THE last two weeks in which Zanu PF’s low-key celebrations of the party’s controversial election victory were diluted by the deaths of two party stalwarts, Enos Nkala and Kumbirai Kangai, laid bare the shortage of documented accounts of Zimbabwe’s liberation war history by influential participants.
REPORT BY HERBERT MOYO
Although Zanu PF was formed at Nkala’s house on August 8 1963, he did not leave memoirs to capture this.
Kangai, a member of Zanu PF’s 1970s Dare reChimurenga which co-ordinated the war effort while leaders like President Robert Mugabe, Nkala, Edgar Tekere and others were in prison, also did not leave any written account of the guerrilla conflict.
Zimbabweans, still awaiting Nkala’s promised posthumous memoirs, had to contend with Mugabe’s hagiographical and glaringly selective account of his liberation war history and post-Independence role during his burial at the national Heroes Acre.
“Let me tell you my story as I walked the distance with Nkala from 1960 to the present day — Nkala, a gallant fighter, an unyielding fighter and a great friend,” Mugabe said as he began a long-winded and glowing eulogy.
Mugabe deliberately skirted the subject of Nkala’s corruption in the Willowvale Mazda Motor Industries scandal, dubbed Willowgate, and his role in the Gukurahundi massacres in Matabeleland and the Midlands in which about 20 000 people were reportedly killed in the 1980s by the North-Korean trained Fifth Brigade.
It was ditto for Kangai, whom Mugabe interestingly declared to have “been no thief”, despite corruption allegations that marred his tenure as Agriculture minister leading to his arrest in 2000.
He was eventually acquitted by the courts but Mugabe never made him a cabinet minister again.
A whole generation has passed since the attainment of Independence in 1980 and many of those who participated in it have since passed away.
Worryingly, the documentation of history, however controversial, appears to be anathema to Zimbabwe’s nationalists.
University of Zimbabwe History lecturer Joseph Mujere expressed disappointment that most nationalists have not written their accounts of the liberation war, saying it appears there is “some kind of fear about writing and this produces a gap in terms of that history”.
Thus there are so many contested issues and areas in the liberation war account which could never be clarified, especially as the numbers of those who participated in it are fast dwindling due to death.
Even former Vice-President Joseph Msika, who saw it all from the first nationalist political party, the Southern Rhodesia African National Congress through to the National Democratic Party, Zapu and ultimately Zanu PF, died in 2009 without leaving any written account despite numerous promises to correct the county’s distorted history.
Apart from the controversy over Mugabe’s own role, a contested area is that of when the liberation war actually started.
Zanu PF’s version has always been that the party kick-started the “Second Chimurenga” in Chinhoyi in 1966, a fact which has been disputed by former Zipra military supremo Dumiso Dabengwa and many of his former Zapu colleagues. Zapu says the war started in September 1962 with the attack on Sidube ranch.
Dabengwa gave a presentation at the University of Zimbabwe in 1990 in which he suggested Zipra had already started the war by 1966 and also spoke of how defections by leading Zipra military figures like Robson Manyika in the early 1970s prevented Zapu from taking advantage of former Mozambican president Samora Machel’s offer to launch the war from Mozambique.
In fact, Zapu has always been critical of the Zanu PF liberation war narrative and suspicious of government-backed attempts to come up with “patriotic” history.
In February 2006, Zapu officials in the united Zanu PF party in Gwanda stopped an initiative dubbed “capturing the fading national memory” to record oral testimonies of the Second Chimurenga.
This was despite the fact that the project was a joint Ministry of Home Affairs, University of Zimbabwe, National Museums and National Archives initiative, which had even received the blessing of Zanu PF at its annual people’s congress that was held at Mzingwane High School in Esigodini two months earlier.
Some officials openly questioned the logic of the exercise, saying that history had already been collected by the Mafela Trust, an organisation linked to former Zapu members.
The project which had been earmarked to run for two weeks was abandoned after just one day.
Only a handful of nationalists have written about the struggle and none more controversial than Zanu PF’s former secretary-general, Tekere, and Wilfred Mhanda –– a former guerrilla commander widely known by his liberation war name Dzinashe Machingura.
Throughout his political career, Tekere was a controversial character and at the launch of his autobiography A Life Time of Struggle in Harare in 2007 he cast aspersions on Mugabe’s role in the struggle and his leadership afterwards.
Tekere had no kind words for Mugabe who “we created when we influenced his leadership of Zanu”.
Tekere said: “Mugabe has become a liability to the party (Zanu PF) I call mine. He has become a liability to the entire Zimbabwe. Ibbo (Mandaza) wanted me to apologise to the people of Zimbabwe for bringing Mugabe to the leadership. It just happened. However, it is an unfortunate happening.”
In his autobiography Tekere opened a Pandora’s Box by suggesting Mugabe played a peripheral rather than central role in the liberation war, describing his meteoric rise to the leadership of Zanu as an accident which was facilitated by the deaths of the party’s leading lights in the 1970s.
“Ndabaningi Sithole had been sacked, Leopold Takawira the vice president had died in detention, Herbert Chitepo had been killed and the secretary-general was Mugabe. Thus it was that Mugabe went with me into exile. It was made clear that he was not going as president of the party, but he had the authority to speak on behalf of Zanu,” wrote Tekere much to the chagrin of Mugabe and the Zanu PF establishment.
Like Tekere, Mhanda who wrote Memories of a Freedom Fighter said he had been motivated to write by the prevalence of an inaccurate “patriotic history and the overwhelming one-sided narration by those who wield power and influence”.
“There was need to counter-balance, to actually expose what actually happened. So we owe it to the people of Zimbabwe to give an accurate account of what actually transpired during the critical phase of the struggle particularly between 1975 and 1977,” Mhanda said.
Mujere said such “few recent accounts by Tekere and Mhanda have added to the historiography by challenging the existing hegemonic history”.
Instead of writing, Mugabe frequently takes advantage of public gatherings like campaign rallies and funerals of heroes to regale his audience with his own accounts of the liberation struggle.
Historians say Zimbabweans need to document their history in order to illuminate any grey areas and in this they need to look no further than South Africa where the likes of former presidents Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and other ANC luminaries all have documented accounts of their roles in their country’s liberation struggle.