MY relationship with my brother and comrade Dumiso Dabengwa goes back to our first meeting in Francistown, Botswana, in mid-1977.
This was the period during which I was liaising with others, like the late Mike Mungati at Selebi-Phikwe, in arranging the transportation of recruits into the armed struggle, from across the border in Zimbabwe, but many who had feigned admission to migrant labour in South Africa and then crossing into Botswana, for the journey to Lusaka or Maputo.
As it was in 1977/78, many of these recruits were flown directly from Selebi-Phikwe in Botswana to Nigeria (thanks to presidents Murttala Mohammed and Olusegun Obasanjo), to receive crash military training before returning to Lusaka or Maputo as crucial reinforcements during the last stage of the armed struggle being waged by the Patriotic Front against the settler colonialists in Zimbabwe.
Of course, I had heard of Dabengwa and those of his generation that had been the first group of guerrillas in the early 1960s. As a teacher at Kutama in 1971/72, I had heard that Dabengwa had been a student of this illustrious institution during the early 1950s and, subsequently, on release from detention in 1973, I taught Dabengwa’s sons (his brother’s sons Sifiso Raymond and the late Eric Dabengwa) at Marist Brothers College in Kwekwe, before my departure for exile a year later.
So, quite naturally, this brief association with his sons was the backdrop and foundation of the very personal relationship with my elder brother, Dabengwa, from that day in Francistown, to his final days in India, not to mention the bad news from his devoted wife Zodwa, in the early hours of May 23 2019: “Du is gone this morning as the plane was landing in Nairobi.”
And yet only a few days earlier on May 9 and 10, Zodwa and I had exchanged words of hope that Dabengwa would recover, even as the doctors in Mumbai had just transferred him to the intensive care unit for monitoring, much to the chagrin of a man who was impatient to go back and die at home. Well, he almost made it.
In a longer obituary in these pages, Miles-Tendi has outlined Dabengwa’s role in both the struggle for liberation and the establishment of the state in Zimbabwe at Independence in 1980.
I was a witness, albeit only in a very limited capacity as a junior functionary attached to Dabengwa and Rex Nhongo (the late Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Solomon Mujuru) during that period, to the role of the Ceasefire Commission that began its work just after the Lancaster House agreement on December 22 1979, and was responsible for both maintaining the relative peace throughout this period towards Independence Day on April 18, 1980 and the delicate task of integrating Zipra, Zanla and Rhodesian forces into the Zimbabwe Defence Forces.
Likewise, the various tributes have highlighted the benchmarks in the history and life of this gallant son of the soil. I regret so much that we did not push him hard enough towards the autobiography which, on the occasion of his resignation from Zanu PF and simultaneous endorsement of the Mavambo-Kusile-Dawn project in February 2008, at the Bulawayo City Hall, he undertook to write and have me publish, like I had done for Edgar Tekere in 2007.
Nevertheless, I do hope there is such a manuscript somewhere, at least something that can provide another rare insight into this complexity that has been Zimbabwe’s recent history.
Any account on Dabengwa will have to include his quest, right to the very end, for a better Zimbabwe, not least having been a member of the Platform for Concerned Citizens, a small group of those of us who have been advocating the National Transitional Authority (NTA) since 2016.
Perhaps because a number of his former Zipra comrades had been involved in what some had been deceived into believing might be the basis for such an NTA, Dabengwa had welcomed the coup of November 2017, but only for a few days before the event began exposing itself (and even these former comrades) for what is the reality — a continuation of the nightmare that Zimbabweans have had to endure for most of the post-independence period.
As Dabengwa said during one of our conversations in January this year, the situation in Zimbabwe is getting worse before it gets better, as the demise of former president Robert Mugabe’s regime — which is continuing under Emmerson Mnangagwa’s leadership — enters its final days.
Dr Mandaza is facilitator of the Sapes Trust Dialogue Series and convenor of the National Transitional Authority.