FORMER cabinet minister, the late Kumbirai Kangai, who collapsed and died at the weekend was stalked by controversy for decades dating from the liberation struggle when he was accused of assassinating Zanu chairman Hebert Chitepo, through the Samson Paweni scandal involving the importation of grain during the severe drought of 1982 and right up to the looting of maize at the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) when he was minister of agriculture.
However, Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo in an interview this week sang eulogies to Kangai, saying he deserved to be conferred hero status considering his contribution to the liberation struggle and nation building after Independence.
With their relationship dating back to 1960 when they first met at Zimuto Secondary School in Masvingo when Gumbo was doing Form Three and Kangai was a temporary teacher, the two drew closer together and shared a lot of experiences in a period spanning over 50 years.
After separating for a while in 1960, Gumbo and Kangai reconnected in 1965 in the United States during demonstrations against Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence.
At that time, Kangai was Zanu PF’s chief representative in North America, while Gumbo was an activist based in New York.
When Chitepo made a call for those who were based in the US to join the liberation struggle, Gumbo and Kangai were both elected into the Dare ReChimurenga which was charged with spearheading the armed struggle for Independence.
Gumbo was secretary for information and publicity, while Kangai took care of the transport and welfare needs of freedom fighters, and mobilising the masses to support the struggle.
Kangai and Gumbo were then sent to China to study the Chinese Revolution. “We refocused and transformed the liberation struggle from a nationalist approach to a revolutionary force based on guerilla warfare,” said Gumbo in an interview on Wednesday. “The war became a people’s war and we worked together with Kangai and others, using tips we received from China.”
Apart from Kangai and Gumbo, other members of the Dare ReChimurenga were Chitepo, Kudzai Mudzi, Henry Hamadziripi, Noel Mukono, Josiah Tongogara and John Mataure — all late. This means Gumbo is the only Dare ReChimurenga member surviving.
It was during their era as members of the Dare ReChimurenga that Chitepo, who was Zanu PF chairperson, was assassinated at his home in a car bomb in 1975 in Lusaka, Zambia, that Gumbo and Kangai were arrested by the Zambian government under Kenneth Kaunda.
Speculation was rife Kangai was involved in the murder of Chitepo, but Gumbo defended his friend by exonerating him of any involvement in the assassination.
“We were arrested by the Zambian government on March 18, 1975 over the murder of Chitepo but we put out a position that he was murdered by the Rhodesian forces. We were incarcerated in Zambia at Kabwe Maximum Prison which is just like Chikurubi Maximum Prison here. Kangai was not involved in the killing of Chitepo even though all of us were arrested; none of us was involved. There was nothing of that nature,” said Gumbo.
“Chitepo was well protected and he had bodyguards. He died from a sophisticated bomb made by the Rhodesians; Kangai, Tongogara, Hamadziripi and myself were certainly not involved.”
Kangai was also accused of fuelling tribal divisions during the war where he led the Manyikas while Gumbo led the Karangas, but the latter said the 1970s disturbances in Zanu were caused by one of the commanders, Dakarai Badza who was used by the Rhodesian forces to cause divisions and arrest of the leadership.
Gumbo insisted that he remained friends with Kangai until the time of his death, alleging tribal divisions were the work of the “enemy” and that was resolved by the Zanu leadership.
At Independence in 1980, Kangai became Labour and Social Services minister, a position in which Gumbo said the late nationalist managed to tackle issues related to labour unrests, before he was moved to the Agriculture ministry.
It was during his tenure as Agriculture minister in the late 1990s that the British, through their then Development minister Claire Short, wrote that they were not going to provide compensation for the land reform programme.
However, the major highlight of Kangai’s controversial legacy were allegations of corruption during the Paweni scandal and later defrauding of the GMB and causing severe food shortages in the country. He was embroiled in another multi-million dollar tender procedures scandal at the GMB, but Gumbo defended him saying he was acquitted by the courts, meaning the allegations were baseless.
“The allegations didn’t taint his image because they were unfounded.
I don’t think there was any case. The enemies of the government or his enemies wanted to tarnish him. I knew him well; he was not a corrupt character. We lost a reliable, strong cadre of the party; we could depend on him at any time and on anything.
“He was committed, selfless and uncompromising, and there is no doubt he contributed enormously to the development of the country,” Gumbo said.