By Professor Arthur G.O. Mutambara
In private discussions, Mugabe has immense respect for Herbert Chitepo – Zimbabwe’s first Black barrister (qualified in 1954), ZANU’s distinguished Chairman, a dedicated revolutionary and resolute freedom fighter – who was killed in Zambia on 18 March 1975.
He explains that the main reason he went to Ghana in 1957 was to work and raise money so that he could go to London and train as a lawyer like Chitepo.
Robert Mugabe says:
“Herbert Chitepo was my role model.”
Even when he returns from Ghana and joins the nationalists in 1960 (NDP), Mugabe is under the political tutelage of Herbert Chitepo.
I guess his narcissism and inflated ego would not allow him to publicly acknowledge Chitepo as a personal inspiration or potential mentor.
Of course, he wants to ride on the farcical fiction and myth cultivated by his ZANU-PF sycophants, propagandists and bootlickers that he is the alpha and omega of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle.
Zimbabwe’s only founding father, a freedom fighter with neither peers nor equals.
It is as if Robert Mugabe was carrying two guns and fighting alone to liberate the country.
Yet, by the end of the war in 1979, he could not even fire a pistol.
The only African leader Mugabe acknowledges publicly is Kwame Nkrumah.
“He was my inspirer,” he asserts on one occasion at a public event.
I guess Nkrumah is too distant from Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle to dent Mugabe’s unflinching and firm grip on its narrative.
The ZANU-PF functionaries (with Mugabe’s blessing) would want the country to believe that Chitepo wanted to be like Mugabe.
Quite the opposite!
Robert Mugabe was unworthy and unqualified to untie Herbert Chitepo’s shoes.
This, he confesses to me, without equivocation or ambiguity.
I also discover that, quite contrary to ZANU-PF’s inspired conventional wisdom, buttressed by his own public utterances, Mugabe does not share the view that the external ZANU’s Dare ReChimurenga (Revolutionary War Council) and the ZANLA High Command were completely innocent in the death of Herbert Chitepo.
Privately, Robert Mugabe does not believe in that cheap propaganda.
A cruel distortion of history.
While he sees the potential hand of Ian Smith and the likely complicity of the Zambian government – given Kenneth Kaunda’s antipathy towards ZANU and undiluted affinity for ZAPU – he is quite disparaging about the goings-on in ZANU’s Dare leading to Chitepo’s death.
He was quite fond of John Mataure – Dare’s Political Commissar – who Tongogara (Dare Secretary of Defence and ZANLA High Command’s Chief of defence) and other Dare leaders shamelessly acknowledge “was killed at the hands of ZANU” after the crushing of the Nhari Rebellion, and just before the assassination of Herbert Chitepo.
“How could they do that?
John Mataure was a good man – a committed freedom fighter.
He is the one I gave the party office keys when I left Tanzania for Rhodesia in 1963.
My information is that they asked William Ndangana to do the actual killing since he was also a Manyika like John.
This was supposed to demonstrate Ndangana’s loyalty and absolve him of the Manyika conspiracy they were levelling against John Mataure and Herbert Chitepo.
It was terrible and unconscionable stuff.
The goings-on in Dare and the High Command in 1974 and 1975 were quite deplorable.”
I must state that Mugabe’s position that Ndangana did the gruesome and despicable killing of John Mataure is disputed by Rugare Gumbo, ex-Dare ReChimurenga Information and Publicity Secretary (the only surviving Dare member).
In my conversation with him in August 2022, a visibly agitated Rugare Gumbo asserts that:
“No, that is not correct. It was Robson Manyika who did it.
William Ndangana had been one of those arrested by the Nhari rebels.
Mugabe blames Ndangana to shield and protect Robson Manyika – a fellow Zezuru.”
Indeed, 1974 and 1975 are really ugly years in the history of ZANU.
Unbridled ethnic conflict, internal strife and violence, unprecedented power struggles, and gruesome murder among revolutionary colleagues.
The Nhari Rebellion occurs in November 1974, during the liberation struggle, when ZANLA cadres in Chifombo, Zambia, rebel against ZANU’s Dare ReChimurenga (War Council) leadership and the ZANLA High Command.
The uprising is led by ZANLA Field Commanders Thomas Nhari and Dakarai Badza.
The uprising is viciously thwarted, and all the key participants and leaders are brutally executed.
In the trials conducted by ZANU’s Dare ReChimurenga after the Nhari Rebellion, the Political Commissar John Mataure is accused and convicted of collaborating with the rebels.
Various accounts of his execution indicate barbaric torture leading to a gruesome killing.
John Mataure died a terribly painful death.
In the same post-Nhari Rebellion reprisals, Herbert Chitepo, Dare’s Chairman, is pronounced by his colleagues to be a suspect with a curious caveat:
“However, there is not enough evidence at the moment.”
This Dare position on Herbert Chitepo’s culpability is well-documented in the literature of that episode.
Nevertheless, when Chitepo is killed on 18 March 1975, ZANU’S Dare ReChimurenga and the ZANLA High Command deny any involvement.
Unsaid in Mugabe’s views and remarks about the circumstances leading to Herbert Chitepo’s death is the intelligent assessment that if you can kill your own party’s Political Commissar (John Mataure) and accept full responsibility for it, what will stop you from killing the party’s Chairman – Herbert Chitepo?
As indicated earlier, Josiah Tongogara (Dare Secretary of Defence and ZANLA High Command’s Chief of Defence) is widely quoted as saying:
“Yes, John Mataure – the Dare Political Commissar was killed at the hands of ZANU.”
How is the murder of the Political Commissar different from that of the Chairman?
Why is it OK to kill your party’s Political Commissar?
Is it a more acceptable crime?
Surely, if organisationally you find it sound, rational and proper to brutally eliminate the Political Commissar of your party, nothing can stop you from taking similar action against the Chairman.
Moreso, if he is: “Guilty, but no evidence at the moment.”
It is called common sense.
However, what I find most intriguing and revealing is that with all his views about the potential role of ZANU’s Dare ReChimurenga and the ZANLA High Command in the death of Chitepo, ZANU Secretary General Robert Mugabe goes on to, publicly (in 1975 and 1976) and opportunistically, totally absolve (without any shred of evidence) the ZANU Dare leadership and the ZANLA High Command who had been arrested over Chitepo’s death.
He brazenly blames Ian Smith and Kenneth Kaunda for the tragedy.
Of course, this is a Machiavellian masterstroke on Mugabe’s part!
Because the beleaguered (after having been illegally overthrown by his colleagues while in detention) ZANU President Ndabaningi Sithole – being both principled and naive – condemns the arrested Dare and High Command leaders.
“ Justice must take its course.
The detained leaders must be tried.”
In that one swift and calculated move alone, Mugabe gets the support of the entire detained Dare leadership and Tongogara’s High Command, while Ndabaningi loses the same folks.
Combining this spectacular feat by Mugabe with the October 1975 Mgagao declaration by ZANLA fighters who endorse him as their spokesperson, he is on his way to taking total and unquestionable control of the external ZANU wing, more specifically and importantly, the ZANLA forces.
Whoever controls the ZANLA forces is the ZANU leader.
Bona’s son’s ascendancy to the leadership of ZANU is now unstoppable!
Conversely, Ndabaningi Sithole’s fate is sealed!
The Dare and High Command leaders detained in Zambia (over Chitepo’s death) are thoroughly disappointed with Sithole.
They are totally disenchanted with him.
In particular, Tongogara is palpably furious and apoplectic with rage.
“I defended you (Sithole) when you were unprocedurally and fraudulently removed from the presidency of ZANU by Central Committee members in detention [in then Rhodesia].
We condemned and refused to recognise that foolish coup d’état engineered by Edgar Tekere and others.
Now, you are betraying me regarding Chitepo’s death.”
One of the detained ZANU Dare leaders, Information and Publicity Secretary Rugare Gumbo, who later falls out with Mugabe at two separate historical points, says to me:
“When we were detained in Zambia after the death of Chitepo, and Robert Mugabe supported us and blamed Smith and Kaunda for the murder, we said:
‘Now that is our leader.’
We immediately denounced Ndabaningi Sithole and embraced Mugabe.
Of course, we lived to regret it.
We had jumped the gun.
It was a monumental error.”
Rejoinder: Mnangagwa of November 2017 versus Mugabe of April 1980
With hindsight, it is not correct to say that in November 2017, the interests of the political elites (the rulers) coincided with those of the ruled (the ordinary folks).
The elites duped the people into supporting a coup d’état that had nothing to do with people.
The people thought – wrongly – that the departure of Robert Mugabe would signal a break with the past and a step into a new dispensation characterised by a democratic, prosperous and inclusive Zimbabwe.
Yes, people freely marched without coercion or enticement.
However, their agenda and that of the coup plotters were at cross purposes.
Put differently, the coup plotters missed an opportunity to embrace the people’s agenda and harness the global convergence of goodwill that characterised the country, continent and the globe, after the coup.
It was a huge missed opportunity.
The goodwill was shamefully squandered.
In fact, at a cynical level, if they had done that, their rulership could have been sustained while the country would be in better shape.
Lack of strategic thinking, crass, narrow, misplaced self-interest and outright absence of Machiavellian instincts were the order of the day.
Emmerson Mnangagwa miserably failed to utilise the coup d’état dividend to entrench himself effectively.
Indeed, after the coup, because of lack of strategic insight and foresight, Emmerson worked against his own self-interest.
Not to talk about the national interest.
Now, he is thoroughly discredited, gallivanting from one discredited election to the next.
And the country is in a mess!
It did not have to be this way.
Why did Emmerson not learn from his master and mentor?
Robert Mugabe, with all his faults, had better instincts after his victory in the 1980 elections.
He tried to harness the goodwill granted to the new nation by reaching out to Joshua Nkomo and Ian Smith.
Of course, this was short-lived, as Gukurahundi would soon follow.
It was downhill from there.
However, let us examine what he did after his ascendancy in 1980.
Tactically, he knew the Rhodesians could undermine him.
They still controlled the state infrastructure and instruments of violence in all respects.
His party had won but was inexperienced in statecraft.
They were vulnerable.
Although he had won outright – 57 out of 80 of the open parliamentary seats – he needed time to establish an administration and consolidate his grip on national power.
In our discussions at State House, Robert Mugabe clearly explained his intricate and nuanced manoeuvring to me:
“I had to proceed very carefully and strategically, indeed.
We invited our colleagues from ZAPU into government.
With Smith, I told him I wanted to include some of his people in my government.
He wanted to give me the names.
I said: ‘No, I will choose on my own from your people.’
Smith reluctantly agreed.
That is how we ended up with the likes of David Smith, Chris Anderson and Dennis Norman.
In fact, I continued with Ian Smith’s Chief Secretary to the Cabinet – Justice George Smith – for nearly five years.
I also kept Ian Smith’s Private Secretary – Constantine ‘Costa’ Pafitis – up to 1982.
Of course, we continued with all the Rhodesian security chiefs heading the Army, Police and CIO, including Peter Walls, Ken Flower and David ‘Dan’ Stannard.
Well, the Selous Scouts – those we immediately disbanded as an outfit.
More significantly, I would meet with Ian Smith on Monday before every Cabinet meeting which was held on Tuesday.
I did this every week.
I only stopped because Smith was now going around saying:
‘That Robert Mugabe knows nothing.
Every Monday, I give him all the ideas that he is implementing.’
Of course, I had to put an end to the Monday meetings with Ian Smith.
There you are.
So, yes, indeed, we tried to move with care in 1980.
Of course, we never trusted the Rhodesians.
I made them think that I trusted them. When we were good and ready, we got rid of them.
You know how we dealt with people like Peter Walls and others.”
So that is how a Machiavellian Mugabe played the game in 1980!
A cunning, strategic and astute poker player.
Robert Mugabe worked with his worst enemies to consolidate his grip on power and entrench himself.
If only Mnangagwa had 10 per cent of that political aptitude and sophistication in 2017, Zimbabwe would be a different place today.
Even his colleagues and supporters acknowledge Emmerson’s unmitigated folly.
ZANU-PF stalwart Tshinga Dube, in his autobiography released in November 2019, argues that Zimbabwe could have fared much better if Emmerson Mnangagwa had reached out to Morgan Tsvangirai, with a view to set up an inclusive transitional arrangement, soon after the coup d’état of November 2017:
“… If the MDC Alliance was brought closer when the new dispensation was ushered, we would today be in a different situation.
We would have emerged out of the woods and exited a life of perennial doom and gloom.
The lost opportunity has cost us immensely. We have without doubt retrogressed.”
Dube posits that Mnangagwa’s “bid to grab everything while leaving out the main opposition MDC that helped him camouflage to the world as a popular uprising, what had all the hallmarks of a coup, has backfired …”
This is a common-sense position that we have articulated elsewhere in this book.
However, it is refreshing to see the same views being regurgitated by ZANU-PF leaders.
This means that Mnangagwa’s lack of strategic thinking, political acumen and governance gravitas is common cause even among his party members.
What a pity.
Zimbabwe deserves a better leader.
This is an excerpt from the book: In Search of the Elusive Zimbabwean Dream, Volume III (Ideas & Solutions)
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