BEITBRIDGE — His voice swept across the countryside as he urged fellow Zimbabweans to stand up, be brave and take up arms against the settler regime.
BY OWN CORRESPONDENT
Speaking fluently in Venda, Sotho, Shona and Ndebele, John Mbedzi persuaded thousands in his recruitment drive and his war cry reached far and wide.
Mbedzi’s voice was heard from the Zambia Broadcasting Corporation on a slot given to the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army during the war of liberation.
In her memoirs of the liberation struggle, Beitbridge-born Light Machine Gun (LMG) Choir member Happiness Sibanda mentions how Mbedzi was influential in her decision to join the armed struggle.
“There was this guy called John Mbedzi on radio who urged people to join the struggle,” she is quoted as having said.
Many war veterans from Beitbridge acknowledge Mbedzi’s role, calling him a hero, but very few know where he is buried.
He passed on quietly in 1987 and many question why his remains are not at the national shrine.
Beitbridge East MP Kembo Mohadi has made no mention of Mbedzi’s name when he addresses Beitbridge residents.
Mohadi, a war veteran himself, skirts away from Mbedzi’s name when he chronicles roles played by different Beitbridge locals in the armed struggle.
Mbedzi, who used his real names during the struggle, is buried at Number 2 in an undecorated grave 40km north of Beitbridge.
He lies next to his sister, Evelyn Ncengo Mbedzi, and when Heroes holidays come, no one goes to his grave to remember his heroic contribution.
Hailing from Malibeng village about 110km west of Beitbridge town, Mbedzi was multilingual and fluent in more than six languages, just like people of that district today.
He, together with the late Jeckonia Nare, who died earlier this year and was declared a liberation war hero, were the first political activists to come from Beitbridge.
“Those were the first two people we knew in the 1960s that were into politics as young men,” Beitbridge Town councilllor Cephas Chanaka recalls.
Mbedzi, as a contribution to destabilising white farmers, raided their cattle and drove them into communal areas or even across into Botswana.
He was detained at Gonakudzingwa and Hwahwa prisons along with other nationalists and his chances of having met President Robert Mugabe and other renowned nationalists detained at one of those detention centres were many.
On his release, Mbedzi continued his destabilisation activities until he became the most wanted man in Beitbridge district and fled.
“I met him in Tanzania and he planned to pursue education in Europe, but I convinced him otherwise,” veteran writer and Chronicle blogger Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu said in an interview.
“It took me very little time to persuade him because he was willing and we left for Lusaka, Zambia. We lived at Lilanda.
“Mbedzi and myself shared a house with Enos Malandu and Bruce Nelson Makoni.”
Gwakuba Ndlovu drafted Mbedzi into the publicity and broadcasting department, which involved his famous radio sessions.
“Despite being diabetic and on injectable insulin daily, Mbedzi excelled. He was a good cadre, a nationalist. Please mention this, he was very dedicated,” Gwakuba Ndlovu said.
His influence was great and his results resounding with many young people, mostly the Venda, leaving Matabeleland South to join freedom fighters through Botswana.
“Specifically, he was to target that community from his home and most recruits would say they had heard a fellow Venda guy called John Mbedzi calling on them to join the struggle.”
The most memorable incident in their life was the death of Jason Ziyapapa Moyo killed by a letter bomb half a minute after they separated with him.
“Mbedzi asked me that we should go and join Zambian broadcasting personality Tony Mamulinga for lunch and no sooner that we left, we heard a loud bang and ran back to find JZ Moyo’s body ripped apart,” he said.
Earlier, Mbedzi and Gwakuba Ndlovu, or one of them, had joked about why the letter Moyo received from Botswana had not been scanned to check its safety.
“JZ (Moyo) had laughed it away and said we were now too afraid. Remember, it was the time Frelimo leader Eduardo Mondlane had just been killed by a letter bomb,” Gwakuba Ndlovu said.
Together with Mbedzi, they left through the back street alley barely a minute later after JZ (Moyo), who had opposed a settlement proposal from the minority whites, was dead.
Today, Ziyapapa Moyo, Sikwili Moyo, Naison Kutshwekhaya Ndlovu and other men with whom Mbedzi shared offices and worked are interred at the national shrine.
Others still living are well known throughout the country and have held influential positions.
“I am not afraid to say he was a dedicated cadre. Despite his diabetes ailment, he put all his heart to the struggle. He never questioned any instruction, but carried it out diligently,” Gwakuba Ndlovu said.
He later left Mbedzi in the Publicity section when he was moved to Foreign Affairs.
Gwakuba Ndlovu, after Mbedzi died, remembers being approached by his son seeking to know more about him, which he shared.
“I told the son, one Nkululeko Mbedzi, about our life during the struggle,” he said.
One of Mbedzi’ sons, Sobusa, has tried to secure hero status for his father, but has allegedly met resistance from some people in authority.
He says he even approached Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa when he was still the ruling party’s secretary for administration to convey their feelings and wishes to President Robert Mugabe.
Back in Beitbridge, the sons, on one Heroes holiday, arranged some activity to remember his father, but faced challenges.
Locals, acknowledging the role Mbedzi played, shunned the activities at the local heroes acre and went to those arranged in memory of Mbedzi, which angered local officials.
“We were warned against having a soccer tournament in his memory on a day that clashed with national activities,” his son Nkululeko Milidi Mbedzi said.
“We felt we had to do something in our own small way, but on the second year of the tournament, we were stopped,” he added, mentioning a high-ranking politician as having stopped them.
But on the two occasions the function was held, thousands of people thronged Matshiloni shops, popularly known as Number Two, to celebrate the hero’s life.
“I have very little knowledge about what happened later after independence, but I know he crossed to join Zanu PF. He was among the very first to cross the floor,” Gwakuba Ndlovu said.
“I would pass him as a hero.”
True to the point, Mbedzi, after finding he had no protection over his destabilisation activities on white farms even after the war, decided joining the ruling Zanu PF party.
He was elected to stand against current State Security minister Kembo Mohadi during elections and this is where Zapu decided to forget his history, labelling him a sellout for joining Zanu PF.
“But I can understand he needed protection after that long war,” Gwakuba Ndlovu said.
Political rivalry in his own area and petty jealousies are seen as having been put before the real contributions he made during the war and no one recommended him for recognition.
“It’s not our choice really, but how they feel. I would be happy if they acknowledge his work,” his other son, Exile Mbedzi, said.
His sons have names relating to what he surrendered his life to in Sobusa (We will rule), Nkululeko (Freedom) and Exile, most probably in memory of the time he was exiled to fight for independence.
“Posthumously, they can recognise him and we will appreciate that regardless whether its national, district, provincial or liberation war hero. We will know his role was finally recognised and that alone will make us happy,” Nkululeko said.