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Zim’s critical historical juncture

IF Zanu’s liberation struggle military wing, Zanla commander Josiah Magama Tongogara had not died in a mysterious accident in December 1979, Zimbabwe’s course of history after Independence in 1980 could have been different.

Editor’s Memo,Dumisani Muleya

This issue — which has always exercised the minds of many for some time now — came to the fore last week when Tongogara’s liberation struggle contemporary and counterpart, Zipra intelligence supremo Dumiso Dabengwa, died after some long illness.

Zipra was Zapu’s military wing.

Dabengwa, who was also overall Zipra commander, died in Nairobi, Kenya, on his way back from hospital in India. Even though he was declared a national hero (no one in Zanu now is qualified to judge his hero status), he will be buried tomorrow at his rural Ntabazinduna home outside Bulawayo. That was his wish.

The Tongogara-Dabengwa alliance, largely crystallised during the 1979 Lancaster House talks in London, could have taken Zimbabwe on a different course if they had prevailed.

Not just because Tongogara and Dabengwa were towering military figures during the struggle who played a critical role, but due to their vision.

Tongogara, especially, wanted a different trajectory for Zimbabwe from that of the Zanu leadership, particularly former president Robert Mugabe. He wanted a united and peaceful nation with a stable political environment for economic development and progress after the first democratic elections in 1980.
For he reckoned the alternative would be political strife between the main wings of the liberation movement, instability and destruction.

The unity of the liberation movement, its leadership and the elections were at the centre of Tongogara and Dabengwa’s numerous secret meetings behind the scenes at the Lancaster House talks to broker a ceasefire, a transitional constitution and hold elections under the aegis of the British.

But Tongogara and Dabengwa foresaw potential problems and sought to prevent them through unity between Zapu and Zanu. Their thinking and proposal was informed by the need to manage the delicate transition properly to ensure smooth state formation and nation-building.

They wanted to ensure a stable, peaceful and prosperous society. Power and the trappings of office were not their major designs. Building an inclusive society, economy, and polity to meet the basic needs of the people was.
During Lancaster, Tongogara mingled freely with Ian Smith and his delegation led by Bishop Abel Muzorewa, but Mugabe and senior Zanu leaders said they could not “drink tea with murderers”.

But Tongogara, just like Joshua Nkomo and his Zapu delegation, were open-minded in their political calculus.
As a result, Tongogara proposed Zanu and Zapu should come together to fight elections as a joint force with Nkomo as front man. Tongogara saw Nkomo as a “leader”, while he viewed Mugabe as an “administrator”.

There is significant literature on this. Australian historian Stuart Doran’s book, Kingdom, power, glory: Mugabe, Zanu and the quest for supremacy, 1960–1987, which provides a comprehensive account of Zimbabwe’s early formative years, deals with the Tongogara-Dabengwa plan in detail.

Dabengwa was also widely recorded corroborating the story and narrative.

However, Mugabe, naturally, disagreed and threw a spanner in the works. He was ambitious and power-hungry.

What then happened when Mugabe eventually took over was what precisely Tongogara and Dabengwa feared.

The early years of Independence were blighted by conflict and bloodshed, culminating in the Gukurahundi massacres from 1982-87.

In pursuit of a one-party state and consolidation of power, as well as ethnic schemata, Mugabe unleashed a tsunami of political violence and military brutality on Zapu and its leaders. Dabengwa, among many others, was arrested on false treason charges. Nkomo escaped attempted assassination and ironically fled to London.

In the end, Mugabe became an African dictator caricature who destroyed an entire country by greedily clinging onto power for 37 years. He had to be ousted through a military coup. If only Tongogora and Dabengwa’s plan had worked, Zimbabwe could be different.

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