Mugabe, Zipa and Mujuru

The late retired General Solomon Mujuru (right) and former deputy prime minister Arthur Mutambara.

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

Let us go back to Robert Mugabe. His predisposition to tribalism is also picked up early on by ZIPA commanders.

Wilfred Mhanda (ZIPA political commissar), in his memoirs — Dzino: Memories of a Freedom Fighter — has the following to say:

“Mugabe’s tight responses and his unyielding, nay autocratic,demeanour led us to wonder about his suitability as a leader. Inaddition, there were small breaches of military etiquette that puzzled us.

“For example, he called Rex Nhongo by his home [Zezuru] name — Mutuswa. He also appeared to display ethnic tendencies by indirectlyenquiring where particular senior commanders came from, eventhough it was part of the strict security protocol, upgraded to adisciplinary code, that made us stick to noms de guerre.

“We saw ourselves first and foremost as Zimbabweans, regardless of ethnicity.”

Another ZIPA commander, Parker Chipoyera, confirms Mugabe’s tendency and affinity for tribal machinations. In an interview titled Mgagao Declaration changed political dynamics with Zimbabwe’s weekly newspaper — The Sunday Mail — on October 27 2019, Chipoyera says:

“At one time we had a meeting with Mugabe at Chimoio, and it fellshort of turning bad. Mugabe had his problems along tribal lines ...

“During that meeting, problems arose after Mugabe asked where we came from. Webster Gwauya stood up and replied: ‘You want to know where I come from, is this not the information that is needed by Smith so that he sends his people to torment our relatives.’

“We all agreed with Gwauya that we would not be led into identifying ourselves on tribal grounds.”

Beyond the tribalism predilection, the Zipa commanders have other serious reservations about Mugabe as a leader, right from the beginning of their interactions with him. In fact, they start thinking he is worse than Ndabaningi Sithole.

They are in a quandary, as Mhanda narrates in his erudite and gripping memoir:

“However, the most disturbing aspect of all was Mugabe’s reclusiveness,his reticence, the failure to open up to us, while apparently erectinga barrier around himself that barred any more informal approachor discussion.

“All the other nationalist leaders we had met, such as Ndabaningi Sithole, Herbert Chitepo and the other members of Dare,had been more approachable. He seemed unable to relax as Edgar Tekerehad done during his visit to the camps a month earlier.

“It is no wonderthat within a few days, most of us had formed a negative opinion ofhim, to the extent that even though we had profoundly disagreed withSithole, we thought Mugabe lacked the leadership qualities we hadseen in the former.”

Hence, after their own interactions with Mugabe, the Zipa commanders now feel that, in fact, Samora Machel was right about Mugabe’s problematic disposition and inadequacy as a leader.

However, they are not sure what to do next. Furthermore, they cannot rely on Rex Nhongo (their leader — Zipa overall Commander) with respect to this dilemma.

On the recommendation of Zipa at the beginning of September 1976, Machel releases Mugabe and Tekere from banishment in Quelimane and accommodates them in a Maputo hotel.

A key issue emphasised by Zipa was unity with Zapu to avoid future instability in independent Zimbabwe. However, Mugabe and Tekere simply refuse to endorse this view.

Specifically, Mugabe openly declares: “We cannot share the spoils of the war with Zapu as Zanu had single-handedly shouldered the burden of the fighting.”

It is 1976, and Mugabe is speaking as if the war has already been won.

In an interview with the Helen Suzman Foundation in October 2000, Mhanda summarises his view of Mugabe:“Gradually, of course, we realised that we had made a terrible mistake. I now greatly regret it ... He [Mugabe] was arrogant, paranoid, secretive and only interested in power.

“He did not want unity at all since he was scared that Joshua Nkomo, as the senior African nationalist, would take over a united movement.

“He dissolved Zipa and abolished all the joint organisations between the liberation movements, which was very upsetting for those of us who had worked hard for unity.”

Needless to say, there is a major stand-off rooted in intensely bad blood between Mugabe and Zipa as the Geneva Conference beckons in 1976.

In our discussions, Mugabe speaks fondly of this conference, held from October 28 to December 14 1976, as “a great opportunity to regroup and expand the party — Zanu”.

It is clear that he does not see the Geneva Conference as a potential breakthrough meeting on Zimbabwean decolonisation. In fact, to Robert Mugabe, successful resolution of the national question is not desirable at all in 1976!

To him, the Geneva Conference is a godsend Machiavellian moment to reorganise Zanu while asserting and projecting himself as its leader. Moreover, this gathering is his first international conference as leader of a major political party, albeit under disputation from both Zipa and Sithole.

Of course, freedom and independence for Zimbabwe must wait until he has consolidated his political position. The irony of it all escapes Robert Mugabe that while he is busy feuding with Zipa with the newly acquired tacit support of Samora Machel, the Geneva Conference is a Zipa product.

“Zipa had effectively crushed the 1975 détente machinations that had so dubiously brought the war to a halt, and re-started the war, propelling it to levels never before experienced in Rhodesia.”

This Zipa military surge generates serious concerns among the Western powers, SA and the Rhodesian regime, leading to a new initiative to stem the tide of revolution — the Geneva Conference of October 28 to December 14 1976.

For them, the consequences of an outright victory in Rhodesia would “leave South Africa exposed and threaten the West’s strategic interests” in Southern Africa and the rest of the continent. Clearly, ZIPA’s military successes had triggered the Anglo-American initiative.

Mugabe asserts that Nyerere despised him and only warmed up to him after Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980. This is corroborated by the events at the Frontline States’ Summit on Zimbabwe, held on  September 5 1976 before the Geneva Conference, as outlined by Wilfred Mhanda:

“Nyerere then turned to Zipa, saying it was their efforts that hadforced the Rhodesians to accept Anglo-American negotiations. Hethen posed the question as to who among the nationalists identified with and supported Zipa’s efforts. Everybody present [Nkomo, Sithole, Abel Muzorewa, Mugabe], except Chikerema, claimed responsibility for Zipa’s successes ...

“Nyerere rubbished all the claims rather humorously, but hereserved the harshest words for Mugabe, reminding him that bothZapu and Zanu were no longer legal entities in terms of the LusakaUnity Accord.

“Mugabe then argued that they had, however, fathered alegitimate child in Zipa. Nyerere then asked him a pointed question: ‘Who formed Zipa?’ Mugabe attempted a long-winded answer. Nyerere would have none of it and cried out in irritation, ‘I don’t want atactical answer. Who formed Zipa?’ Mugabe, humiliated, was forcedto retreat into his shell …”

Julius Nyerere believes that Samora Machel and himself had fathered Zipa after being approached by Zanla and Zipra cadres asking for support to restart the war. The two leaders saw it as a third force.

While that ends the debate about Zipa’s parentage in the Summit meeting, it enflames and amplifies Mugabe’s hatred for the Zipa commanders.

Thereafter there is a further meeting between Mugabe (together with the recently released Dare leaders) and the ZIPA leadership.

Mugabe’s view is that “now that the Dare members were out of prison, Zipa had to disband.”

Obviously, the members of the ZIPA Military Committee openly and vigorously disagreed with this position and defended ZIPA’s continued existence. According to Mhanda: “Rex Nhongo [Mujuru] hardly said a word and sat motionless through the meeting. It was clear that he was having his own consultations with Mugabe behind our backs.”

Hence, for Zipa, the die is cast at the Geneva Conference of 1976. The Mujuru, Mugabe and Tongogara alliance is established, and the plan to neutralise the Zipa commanders is hatched there.

While there was no breakthrough at the Geneva Conference, with its end, intrigue and manoeuvring ensue in Zanu as the strategy to destroy Zipa is operationalised.

Top Zipa commanders are sent on various missions, such as Yugoslavia, Egypt, and China. Meanwhile, Mujuru and Tongo go straight to Mozambique to work out the mechanics of controlling the fighters and neutralising the Zipa commanders.

The preceding narrative is buttressed by a fascinating and insightful anecdote in my discussions with President Mugabe on Mujuru’s role in the demise and defanging of Zipa on January 18 1977.

Mugabe is very agitated when he speaks about Zipa. He says:

“Edgar Tekere and I had a torrid time with that lot. After the Zanu Dare leadership and most of Josiah Tongogara’s High Commandwere released from detention in Zambia, the Zipa commanders weredenying the freed Zanla High Command access to the guerrillacamps, and even demanding that leaders of Tongogara’s stature hadto reapply to join the party.

“How absurd? At [the] Geneva Conference, they did not want to be identified as Zanu and were moving around consorting with every delegation. We had to neutralisethem — the overly ambitious Zipa upstarts. Solomon Mujuru, who was the headof Zipa as the overall commander, was our spy among the Zipa officials.

“They had no idea what was coming their way — those juvenile revolutionaries. Mujuru used to tell us all their plans and activities.

“He was our spy among them! Consequently, it was quite easy and effortless for us to crushthem at the appropriate time – an opportune moment. Working withJosiah Tongogara, with the support of President Samora Machel, our strategy was to isolate and save a few of the Zipa top commanders and then arrest the rest.

“Dzinashe Machingura (popularly known as Dzino) — the Zipa Political Commissar –and Parker Chipoyera — the Zipa Head of Training — were some of those we chose to save. Still, they rejected our offer and voluntarily presented themselves for arrest.Stupid fellows, those two!”

To be continued next week

  • Professor 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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