PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe will be one of only three survivors of the 1977 Zanu post-congress leadership when he takes his place at the party’s annual December conference following the purges of former vice-president Joice Mujuru and other senior officials in the run-up and after last December’s congress.
Mugabe was elevated to the Zanu leadership at a special congress in Chimoio, Mozambique, in 1977.
The congress also formally booted out founding leader Ndabaningi Sithole.
Of the people who attended the congress, only Mugabe, current vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was elected special assistant to the president and current Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi, elected health secretary, are the surviving leaders from the 1977 class currently in Zanu PF.
Mugabe’s springboard into the Zanu leadership was what became known as the Mgagao Declaration, signed by young military officers at the main Zanla training camp in Tanzania at the height of the liberation struggle in 1975.
In that document, authored by Zanla officers including Mujuru’s husband, the late General Solomon Mujuru, and Wilfred Mhanda, Mugabe was described as an outstanding nationalist leader who “has demonstrated this by defying the rigours of guerrilla life in the jungles of Mozambique … Since we respect him most — we can only talk through Robert Mugabe.”
The declaration laid the basis for the removal of Sithole as leader of Zanu.
It also laid the foundation for the elevation of Mugabe as leader of the party at the Chimoio congress two years later.
Other leaders to emerge from the congress are Simon Muzenda (vice-president) Edgar Tekere (secretary-general), Josiah Tongogara (chief of defence) Didymus Mutasa (external secretary), Dzingai Mutumbuka (education), Henry Hamadziripi (financial secretary), Kumbirai Kangai (welfare), Nathan Shamuyarira (administration) and Herbert Ushewokunze (political commissar).
Mujuru attended the Chimoio congress and was elected secretary for women’s affairs, but like Mutasa and other liberation stalwarts such as Rugare Gumbo, she was purged by Mugabe on unproven allegations of plotting his ouster and even assassination in order to pave the way for her elevation.
As a consequence, Mugabe will be surrounded at the high table by relatively newcomers who played no part in his ascendancy and these include his wife Grace as well as the likes of Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko and Simon Khaya Moyo who were members of the rival Zapu nationalist party led by the late Joshua Nkomo.
Others in the present crop of party leaders are Ignatius Chombo (secretary for administration), Saviour Kasukuwere (political commissar), Obert Mpofu (finance), Kembo Mohadi (national security) and Simbarashe Mumbengegwi (external affairs).
The awkward situation is however of Mugabe’s own making having purged the living old guard including Mujuru, who together with her husband played a prominent role in his rise after initial resistance from then Mozambican president Samora Machel, as well as Zanla officers who included the likes of Mhanda.
“Machel had banished Edgar Tekere and Robert Mugabe to the coastal town of Quelimane, which was far removed from both the refugee camps and the border with Rhodesia, because in his own words, he ‘did not trust Mugabe’,” wrote Mhanda in his book, Dzino: Memories of a Freedom Fighter.
However, sometime in July 1976, the Zipa High Command arranged to smuggle Tekere, then a member of the Zanu Central Committee into our camp in Chimoio.”
Mhanda also narrated that they smuggled Mugabe into their Chimoio camp a month later with Mujuru prominently involved in the arrangements including ensuring that his security arrangements “would very tight”.
He further stated that he and other officers in the Zimbabwe People’s Army (Zipa), with the exception of Solomon, quickly developed misgivings about Mugabe’s suitability as a leader.
From that point onwards, it was Solomon Mujuru who defied their opposition to Mugabe and played a decisive role in enabling him to take control of Zanla troops and camps as well as the party.
Mhanda stated that Solomon Mujuru “sold out” so that Mugabe could take over.
“Without that historical ‘sell out’ in Beira, Mozambique, in January 1977, Mugabe and the old nationalist guard might have been relegated to the dustbin of history in favour of Machingura and his Zimbabwe People’s Army (Zipa) ‘revolutionaries’, hardly three years before Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980,” reads part of the book.
It was also Solomon Mujuru’s intervention in 1978 that saved the day not only for Mugabe and the old nationalist guard, but also for Zanla commander Josiah Tongogara.
This was during the purported “coup” attempt led by Joseph Taderera which subsequently implicated the former Dare ReChimurenga members, namely Gumbo, Hamadziripi and Kangai.
However, all past loyalties and assistance count for nothing in the present as Mugabe heads to the December conference with relative newcomers in place of his erstwhile allies.
On the eve of last year’s congress, he spoke of “a future without present leaders”, also pointing out that “so we will go also those of us in leadership, one day”.
But it is not just death that has deprived Zanu PF of its old guard as Mugabe suggested — many of the living have been sacrificed because they were perceived to be obstacles to his continued stranglehold on power. And that may well be his legacy — divisions, turmoil and bitterness in the ruling party.