It’s time for SA to honour Dabengwa


Jeremy Brickhill
ZIPRA veteran

In March this year Dr Dumiso Dabengwa was a guest speaker at the Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) (the armed wing of South Africa’s now governing ANC) Lilliesleaf Conference in South Africa. He revealed for the first time some details of the secret history of the support by the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu) and Zipra (the armed wing of the party led by the late vice-president and national hero Joshua Nkomo) to ANC and MK after Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980.

Explaining that “the role of Zapu and Zipra in supporting Umkhonto operations had to be kept secret”, he told the conference: “Zanu were openly hostile towards the ANC at that time and they were assisted in their efforts to block ANC/MK presence in Zimbabwe by former Rhodesians and the many South African agents operating in the Zimbabwe security services … (then) prime Minister (Robert) Mugabe had publicly stated his opposition to Umkhonto weSizwe establishing any presence in Zimbabwe … Those members of the ANC and MK who operated from Zimbabwe during this period know that it was trusted Zapu and Zipra members who arranged their safe houses, safe passage and provided weapons and other facilities to support the armed struggle inside South Africa. It was not Zanu”.

Dabengwa revealed that MK guerillas were hidden inside Zipra units operating inside Zimbabwe and that when this information was disclosed to the Zanu (PF) government by apartheid agents, Zipra was ordered to remove the South African freedom fighters from Zimbabwe.

“What has remained a closely guarded secret for many years was that we did not remove all the MK guerillas. We made a show to Zanu of removing some of them but others were hidden and provided with assistance by Zipra to establish themselves in our own towns and villages. So the first MK presence was established secretly in Zimbabwe with support from Zipra”.

Dabengwa stated that: “Whilst we of Zapu and Zipra were under direct threat and facing a wave of terror unleashed against us by the Zanu government, we continued to provide support and assistance to Umkhonto weSizwe and to underground ANC operatives in Zimbabwe”.

“As an illustration of how important this support was in enabling the ANC/MK to intensify the armed struggle, I am going today to reveal some of the details of one operation which has remained a closely guarded secret known only to a handful of comrades for over 30 years,” he said.

Dabengwa then made the startling disclosure that the well-planned and devastating attack on the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station in Cape Town — which caused serious damage with no injuries — by an Umkhonto weSizwe unit in December 1982 was a joint operation by Zipra and MK involving a senior Zipra/NSO (National Security Organisation) officer acting under his and the late Lt-General Lookout Masuku’s orders when they were in jail in Zimbabwe after being arrested and detained by former president Robert Mugabe’s regime on false treason charges.

Dabengwa did not disclose the identity of that officer, but respecting his wish that “this revolutionary bond between comrades-in-arms, sustained during a period of great difficulty, should be acknowledged and celebrated today as part of our common history of struggle”. I wish to confirm his information and proudly confess that I was the Zipra/NSO officer involved in this operation.

I provided other support to the ANC and MK over several years until I was critically injured in an assassination attempt in October 1987. The car bomb attack against me was carried out by an apartheid “death squad” assisted by serving members of the Zimbabwean security services.

I provided this assistance to the armed struggle in South Africa acting on the direct orders of Dabengwa. I was not alone in this regard. I leave it to the other comrades involved to describe their own role in supporting South African liberation.

But quoting Dabengwa’s remarks to the MK Conference, I would like to appeal to our comrades from the ANC and MK to acknowledge this history.

In particular, I appeal to our South African comrades to finally pay tribute to Dabengwa by bestowing on him the appropriate honours that he so richly deserves for his services to South African liberation.

Brickhill served in the military wing of the late vice-president Joshua Nkomo’s PF Zapu, Zipra, and has experience in conflict and post-conflict processes in Africa and the United Nations.