TO go or not to go? That is the question. And damned if he does; damned if he does not.
This is the dilemma President Emmerson Mnangagwa faces tomorrow over whether or not to attend the burial of liberation war hero Dumiso Dabengwa at his Ntabazinduna rural home outside Bulawayo.
Dabengwa died in Nairobi, Kenya, on Thursday last week, while coming from India where he had gone for treatment.
Government sources and insiders within the Dabengwa family said there had been serious agonising on both sides over Mnangagwa’s presence. On his part, sources say, he wants to attend, but he fears a backlash. On the part of the family, insiders said, he is not wanted there.
The presence of MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa, the president’s bitter rival, Chief Nhlanhlayamangwe Ndiweni and Dabengwa’s allies from the region, especially South Africa, also further complicates Mnangagwa’s position, insiders said.
Dabengwa is expected to be airlifted to Ntabazinduna tomorrow morning where he will be laid to rest later in the day. A funeral service will be held for him today at White City Stadium in Bulawayo.
Hundreds of people are expected to attend.
Foreign dignitaries, among them members of South Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC), as well as its former military wing, Umkhonto weSizwe (MK), are expected to attend Dabengwa’s burial.
Dabengwa worked closely with MK commanders during the struggle against apartheid. Zipra and MK had joint operations, including the Wankie and Sipolilo campaigns in 1967 and the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station bombing in Cape Town in 1982.
However, Mugabe, after Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, refused to allow MK to operate from Zimbabwe, while Mnangagwa was sent to cut deals with apartheid generals who were fighting the ANC and its military wing. Mugabe only reluctantly offered political and diplomatic support after many repeated requests.
Zapu secretary Strike Mnkandla, who is leading the preparations for Dabengwa’s burial, said a number of foreign dignitaries are expected to attend the burial.
“We have been receiving various notices from people who want to attend,” Mnkandla said. “We have been advised dignitaries from South Africa are going to be in attendance. There are some from other countries such as Botswana, Zambia, and other countries where Dabengwa operated from who have indicated that they will be coming for his burial.
“At home, we expect representation from From all the political parties, government included. We have put in place a programme and we have lined up various speakers who will deliver messages to the nation as well as the Dabengwa family on Saturday.”
However, government could not confirm Mnangagwa’s attendance.
While presidential spokesperson George Charamba’s phone went unanswered, Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said she was not the right person to comment on the matter.
“The person to talk to is George Charamba who is in charge of presidential communications,” she said.
Mnangagwa was instrumental in the framing and arrest of senior PF Zapu leaders and Zipra commanders during the early 1980s as his then boss, former president Robert Mugabe, sought to crush Zapu and its leader Joshua Nkomo to ensure a one-party state and consolidate power.
“Mnangagwa is in a dilemma over the Dabengwa funeral and burial,” a senior government official said. “Ordinarily, he would have wanted to go given Dabengwa’s illustrious history and record — remember last week he paid a glowing tribute to him — but the atmosphere is hostile. Even senior Zanu PF leaders who went there led by Vice-President Kembo Mohadi could feel the tensions. They were given a frozen reception after government tried to hijack Dabengwa’s body from Kenya to transport it to Bulawayo via Harare for authorities to pontificate over his body at army barracks. How about Mnangagwa himself seen as Dabengwa’s main tormentor and the Gukurahundi enforcer?”
Besides helping to arrest and jail Dabengwa, even after being acquitted by the courts, Mnangagwa is widely accused of spearheading the Gukurahundi massacres.
A close Dabengwa family member said: “The truth is that Mnangagwa is not wanted here. The mood is sombre and explosive. If he attends, he might be confronted with hostility as a result of the frosty relations that existed between the two of them and the tensions within the family over his role in persecuting Dabengwa.”
Mnangagwa last year made several attempts to lure Dabengwa back to Zanu PF and government, but the former Home Affairs minister turned down the offer, saying he would only be willing to serve in government as a Zapu leader in line with the 1987 Unity Accord between PF Zapu and Zanu PF.
He had also demanded that government, among other remedial actions, return Zapu properties seized by government and implement the devolution of power as enshrined in the constitution.
During his lifetime, Dabengwa and Mnangagwa had a turbulent relationship stemming from the latter’s role in his incarceration during the Gukurahundi era.
Mnangagwa was the State Security minister at the time.
The late Zipra intelligence chief was arrested alongside Zapu leaders, including the late Zipra commander Lookout Masuku, following the alleged discovery of arms caches on a farm owned by Zapu near Bulawayo in February 1982.
Masuku died in chains in hospital as a result of the detention and torture.
Although Dabengwa and Masuku were acquitted of treason in April 1983, they were immediately re-arrested and detained until the latter’s death in 1986. Dabengwa was released in 1987.
In an interview in 2017, Dabengwa said late former Defence minister Enos Nkala, the late Edison Zvobgo and Mnangagwa visited him in Chikurubi Maximum Prison in 1986 after the death of Masuku offering him freedom on condition that he joined Zanu PF.
“I said to them that could only happen over my dead body. I made it clear that I would not betray Zapu. I would not turn my back on the people that were being killed by them,” Dabengwa told them.
Dabengwa once told the Independent in an exclusive interview in 1999 at his Mkwati Building offices in Harare that if he had a chance to be alone with Mugabe or Mnangagwa, he would not hesitate to punch them in the face.
This week, Zanu PF MPs stoked the tensions over the Dabengwa issue after they refused to observe a minute of silence in his honour in the National Assembly following a request by MDC chief whip Prosper Mutseyami.
Opposition and independent MP Temba Mliswa stood up to observe the minute of silence, but Zanu PF legislators remained seated. Mliswa accused Zanu PF MPs of fuelling toxic politics and tribalism.
Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Phillip Valerio Sibanda yesterday described the late Dabengwa as a humble man who did not abuse his rank in the army to get favours.
Sibanda spoke at Dabengwa’s funeral wake in Bulawayo where he and other service chiefs visited the family to pay their last respects.
Accompanying Sibanda was Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services commander Paradzai Zimondi as well as Air Vice-Marshal Biltim Chingono and other service chiefs.
“I would like to say that all of us here worked with DD (Dabengwa) in one way or another, either during the war or after the war of liberation. We thought that as leaders of security services we would come and pay our respects to the family,” Sibanda said. “I met DD in around 1976. If there is one thing that struck me then and up to the time of his passing on, it is his humility. He was quite senior in the party (Zapu), but he was never imposing on anyone.”
Sibanda said despite Dabengwa being soft spoken, the former Home Affairs minister was firm in his execution of duties.
“DD has gone. But one thing that he did was that even when he was a minister (of Home Affairs), he never pulled rank. That is a legacy that he has left.
Secondly, he has left us and taught us to dedicate ourselves to our country. That is a gift that God had given him and we are grateful for his contribution and sacrifice to the country.”