Tongogara and Mugabe: The fallout

As predicted by the ZIPA commanders, Josiah Tongogara’s alliance with Robert Mugabe does not last.

BELOW is a book excerpt from In Search of the Elusive Zimbabwean Dream, Volume III (Ideas & Solutions) by Professor Arthur Mutambara

AS predicted by the ZIPA commanders, Josiah Tongogara (pictured)’s alliance with Robert Mugabe does not last. By the end of the liberation struggle, Tongogara is palpably fed up with Mugabe’s leadership.

From September 10 to December 15, 1979, the United Kingdom (UK) government organised a conference at Lancaster House to resolve the matter of Zimbabwe’s independence.

The parties represented during the conference are the UK government, the Patriotic Front (PF) led by Robert Mugabe (Zanu) and Joshua Nkomo (Zapu) and the Zimbabwe-Rhodesia government, represented by the Prime Minister, Bishop Abel Muzorewa, and Ian Smith, minister without portfolio.

The delegation of Zanu’s military wing — Zanla — is led by its Chief of Defence, Josiah Tongogara, while that of Zapu’s military wing — Zipra — is led by its intelligence supremo, Dumiso Dabengwa. General Peter Walls represents the Rhodesian army.

At the Lancaster House Conference, Tongogara really gets under Robert Mugabe’s skin. He proves to be an independent and confident player who takes to embracing Ian Smith every morning.

In the main conference meetings, he does not toe the line and sometimes challenges Mugabe’s averments.

For example, when Mugabe asserts that they need 10 days to get information to their combatants on the ground using runners, he interjects and says: “No, that is not correct. We can do it in four days.”

At some point during discussions about other military matters, he bursts out and says: “You politicians are wasting time. You talk too much. Leave these issues to General Peter Walls and me. We will sort it out.”

While Mugabe remains calm, he is apoplectic with rage. Nkomo fidgets nervously.

When there is a breakdown in the talks, and the PF liberation movements — Zapu and Zanu — decide to go back to the bush, with Mugabe being the most strident advocate of the continuation of the armed struggle, there is a meeting of the Zanu team at Lancaster.

In ensuing discussions, Tongogara, who is leading the Zanla delegation at the conference, says with a menacing look towards Mugabe: “It is fine. We are going back to Mozambique. We will put on our boots, pick up our guns, and proceed to the battlefield, including you (pointing an aggressive finger at Mugabe). Comrade, you are going to do some fighting for a change!”

All Mugabe can do is sheepishly and nervously continue chairing the meeting.

He is completely humiliated.

However, the worst affront to Mugabe by Tongogara at the Lancaster House Conference is when he openly suggests to colleagues in both Zanu and Zapu that Nkomo should be the first prime minister of Zimbabwe and not Mugabe. He posits that he does not see Mugabe as a leader, but rather as an administrator under the able and tested leadership of Nkomo — a man of stature and history. This was a treasonous view to Mugabe, his sycophants and ardent bootlickers at the conference in London.

The ultimate treachery!

In my discussions with Enos Nkala, he says: “Oh, that one — Tongogara — he was in trouble. The Zezuru boys were watching him closely at Lancaster. That is all I can say.”

Tongogara’s total and undiluted antipathy towards Mugabe’s leadership is one of the reasons he pushes for Zapu and Zanu to fight the 1980 general elections as one party — the Patriotic Front — knowing very well that Nkomo would be the natural and senior leader.

He argues and posits that: “We are not fighting for anyone to become Prime Minister or President of Zimbabwe. We are fighting against a system. What is wrong with Joshua Nkomo being our national leader? He is one of us here at Lancaster House as the Patriotic Front and the most senior among us.”

He candidly and fearlessly articulates this view in meetings of the Zanu delegation and to his Zipra and Zapu colleagues at the Lancaster House Conference, in particular Dumiso Dabengwa.

In June 2018, in an interview on the programme Breakfast Club with Zenzele Ndebele, Dabengwa confirms that Tongogara openly argued against Mugabe leading the unified and integrated Patriotic Front, which was supposed to contest the 1980 elections as one party.

Dabengwa says: “He (Tongogara) had almost openly said it during the Lancaster discussions. Tongogara said: ‘As far as I am concerned, Joshua Nkomo should be the leader of the Patriotic Front because he is a natural leader who has the experience and focus, while Mugabe is good only for administration, and that is the position he should occupy, probably as secretary-general of the Patriotic Front’.

“Those were Tongo’s views. Unfortunately, he said them out during informal discussions with other people at Lancaster. But he was direct enough. He said them to me. Tongogara was very clear.

“He went on to state that: ‘I am not saying this to please you. This is how I look at the two men and as per my own observations. It would be really disastrous for Mugabe to be the leader of the Patriotic Front and leader of that country. This is how I feel about it’. “Tongogara was very adamant about that position.”

There we are. This is what Dumiso Dabengwa has to say, in June 2018, about the fallout between Mugabe and Tongogara.

Furthermore, Tongogara had a premonition (which turned out to be prophetic) that after independence, the disruptively ambitious politicians from both Zapu and Zanu would cause the Zanla and Zipra guerrillas to fight each other if there was no solid foundation of unity between the two parties during those seminal and crucial elections of 1980.

At a Machiavellian level, Tongogara’s assessment was that his supremacy within the two armies — Zipra and Zanla — would be unchallenged, as the most senior Zipra commanders — Dumiso Dabengwa and Lookout Masuku — were prepared to work under him.

Well, Tongogara is clearly fed up with Mugabe’s leadership, and in his mind, the joint participation of Zapu and Zanu in the elections would effectively throw Mugabe under the bus. That is his calculation, a rather naive one indeed.

Within Zanu, there are no takers for Tongogara’s idea of a united front with Zapu in the forthcoming inaugural 1980 independence elections. Not a single Zanu leader supports him.

Indeed, Robert Mugabe, Edgar Tekere, Enos Nkala, Maurice Nyagumbo, Simon Muzenda, Eddison Zvobgo and the rest of the top Zanu officials do not share Tongogara’s vision.

The Zanu politicians have an inordinate hatred for Joshua Nkomo from the 1963 split from Zapu. More importantly, they do not want to “share the spoils of the war”, to borrow Mugabe’s phrase.

Furthermore, they have done their tribal calculations and ethnic arithmetic that show them that, given the ethnic composition of Zimbabwe, a predominantly Shona Zanu would outperform a predominantly Ndebele Zapu.

It is prudent to state that in 1979 the two parties are national in character. However, the Zanu stalwarts would seek to brand the two liberation movements in ethnic terms for Machiavellian electoral purposes.

Consequently, assured of electoral victory, the Zanu leaders argue that: “The leadership question must be determined through the 1980 general elections. Zanu and Zapu must fight it out electorally.

“The overall leader of the nationalist movement cannot be determined before that inaugural plebiscite. We will work with Zapu after the polls when it is clear who is the top dog.”

This is the Zanu thinking championed by Mugabe and never explained to Nkomo and Zapu. At the last Zanu meeting at the Lancaster House Conference, Tongogara makes an emotional plea for Zapu and Zanu to fight the general elections as one entity.

He is completely outvoted by his now increasingly irritated Zanu colleagues. He repeats that effort back in Maputo, to no avail.

The die is cast.

From that last Maputo meeting, he embarks on his last journey, where he dies in an alleged vehicle accident on 26 December 1979.

In The Army and Politics in Zimbabwe, Miles Tendi alludes to the profound suspicions that followed Tongogara’s death, given the acrimonious differences at Lancaster: “… after the tension and disagreement between Tongogara and Mugabe at Lancaster House over whether to agree (on) a settlement, British officials suspected that the former had been eliminated by the latter.

“Tongogara had also been in favour of Zanu and Zapu forming a pact in the 1980 election, a suggestion Mugabe found disagreeable.”

Indeed, the British government, Rhodesian leadership and Zapu/Zipra cadres all smell a rat. They regard Tongogara’s death with profound suspicion.

Murder, most foul!

When he receives the news of Tongogara’s death, Nkomo says: “What? There goes my unity with Zanu. Tongogara has been eliminated by the anti-unity elements in Zanu.”

UK diplomat Robin Renwick is adamant it was an internal hit — an inside job: “We could not actually prove he was killed, but I remain suspicious of it all. Tongogara was the only effective rival to Mugabe at Lancaster House. It was just too convenient that he died when he did.”

When I put all these stories and perceptions about Tongogara — his death and the suspicions held by various people — to Robert Mugabe, he just deviously chuckles and says: “Well, Tongogara did many things to undermine my leadership. He was also feared because he was cheeky. You do not want that.”

That is all Mugabe says, but he insists that Tongogara’s death was genuinely due to an accident. This position is also emphasised by Edgar Tekere — now an unparalleled and acerbic opponent of Mugabe — much to the delight of a pleasantly surprised Mugabe.

“A principled Edgar Tekere has decided not to launch cheap shots at his sworn enemy.”

Mugabe marvels at his good fortune.

Well, the truth of Tongogara’s death remains an open question.

Some have argued that maybe Tekere was not part of the inner circle involved, which might have included Mugabe himself, Solomon Mujuru, Emmerson Mnangagwa, and what Nkala calls the Zezuru mafia.

The jury is still out.

In fact, in his old age after being deposed in a coup d’état in November 2017, Mugabe makes fascinating revelations in a bizarre narration during a press conference on 29 July 2018 — the eve of the 2018 general elections. His objective is to impugn and disparage Emmerson Mnangagwa’s character.

Mugabe talks about how Emmerson takes him to visit a bogus spirit medium who was also a sister to his mother.

A visibly irate and dishevelled Mugabe says: “I was always curious and wanted to know the fate of the great Chaminuka — the prophet. What could have happened to him? Why is there no evidence of how he was treated by the Ndebeles who took him?

“I wondered what happened.

“Emmerson says to me: ‘Oh, yes, I know you are worried about that. Well, I have a person who knows what happened’. I said: ‘I wanted to see that person. We want the story to be known’. Then Emmerson says: ‘You come’, and I went with him to his home, and he says: ‘There is this lady — my aunt — a sister to my mother. She is possessed with a powerful spirit, and she will be able to tell you everything’.

“Can she? Emmerson says: ‘Yes, she is already waiting for you. I told her you are coming. You go up’. The woman was living up in some elevated ramshackle hut, and then Emmerson says: ‘Oh, but you have to remove your shoes first’.

“I removed my shoes and went up a squeaking, shaky ladder into the dirty hut. The woman started telling me how strong she was, that she had the spirit of Mbuya Nehanda and that she was the one who eliminated Tongogara.

“Ah, and nothing about Chaminuka? Nothing at all! He (Mnangagwa) wanted me to see that he had this aunt of his — a spirit medium — who was powerful. All this woman wanted was to meet me and convince me that she was a spirit medium whom we should accept and work with.

“So, ah, all that was a lie, you see — what Emmerson had told me about this woman. He is a liar, that one.”

Although this odd and curious narration is conducted in public at a press conference on 29 July 2018, and is currently online (on the video-sharing channel, YouTube), our unsophisticated media practitioners, uncritical analysts and thoughtless historians do not pursue and investigate its meaning.

In fact, no media house carries the story, while no analysis of Mugabe’s old-age treacherous utterances is ever conducted.

Firstly, our two “great leaders” were going to see traditional healers to address matters of state and national governance.

Secondly, they are proudly told that Tongogara was taken care of (dispensed with) to pave the way for Robert Mugabe, and they keep it as their dirty little secret for 38 years.

Why did Emmerson’s aunt boastfully talk about the death of Tongogara?

What gave her the confidence to say this to Mugabe and Emmerson? Was it because the two were grateful beneficiaries of Tongogara’s demise?

What does Emmerson know about the death of Tongogara, given that his aunt claims to be the author of, and authority on, the subject?

Why did Emmerson organise that scandalous meeting, and why was he comfortable with the woman’s treacherous message?

What other dubious and unbecoming meetings, secrets and nefarious activities have the two engaged in, from 1977 to 2017, to the detriment of our country’s history, legacy and prosperity?

I guess all we have are questions.

  • Mutambara is the director and full professor of the Institute for the Future of Knowledge at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa.

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