food,” came the reply.
The President called me immediately.
“I no longer see people in the dining hall; I heard they are eating at your place.”
“Yes. I’m preparing food for them there.”
“Are they bringing their own food to you?”
“No, they aren’t.”
“All right then,” he said, “why are you spending all your allowance feeding everyone when we are all receiving allowances? You have children back home. They need to be taken care of. We cannot allow others to save their allowances while living off yours.”
“I cannot deny those who come with my husband food. I cannot just serve him alone.”
After that, President Mugabe talked to everyone about the issue and from then on, everyone brought their own food which I would cook. I once cooked for him and delivered the food at the hotel.
He then said to me: “Thank you very much for your kind gesture. But please do not do this all the time because I understand you have children back home who need to be taken care of.
We came here with one goal. I want you and everyone to focus on that.
“It would be unfair of me to ask you to use your own allowance to prepare food for me. You have children back in Zambia. If you save that allowance now, you can use it to take care of them when you go back to Zambia.”
I left Geneva early to complete my studies in Zambia. Afterwards, I moved to Mozambique. The President was already living there and Tongo took me to him.
He wanted the President and Amai Sally to know that I had arrived safely. We were well received. Amai Sally – just as her husband – liked to ensure people were well taken care of. Every morning, she organised a bus that would take us to a place called Matola where we were taught handicrafts. At times, she cooked meals and brought them to my house just to help me acclimatise.
General Tongo and the President were very close and enjoyed travelling together. They shared mutual trust.
Their relationship was premised on their similar life purpose, especially regarding the independence struggle.
Both men were never deceptive; always forthright. Their philosophy centred on their desire to free the country. They understood what struggle and fighting for freedom meant.
Tongo visited President Mugabe a lot when we were in Mozambique because he knew the President was one of the people he could confide in.
On December 26, 1979, I was at the airport seeing off the first group of cadres that was returning to Zimbabwe after the war.
That group was led by General Mujuru.
I returned home and before long, Mai Mujuru arrived, unannounced. Her countenance told a story. A few minutes later, Vice-President Muzenda also arrived. I immediately suspected something was wrong.
“Why had they come suddenly and unannounced, at night?”
Cde Muzenda was diplomatic, dodging all questions. He inquired after the children instead. Suddenly, the President himself arrived. He asked everyone to sit after we had exchanged pleasantries. He then broke the news . . . Tongo had died.
I don’t know what happened next. I had collapsed. Tongo’s body was to be repatriated later, and the party leadership took me to the mortuary to view it.
I became hysterical: Tongo was lying there; still. I was dragged into an adjacent room and sedated. I subsequently became unconscious; I don’t know for how long.
But when I came to, I saw Amai Sally and President Mugabe were next to my bed. I realised then that I had been taken to President Mugabe’s residence. The two of them comforted me. I asked to be taken home, but they insisted that I spend an extra night at their place because of my condition.
I was pregnant at the time.
◆ Interview and transcription by Senior Reporter Lincoln Towindo in Centenary on February 12, 2015.