MY TURN WITH TICHAONA ZINDOGA
A couple of weeks ago, I attended a seminar at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa running under the theme, “Zimbabwe: The Morning After”, one of those events that you would expect after the heady developments that led to the resignation of former president Robert Mugabe on November 21, ushering in a historic change in the country.The seminar billed Morgan Tsvangirai, Tendai Biti and Welshman Ncube as speakers. They never showed up, for one reason or the other. Both Tsvangirai and Biti were reportedly in Jo’burg at the time, though. However, the no-show by these “stars” did not dampen the mood and robust debate and academic inquiry into the question.
Douglas Mwonzora, the MDC secretary-general, became the main political speaker while civil society’s Brian Kagoro and a couple of other academics offered perspectives on the new dispensation in Harare. It was very much an opposition affair – and it basically gave us nothing new. But, quite circumstantially, Mwonzora said something that triggered my imagination.
He said something about how fighting a war did not need a formula. He must have attributed that to Lenin. My mind went straight to Victor Matemadanda, the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans’ Association.
The story about the transition in Zimbabwe can never be complete without the mention of war veterans led by Christopher Mutsvangwa – as chairman – and Matemadanda who led an open rebellion against former president Mugabe and his wife Grace.
It was a dirty war.
The war veterans would harass and ambush the First Family over the path that Mugabe had decided to take in divorcing from the war veterans as a constituency. It was a painful divorce and the war veterans were unrelenting in taking on their patron and leader of many years.
They fired the former president from being the organisation’s patron. They mocked his ambitious wife and the “G40” faction that included Professor Jonathan Moyo, Saviour Kasukuwere and Patrick Zhuwao. The war veterans removed the halo around Mugabe.
They purported to work in the interest of then Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was at the receiving end of the then First Lady’s diatribes. The removal of Mnangagwa was planned to pave way for the elevation of Grace Mugabe. It was something that got so real and present it was only stopped by that military intervention of the night of November 14. The military intervention went by the code name “Operation Restore Legacy” and a constituency that immediately benefited were the indefatigable war veterans.
Matemadanda and Mutsvangwa’s war veterans.
We had not agreed with their methods and Matemadanda’s approach looked crude and unrefined.
I imagine that picture in which he is wearing a T-Shirt mocking the then First Lady. It seemed childish. On the whole, some of us felt that was a public relations disaster, given the roughness of the method and messaging. In our disagreements with them we called them “rogue war vets”. A few days ago I met Douglas Mahiya, the spokesperson of the war vets association and no less a controversial and abrasive character. He takes issue with The Herald for having invented that term.
Just like Matemadanda is his bitterest when recalling that day – February 16 – when the Mugabe administration set police and water canons on them. On the evening of Friday, December 8, 2017 I meet Victor Matemadanda. He invites me to his hotel room where we sit down for close to two hours and I interview him about his life, politics and role in the fight against the G40 cabal.
He is a soft-spoken, gentle and sometimes ponderous man. But he is not a bad guy or the fiery character that we have seen him in the press conferences. There is a caveat – he says the war is spiritual and he believes that when he preached against the Mugabes’ excesses something got hold of him and he would be surprised later on to play back media recordings.
As indeed some higher power helped him escape danger. He mentions to me three incidents. But he has never been against Mugabe: on the contrary, he almost worshipped him as a hero and would defend him. Until the alienation. Until the G40. Matemanda’s life has been one of struggle. His family suffered under the rule of the white man and his family was separated from each other, separated from their land and dumped in Gokwe and eventually exiled to Zambia.
His father was a fighter, teacher and church man. His mother taught him honesty and the value of speaking the truth. In Zambia in the 1970s he joined the fight for the motherland as a young man and faced the immense difficulties of war and hunger and the pogroms following the assassination of Herbert Chitepo.
He was to shuttle between Zambia and Mozambique for logistical reasons. In 1979 he went to the war front and operated in the Mutoko area. The Victor Matemadanda of post-Independence is much the fighter and soldier in the bush and he is part of the formation of the war veterans association. One is struck by the passion in the man.
You see it on his wide forehead and glint in his eye. This is what has caused him to make immense personal sacrifices, including materially, selling some personal property to fund the war veterans and their activities. On December 1, 2017 President Emmerson Mnangagwa appointed his Cabinet and Mutsvangwa and Matemamadanda were made Minister of Information and Deputy Minister of War Vetarans, respectively.
The appointments were later reversed on a legal technicality and the duo was made Special Advisor to the President and Zanu-PF National Political Commissar respectively. Many people consider these developments as reward by the new leader of the efforts of the combative comrades. The post of the NPC itself was a key demand of the war veterans who urged the party under former president Mugabe to reserve that for the sake of the organisation’s institutional memory and preservation of ideology.
Mugabe was not too keen, as he kept Saviour Kasukuwere in the post, not without the pressure of the then First Lady Grace Mugabe. Does Matemadanda feel rewarded? No, he claims. He says he acted out of conscience and fought for his ideals and principles. It’s not such a huge story, but the Victor Matemadanda story is hard to ignore and a lesson on how wars are fought, including by means of throwing the kitchen sink at opponents.