PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has reportedly been pushed against the wall after the Zanu PF Manicaland provincial leadership demanded that the late retired High Court judge Justice Simpson Mtambanengwe be declared a national hero.
BY RICHARD CHIDZA
Mtambanengwe died last Thursday in Namibia where he had been working as a legal guru since 2013 after leaving his position as Zimbabwe Electoral Commission chairperson (Zec) in a huff, claiming “ill-health.”
Zanu PF sources said Mugabe was not keen on honouring Mtambanengwe given the late High Court judge’s unceremonious departure from Zec and his cloudy liberation war past. On Saturday, Mugabe made no reference to Mtambanengwe’s death when he presided over the burial of retired Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku at the National Heroes’ Acre.
Acting Manicaland provincial chairperson Joseph Mujati confirmed to NewsDay yesterday that the party’s Manicaland provincial executive had recommended that Mtambanengwe be accorded national hero status.
“It is true we have written to the party national leadership requesting that Justice Mtambanengwe be declared a national hero. We are now waiting for the decision,” Mujati said.
A senior party leader in the province added: “Although most people do not know him, records show that he worked tirelessly as Zanu’s external affairs secretary while in Zambia in the formative years of the liberation struggle.
Declaring him a national hero is the only way we can repay him.”
Family spokesperson Cornelius Sanyanga confirmed the family was aware of the request, but pointed out that Mtambanengwe had made a wish to be buried at his rural home of Manicaland.
“We have been advised of the request that he be declared a national hero and we are expecting to receive the body on Wednesday (tomorrow). I must stress, though, that his wish to be laid to rest at his rural home had nothing to do with the National Heroes’ Acre because he certainly would not have known that the party would come forward with such a request. If he is not buried at the national shrine, then we will take him to his rural home,” Sanyanga said.
Mtambanengwe, a pioneering Zanu cadre following the split with Zapu in 1963, was the party’s first external affairs secretary. He became a member of the Revolutionary Council, the predecessor of the Dare reChimurenga, a committee mandated with prosecuting the liberation struggle and chaired by the late Zanu founding national chairman Herbert Chitepo.
The late jurist later became Zanu commissar before he lost his position to John Mataure in 1973 as internal strife rocked the liberation movement leading to the death of Chitepo and many others summarily executed in a bloody period that preceded Mugabe’s rise to power.
Mtambanengwe was appointed Zec chairperson at the same time another respected legal mind, Reg Austin, took office as head of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission. The two were to leave office almost at the same time under a cloud amid reports that hawks in the ruling party were “uncomfortable’ with both lawyers’ open-mindedness”ahead of the 2013 general elections won by Mugabe.
Most war veterans who spoke to NewsDay at the weekend paid tribute to Mtambanengwe, but indicated that Mugabe was unlikely to have forgiven Mtambanengwe for his association with a group then led by Thomas Nhari and brutally put down by Mugabe’s supporters among them revered wartime military stalwart General Josiah Magama Tongogara and Solomon Mujuru.