George Maponga Masvingo Bureau
Roman Catholic priest Father Emmanuel Ribeiro yesterday gave a brief account about how President Mnangagwa escaped the jaws of death following his arrest and subsequent death sentence by the heinous Rhodesian regime for blowing a Rhodesian locomotive in 1964.
President Mnangagwa, then called by his nom de guerre “Trabablas Dzokerai Mabhunu” was a member of the acclaimed Crocodile Gang founded to make the first foot-prints of ZANU following the split from Zapu in 1963.
Another prominent member of the famous gang was Cde William Ndangana.
The Crocodile Gang was tasked by the newly formed ZANU leadership to embark on various acts of sabotage inside Rhodesia to announce the birth of a new nationalist political organisation in Rhodesia ahead of the then OAU liberation committee meeting.
President Mnangagwa bombed the Rhodesian locomotive at Fort Victoria railway station together with Cde Mathew Malowa and they were both arrested and sentenced to death.
Speaking during a meeting of the Inter-Ministerial Task-force on Enshrinement formed to develop a shrine known as Trabablas Trail at the Masvingo Railway station in remembrance of President Mnangagwa’s liberation war history yesterday, Father Ribeiro went down memory lane explaining how the Head of State and Government escaped the hangman’s noose.
Father Ribeiro was assistant chaplain-general of Prisons at the time.
“I went to his (President Mnangagwa) holding at Harare Central Prison and asked him whether he had written a letter to the president (Rhodesian president at the time was Clifford Dupont) and he said to me why should I waste my time writing the letter, what will it change,” said Father Ribeiro.
The Roman Catholic Father said during that time President Mnangagwa was in solitary confinement in jail where he would spend 23 hours inside his cell getting only one hour for recess per day.
He said at this time President Mnangagwa’s other colleagues in the Crocodile Gang Victor Mlambo and James Dhlamini had been hanged and buried at the prison by the Rhodesian colonial regime.
“I went to his cell again when things had really gotten tough in the country and looked at him and said to myself, but this is just a boy. I don’t want to say much about the other things, but I went to the doctor at the prison Dr Lavaccoco and told him that he (President Mnangagwa) was just a boy and he went and looked at him,” said Father Ribeiro.
“After looking at him and he was convinced that he was indeed just a boy he (Dr Lavaccoco) wrote his report that was attached to the other papers that were sent to president Dupont.”
Father Ribeiro said he was relieved to see President Mnangagwa after he was removed from death row.
“I was surprised to see him after two weeks walking freely inside the prison complex having been removed from death row his sentence commuted to some years in jail.
“He then started his education, which he continued after his transfer to Khami Prison where he completed his sentence before being released,” he said.
The Roman Catholic Father promised to disclose more vivid details about President Mnangagwa’s miraculous escape from the hangman’s noose in future.
“I will disclose more details at the appropriate time, this is all I can say today and I deliberately left some details that I will disclose when the timing is right,” said Father Ribeiro.
He suggested that the Trabablas Trail Shrine at Masvingo Railway Station should be able to tell President Mnangagwa’s full history for the benefit of future generations.
After his release from Rhodesian jail, President Mnangagwa was deported to Zambia where he completed his law degree at the University of Lusaka.
President Mnangagwa left private law practice and joined the liberation struggle in Mozambique where he served as ZANU security chief and Special Assistant to former president Mr Robert Mugabe.