Mugabe plays out great Tongo betrayal

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It is that time of the year again when Zimbabwe celebrates its independence, brought about by her liberation war heroes — fallen and alive — and, of course, everyone else, including the civilians that played the crucial role of “the water in which the fish swam”.

If my memory serves me right, on the eve of Independence Day six years ago, in 2005, President Robert Mugabe bestowed posthumous awards to some of Zimbabwe’s greatest heroes of our liberation struggle and eminent nationalists.

He honoured the country’s two former Vice-Presidents, Joshua Nkomo and Simon Muzenda, with The Order of the Great Zimbabwe (Gold) and remembered the late Samuel Parirenyatwa, the former vice-president of Zapu, and Leopold Takawira, the former vice-president of Zanu, with The Order of the Great Zimbabwe (Silver).

The President proceeded to honour others like the late former Finance minister Bernard Chidzero who was conferred with The Order of the Star of Zimbabwe and numerous others who were bestowed with lesser but nonetheless valuable accolades.

Those that remember the colourful occasion that day will recall the shocking omission on the list of the late Zanla commander Josiah Tongogara, the late former chairman Herbert Chitepo and another assassinated Zapu stalwart, Jason Ziyapapa Moyo.

There was immediate outrage from ordinary Zimbabweans over the omissions and many in Zanu PF itself raised a big storm.

Cornered, John Nkomo, then Zanu PF national chairman, proffered what has turned out to be a flimsy excuse and an untruth.

“People should not provoke unnecessary situations and create unnecessary problems,” Nkomo said.

“The President clearly stated that the list of people who were honoured was not final. There will be others who will be honoured. It’s not just liberators or war veterans who will be honoured, but those who contributed to Zimbabwe before and after Independence.”

Six years down the line, nothing of the sort has happened. So, the picture that Zimbabweans must have is that according to President Mugabe and Zanu PF — the people that have vested upon themselves the sole authority of deciding who a hero is in our country — Josiah Magama Tongogara, Herbert Chitepo and Jason Ziyapapa Moyo were all less worthy of Zimbabwe’s honours than Simon Muzenda, Joshua Nkomo, Bernard Chidzero and the long list of others that received honours in 2005.

It is ironic that both Tongogara and Chitepo died in suspicious circumstances involving vehicles, resulting in allegations that they could have been assassinated by their colleagues in the liberation movement.

To many Zimbabweans, Tongogara’s death remains a mystery. What is fact, however, is that his family has been abandoned by those that have remained to enjoy the fruits of his sweat and blood.

They are struggling to make ends meet in a country where Tongogara could very easily have been President.

Forgotten too, are the many thousands of gallant fighters who were captured by Rhodesian forces, executed and buried in prison cemeteries.

While Zanu PF exposed itself for post-independence atrocities at the Chibondo mineshaft in Mount Darwin, bodies of known activists with available records remain buried at prison cemeteries countrywide.

Rhodesian forces sentenced to death thousands of freedom fighters and records of these executions exist today with the Zimbabwe prison authorities.

On April 21 1975, the Smith regime announced that with immediate effect, all executions would be carried out in secret.

All the freedom fighters that were executed were buried at unspecified prisons but records were always kept within the prison walls and were not destroyed at independence.

Now 31 years after independence, the remains of these gallant fighters remain in prison grounds.

The post-independence government has not rehabilitated the remains of these freedom fighters and they therefore still carry the label “terrorist” because they died “terrorist”.

Nothing has been done to acknowledge the role they played in freeing the country.

As Zimbabweans, how could we celebrate Independence with a clean conscience without paying tribute to these forgotten heroes?