Tichaona Zindoga and Kudakwashe Mugari
Civil disturbances that happened in the early years of Zimbabwe’s Independence that came to be known as “Gukurahundi” were a conspiracy by former Rhodesian security operatives who set up black compatriots and erstwhile freedom fighters against each other and cause instability in the country, an interview with national hero Dr Dumiso Dabengwa, previously unpublished, reveals.
The interview was conducted by researcher Garikai Mushambadope in 2009.
Mushambadope had earlier, in 2008, met President Mnangagwa and challenged him to open up on Gukurahundi.
In turn, President Mnangagwa snowballed him to Dr Dabengwa.
In the revealing interview, which we publish in full elsewhere in this issue, Dr Dabengwa locates the troubles that made Zimbabwe’s birth pangs and also highlights some key post-independence dynamics, including succession where he was involved in trying to persuade former president Robert Mugabe to step down.
The former Zapu intelligence supremo — affectionately known as the Black Russian — would also later try to revive the old Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu), the independence party of the late founding father, Joshua Nkomo.
The interview casts new light on the genesis of tribal tensions which former colonisers wanted to exploit.
Additionally, Dr Dabengwa reveals that some of his Zapu commanders worked with the Rhodesian elements in the dreaded Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), perhaps unwittingly.
“It’s a painful episode both at personal and national level . . . betrayal by colleagues,” says Dr Dabengwa.
“There is a lot of discourse and fabrication surrounding that period and I would like you to put this on record.”
He explains: “To start with, there is a lot of blame being put on the then ZANU and people are saying this was a tribal engineered thing. That’s rubbish and that can only be said by people ignorant of what was taking place.
“When the freedom fighters were in assembly points, the Rhodesians hatched a sinister plan based on creating divisions and fissures between ZIPRA and ZANLA. They did this by approaching ZIPRA commanders in strategically selected assembly points and lied to them that the new ‘Shona’ government was planning to exterminate them . . . So these CIO officers convinced the commanders at assembly points to hide weapons in preparation for the so-called eventuality.
“In doing so they labelled the senior commanders like me and Lookout Masuku as having sold out to the Government. They presented it as if the commanders and their forces were on their own.
“So indeed they hid weapons conniving with the white CIOs. What the ZIPRA commanders didn’t know was that the CIOs were taking the information to authorities in Harare. When the CIO had enough ‘evidence’ they told Ken Flower (their boss) and Peter Walls. I don’t know whether it was Flower and Walls’ plan in the first place.
“What I know is that Ken Flower and Peter Walls took it to the then Prime Minister, Mugabe. They had carefully presented it as our plan … (Lookout) Masuku and I.”
Dr Dabengwa was jailed by Mr Mugabe until the Unity Accord in 1987 while Masuku died shortly after.
Dr Dabengwa was part and parcel of the Zanu PF succession debate wat back before the 2008 elections.
He recalled that him, Zvinavashe and Mujuru (all late) went to see Mugabe in his office were they asked him to step aside and give someone a chance to push the ideologies of the party further since Mugabe had run his race.
He was involved in the talks to convince the former president Mugabe to step down and give others a chance in the interest of the party as well as democracy.
It is said that Mugabe agreed to step down and promised not to contest in the next general election. Mugabe is said to have gone in public and said he was going to step down but however that did not happen and it came as a surprise to the other Cdes, who felt betrayed and that is the reason that pushed Simba Makoni and others out of ZANU PF to form the Mavambo/Kusile Dawn party.
The late hero even supported Simba Makoni while other Cdes were on the fence and afraid to come out in the open.
‘‘In 2003, Zvinavashe, Rex Nhongo…Mujuru and myself went to see President Mugabe and we asked him about succession. We said…” President you have given your time and the country is grateful. We think it is time that you give or prepare to handover to someone who can take the country to another level”. The President had done a brilliant job since independence and if he had taken our advice seriously he wouldn’t be suffering like it is today,” Dabengwa said
Dabengwa said Mujuru broke the news first to Mugabe.
‘‘We all contributed but the first to speak was General Mujuru…he broke the ice so to speak. Zvinavashe and I came in and emphasised on a few points. He actually agreed with us and said he would make way. He talked about having free time to write his memoirs and give advice to the successor,” he said.
Dr Dabengwa said that even though they had the courage to confront Mugabe on the succession issue but they had no one in mind who would take over.
‘‘No, we didn’t. Our expectations were that the party will open the race for everyone to contest democratically. To Mugabe’s credit after our meeting with him he came out and told the country that was his last term in office. We do not know what then happened in the background for him to change his mind later on. I have a feeling that some in ZANU (PF) leaned on him and he started seeing it as an attempt to push him out. The people in the Army and Security agents might have done that. For their own selfish interests,” he said.
When asked why he backed Simba Makoni, Dr Dabengwa revealed that it was because of the sticking succession issue.
‘‘This was a continuation of the discussion we had with Mugabe. Some of us felt he should have given way to others. A number of big guns within ZANU(PF) had given their word that they would come and join Simba Makoni but they developed cold feet at the last minute. They are cowards. I know for certain that Mujuru wanted to leave and join Mavambo… others might have been sitting on the fence,” he said