Late former President Robert Mugabe refused to endorse the view of sharing spoils from the liberation struggle with ZAPU, specifically declaring:
“We cannot share the spoils of the war with ZAPU as ZANU had singlehandedly shouldered the burden of the fighting.”
He made this declaration in 1976, speaking as if the war had already been won.
Fast forward to 2017, President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa also refused to share the spoils of the coup with opposition parties, saying his faction single-handedly dethroned Mugabe.
Mnangagwa and his ZANU PF are of the opinion that the removal of Mugabe was their own making ‘Chinhu Chedu’ despite support from other citizens, opposition parties included.
Many were of the opinion that Mnangagwa should have accommodated others and bring unity among Zimbabweans after the coup.
Critics view it as a missed opportunity.
Book Excerpt from: In Search of the Elusive Zimbabwean Dream, Volume III (Ideas & Solutions)
By Professor Arthur G.O. 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. In addition, 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 indirectly enquiring where particular senior commanders came from, even though it was part of the strict security protocol, upgraded to a disciplinary code, which 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 27 October 2019, Chipoyera says:
“At one time we had a meeting with Mugabe at Chimoio, and it fell short 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 erecting a barrier around himself that barred any more informal approach or 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 Tekere had done during his visit to the camps a month earlier. It is no wonder that within a few days, most of us had formed a negative opinion of him, to the extent that even though we had profoundly disagreed with Sithole, we thought Mugabe lacked the leadership qualities we had seen 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 singlehandedly 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 28 October to 14 December 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 28 October to 14 December 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 5 September 1976 before the Geneva Conference, as outlined by Wilfred Mhanda:
“Nyerere then turned to ZIPA, saying it was their efforts that had forced the Rhodesians to accept Anglo-American negotiations. He then posed the question as to who among the nationalists identified with and supported ZIPA’s efforts.
Everybody present [Nkomo, Sithole, Muzorewa, Mugabe], except Chikerema, claimed responsibility for ZIPA’s successes …
Nyerere rubbished all the claims rather humorously, but he reserved the harshest words for Mugabe, reminding him that both ZAPU and ZANU were no longer legal entities in terms of the Lusaka Unity Accord.
Mugabe then argued that they had, however, fathered a legitimate 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 a tactical answer. Who formed ZIPA?’ Mugabe, humiliated, was forced to 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 acrimonious Summit meeting ends the debate about ZIPA’s parentage, it enflames and amplifies Mugabe’s hatred for the ZIPA commanders. l
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 that 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 in the snowy Swiss city.
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 former 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 the ZIPA contradictions, the final demise and defanging of ZIPA on 18 January 1977, and Solomon Mujuru’s betrayal of his ZIPA comrades. 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 Command were released from detention in Zambia, the ZIPA commanders were denying the freed ZANLA High Command access to the guerrilla camps, and even demanding that leaders of Tongogara’s stature had to reapply to join the party.
At [the] Geneva Conference, they did not want to be identified as ZANU and were moving around consorting with every delegation. We had to neutralise them – the overly ambitious ZIPA upstarts. Solomon Mujuru, who was the head of 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 crush them at the appropriate time – an opportune moment. Working with Josiah 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!
How do you opt to go to jail and not continue with the liberation efforts?
Well, we said: ‘You can go and rot in jail. It is your loss.
The struggle continues!”
On his part, General Solomon Mujuru, during one of our many detailed conversations, explains how he experienced Samora Machel’s animosity towards Mugabe. He proudly narrates how he intervened to enable Mugabe’s ascendancy:
“With most members of both the ZANU Dare and the ZANLA High Command in prison in Zambia, I was the most senior ZANLA commander at large. I had escaped from Zambia into Mozambique, and we put together the ZIPA military structure with our colleagues from ZIPRA.
One day I was summoned to Samora Machel’s office, who demanded in his typical military style:
‘Who is your leader in ZANU?’ I said: ‘It is Robert Mugabe.’
He spat in my face, gave me a handkerchief to wipe myself and shouted:
‘Get out of my office!’
I am shocked beyond belief.
On my way out, I had a brief chat with his Personal Assistant, who calmly advised me: ‘President Machel is quite close to Ndabaningi Sithole. Moreover, he cannot stand Robert Mugabe. When you next talk to him, drop that nonsense about Mugabe being your leader.’
As it turns out, a week later, I was called back for another meeting with President Machel. Just like before, he demanded:
‘Who is your leader in ZANU?’
I was wiser this time. I said: Our leader is Ndabaningi Sithole. However, as we execute the armed struggle, we will work with Robert Mugabe, but thereafter we will hand over the leadership to Ndabaningi Sithole. Samora Machel looked at me with intense and glaring eyes and blurted out:
‘That is better!’”
Mujuru goes further to boast about his role and exploits in installing Robert Mugabe at the head of ZANU, making him a key leader in the liberation struggle for Zimbabwe.
“I m- -a-de Robert Mug-a-be,” he characteristically stammers with a mischievous smile. He feels that Mugabe owes him and must be eternally grateful. Mujuru continues with his fascinating narrative to me:
“After that successful meeting with Machel, I went on to feverishly organise meetings and platforms for Robert Mugabe so that he could shine and distinguish himself as a leader. Unongokazivaka Robert kanogona kutaura! (As you know that sly chap – Robert – is quite articulate!)
Slowly but surely, both Samora Machel and Julius Nyerere warmed up to Mugabe. As they say, the rest is history. I must emphasise that ndini ndakakarongera bhora rose kamupfana aka (I am the one who made that ‘small boy’ get to where he is today).”
With that, he bursts into controlled giggles as he playfully slides into his seat as if to hide from those around.
It is quite hilarious but poignant that I am getting this vivid narration at an official event at the National Heroes Acre, where Mujuru and I are sitting in the front row with Robert Mugabe, a few seats away from us.
Well, well, well.
That is Solomon Mujuru. They do not call him the
Kingmaker for nothing!
Let us go back to the day ZIPA is decimated in Mozambique – 18 January 1977.
Wilfred Mhanda confirms Mugabe’s version of events, Mujuru’s treachery and the betrayal of ZIPA by Samora Machel. He describes the purges of that fateful day when Tongogara reads out the names of the ZIPA commanders to be arrested:
“Neither my name nor those of Parker Chipoyera and Akim Mudende, two other members of the Military Committee, were read out … I could now see why Nhongo had left for the camps early that morning.
He had been sent to pacify the fighters ahead of the arrests and could only have been complicit in the treacherous scheme to arrest the ZIPA commanders – his colleagues.
The next day in a meeting with the reconstituted Central Committee, Mugabe offers to work with the three key commanders who had not been arrested. Mhanda and Chipoyera reject the gesture in an offhand but emphatic manner.
They tell Mugabe that they could not accept his offer to cooperate.
Instead, the ZIPA leaders urge Mugabe to release the [arrested] commanders and said that if they really believed that there had been a serious breach of insubordination, then they should arrest the three top ZIPA commanders – Rex Nhongo, Dzinashe Machingura and Webster Gwauya – and release their subordinates.
Failing this, they posit that they would rather join the arrested commanders than work with Mugabe.
Mhanda is adamant about the principled position that he took. He could not allow cadres that he trained and led to be selectively and subjectively victimised while he is spared.
He volunteered to be imprisoned.
In my conversation with him, Mhanda further describes a scene where, later that evening, Josiah Tongogara tries to convince him to tactically abandon his colleagues temporarily.
His view is that the ZIPA comrades have not done anything wrong. It was just power politics. He suggests that the ZIPA cadres would be rehabilitated soon.
It is just a tactical move.
In fact, Tongogara intimates that he does not trust the politicians and wants a soldier like Mhanda to be there within the party to watch his back.
Mhanda put it to him that if he genuinely needed his support, then he should first secure the release of the detained ZIPA commanders. Tongogara is categorical that the arrested ZIPA commanders had not committed any offence and dismissed all Mugabe’s allegations against ZIPA, as political intrigue and manoeuvring in pursuit of power:
“He [Tongogara ]believed that Mugabe would also turn against him, explaining that this was why he needed me as an ally. … It was clear that Tongogara did not have the power to reverse the decision to arrest the commanders.
His hands were tied. He literally shed tears as he pleaded with me [to cooperate with Mugabe], but I was unmoved.”
So, there we have it. Mhanda stands firm in rejecting the offer to work with Mugabe, while Tongogara emotionally appeals to him to reconsider his decision.
His efforts continue for the next two days and are complemented by ZANLA commander Vitalis Zvinavashe, but to no avail.
Mhanda does not relent. He is determined to join his detained colleagues.
His last day of freedom in Mozambique is 21 January 1977, and it is also the last time he sees Tongogara alive.
As he (Tongogara) had predicted, Tongogara does have a fallout with Mugabe, and he does not set foot in independent Zimbabwe.
What really happened between Mugabe and Tongogara? What was the nature of the contradictions between them? How did these differences manifest? More significantly, how did Tongogara die?
These and many other intriguing and daunting questions are addressed in later chapters of the book.
This is an excerpt from the book: In Search of the Elusive Zimbabwean Dream, Volume III (Ideas & Solutions) By Professor Arthur G.O. Mutambara.