The Sunday Mail
Mabasa Sasa and Levi Mukarati
A disgruntled group of former Zanu-PF elements has been trying to discredit Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko’s credentials by raising unsubstantial issues about his history, and that his appointment violates the Unity Accord.
The offensive, led by ousted Zanu-PF politburo member Dr Dumiso Dabengwa, has been trashed by senior former members of PF-Zapu, who say President Mugabe’s appointment of VP Mphoko is well in order and those opposed to it are staking narrow and retrogressive tribal claims. Zanu-PF and PF-Zapu came together to form a united Zanu-PF via the historic Unity Accord in 1987 under the leadership of President Mugabe and the late national hero, Dr Joshua Nkomo.
President Mugabe, a fortnight ago, appointed Cde Emmerson Mnangagwa and Cde Mphoko as Zanu-PF and State VPs.
Now, some elements are claiming VP Mphoko is whitewashing his history by not saying what his official role was between 1980 and 1987 during which time he was engaged in sensitive diplomatic and State security work.
The onslaught also tries to diminish the role of a national VP by confining it to a discredited tribal and regional frame.
Further, efforts to deride VP Mphoko’s work with the intelligence establishment are hypocritical as Dr Dabengwa was himself actively involved in recommending former liberation fighters for recruitment into the agency.
Dr Dabengwa’s ire was raised when VP Mphoko queried why a liberation stalwart was associating himself with oppositional forces hell-bent on reversing the gains of the struggle.
Observers said Dr Dabengwa was better off reassessing his own political position vis-à-vis his role in the illegal regime change agenda instead of raising red herrings about VP Mphoko.
Zanu-PF secretary for information and publicity Cde Simon Khaya Moyo said he would not be bothered by the “petty issues raised by people with their own agendas”.
He added, “I do not think the party has a position on that . . . The appointment of VPs is the prerogative of the President. That is all I can say.”
Politburo member and Government spokesperson Professor Jonathan Moyo said the appointments were done in line with Article 4 of the Unity Accord.
“There cannot be any serious debate whatsoever that VP Mphoko is from former Zapu and that he was in the Zipra hierarchy.
“Also, there’s no evidence that can be objectively and independently corroborated to suggest that VP Mphoko quit Zapu or was expelled there from before or after our country’s heroic Independence in 1980. This is the factual position,” he said.
Prof Moyo – who is Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister went on: “To be frank with you, many Zimbabweans who have had respect and sympathy for Dumiso Dabengwa, and I consider myself among these, are very disappointed about his manifestly reckless response to VP Mphoko’s appointment.
“It is most unfortunate that a stalwart of our liberation struggle, more so one of Dabengwa’s historic stature, has chosen to come out sounding very trivial and immature.
“The record will show that VP Mphoko acknowledges and respects Dabengwa’s contribution not only to our country’s liberation as a Zipra commander under whom VP Mphoko served, but also acknowledges and respects Dabengwa’s contribution to the Unity Accord that we are commemorating tomorrow.
“What VP Mphoko has queried is Dabengwa’s current political position from which he has found it fit to work with political elements whose political project is opposed to the values, ideals and objectives of the liberation struggle …
“VP Mphoko finds it difficult to understand how and why Dabengwa, his acknowledged and respected heroic Zipra commander, apparently has no qualms to abuse the names of Zapu and Zipra to justify working with sellouts today.
“This is a challenge that Cde Dabengwa must take seriously without resorting to insults that make him sound so immature for someone with his liberation credentials.”
Prof Moyo said people should go beyond thinking of national unity in tribal terms.
“Matabeleland has been regionalised and tribalised for too long by politicians who have not done anything for the region beyond working for their own personal benefit.
“The time has come for Matabeleland to become national in both its character and content. VP Mphoko brings that promise in a very refreshing way.
“As such, he does not need to be pulled down but to be supported by everyone – beginning with the people in Matabeleland.
“As VP Mphoko’s former commander in Zipra during the liberation struggle, Dabengwa will do himself a lot of good by leading the way in support of VP Mphoko to make a positive change not only in the region but also in the country.”
Another Zanu-PF Politburo member, Dr Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, said it was naive for anyone to expect VP Mphoko to have publicly participated in politics when he was in the diplomatic service and State security.
“He was in diplomatic service as well as in the CIO (Central Intelligence Organisation). Did anyone expect him to raise a clenched fist and say ‘pamberi neZanu-PF’ while on duty as Zimbabwe’s Ambassador in Moscow?” he asked.
“People should not dig up what do not concern them. We are happy as a party with the appointment; not with only him, but also with VP Mnangagwa and other people who were elected to various organs of the party. Why should we listen to outsiders?”
Dr Ndlovu said the people who were trying to soil the VP’s credentials wanted to blow out of proportion an incident in the late 1970s when VP Mphoko remained in Mozambique after the collapse of the Zimbabwe People’s Army, which sought to bring Zanla and Zipra together.
“Yes he remained in Mozambique, so what? He remained in the struggle and never denounced PF-Zapu. To us he remained PF-Zapu through and through until we united to form Zanu-PF,” he said.
“We sent him to Mozambique as Zipa with Nikita Mangena (and others). He contributed in Zipa which did not succeed. Now someone has an axe to grind with him…
“We were working together during the struggle. I was responsible for orgainising the political structure and (VP Mphoko) was within the military undertakings.
“Dumiso (Dabengwa) said what he said; he is not in Zanu-PF. Those people are not part of us, why should we spend time listening to them? It means if we want to listen to them we are accepting distraction. We won’t build the nation denouncing each other. We have just started; the President has just made appointments.
“There are those who are disappointed yes, but disappointment does not mean the end of the world. Those who have been appointed in a position of leadership, whether vice president or what, it’s the time for talking to each other and reconciling now. Why should we not now focus on positives?”
Dr Ndlovu said VP Mphoko was a tried and tested revolutionary who began serious politics in the 1960s and was arrested in 1963 after clashing with a Rhodesian police officer who had set his dog on him and other youths.
Brigadier-General (Retired) Ambrose Mutinhiri weighed in saying: “I worked with the VP from 1964 and he is a dedicated cadre. We were together during the liberation struggle when I was chief of training and he was chief of logistics.
“I have great respect for the guy. I have known him for many years. He is a dedicated leader. It is not true to suggest that he is not a tried and tested former Zapu member. He represented the party in Mozambique for a long time and remained Zapu until the Unity Accord.”
Cde Mphoko was jailed for three years at Khami Prison, but appealed against the sentence and was granted bail while awaiting retrial.
He then went for military training in the Soviet Union (1964-65) and upon his return created the first military planning committee whose mandate was to direct the armed struggle.
Cde Mphoko was among the seven commanders commissioned to recruit and train liberation fighters and later assumed a position in the Joint Military Command in charge of logistics and supply in the ANC-Zapu alliance.
He operated in Sipolilo (now Guruve) with the likes of Cdes Jose Modise (ANC), Abraham Nkiwane and Dabengwa.
In 1976, he was a delegate at the formation of the Patriotic Front in Mozambique with Cdes Jason Moyo, George Silundika and Joseph Msika, before attending the Lancaster House peace talks as a military delegate.
After Independence, Cde Mphoko was in 1981 appointed deputy director for demobilisation in the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, subsequently working for State Security and in the diplomatic service.
An account by Judith Todd, daughter of Southern Rhodesia prime minister Garfield Todd, in her book “Through the Darkness: A Life in Zimbabwe” reveals further details about VP Mphoko’s early independence history.
She wrote, “A year after Independence, Mphoko was elected deputy director of the demobilisation directorate, which was created in 1981 and fell under the Labour and Social Welfare Ministry.
“John Shonhiwa was the head of the directorate and had been in the first batch of men sent to China by Zanu-PF for military training in 1963 along with Emmerson Mnangagwa, who had become the minister responsible for State Security.
“Their task was to co-ordinate activities and programmes for ex-combatants with relevant Government ministries.”
In 1985, at the height of the civil disturbances and two years before the signing of the Unity Accord, VP Mphoko was arrested along with the likes of Sydney Malunga, Welshman Mabhena and Stephen Nkomo.