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Mujuru a leader who made, unmade history

By Ibbo Mandaza

Speculation about the possible political developments in Zimbabwe in the aftermath death of Solomon Mujuru (herein referred to as ‘‘Rex’’), his  legendary nom de guere this week, is understandable given his historical role in both the struggle for liberation and the life of the nation in the period since independence in 1980.

Solomon Mujuru
Solomon Mujuru

The spontaneous and nationwide reaction as news of his death spread last Tuesday was an acknowledgement that here, indeed, was not only a national hero in the true sense of the term, but also a national leader whose influence pervaded Zimbabweans in all walks of life and across the political divide.

Neither heroes nor leaders are made by ‘‘Politbureaus’’, let alone the ‘‘decision’’ of this or that person; they are made by history and the accompanying acknowledgement; spontaneous and natural, of a nation and its people.

But as the case of Rex confirms, leaders like him also ‘‘made’’ or ‘‘unmade’’ history, just as history –– including both circumstance and opportunity –– moulded him into the man we are honouring whilst simultaneously profiling the political animal that he was, Machiavellian (the end justifies the means!) in the true sense of the word, shrewd and even ruthless, if necessary.

Some in our contemporary Zimbabwe will remember him as the ‘‘kingmaker” across the national spectrum: the numerous examples of politicians today who would not have made it without his support, in many cases, simply catapulted from nonentities into a cabinet post; the current securocracy, almost every leading member of which is directly –– and at least indirectly –– his product, even if some have expediently developed amnesia or self-denial; that coterie of corporate pimps and comprador elements who thrived on his patronage and ‘‘protection’’; not to forget even those white farmers and similar corporate interests whose fate might have been as precarious as that of most of their ilk, were, it not for his quiet mediation or intervention.

But it is to the extent that Rex ‘‘made’’ or ‘‘unmade’’ history during his political life that I wish to return and end my account.  I do so with reference to specific episodes during the last stage of the liberation struggle, and during the period since the Zanu PF congress of 1999.  In short, these were instances in which some in our midst found their political fortunes made good through Rex’s intervention whilst others conversely lived to see theirs unmade.

By a curious coincidence of history and events, Monday,  August 15, 2011 was the night during which both Rex died tragically and Wilfred Mhanda (Dzinashe Machingura, his nom de guerre), the legendary ZIPA leader, also launched his book, Dzino: Memories of a Freedom Fighter.

To be brief, Dzino’s account of Rex as one who ‘‘sold’’ out his ZIPA comrades in favour of Robert Mugabe in 1976/77 was to be confirmed the following morning on Tuesday August 16 by President Mugabe himself as he spoke after viewing the former Zanla commander’s charred remains at One Commando Barracks.

Without that historical ‘‘sell out’’ in Beira, Mozambique in January 1977, Mugabe and the old nationalist guard might have been relegated to the dustbin of history in favour of Dzinashe Machingura and  his ZIPA ‘‘revolutionaries’’, hardly three years before Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980.

It was also Rex’s intervention again in 1978 that saved the day, not only for Mugabe and the old nationalist guard, but also for  Tongogara and Rex himself.  This was the occasion of the purported ‘‘coup’’ attempt led by Joseph Taderera but subsequently implicating the former Dare re Chimurenga members, namely Rugare Gumbo, Henry Hamadziripi and Kumbirai Kangai.

What is important in this regard is that, without Rex’s quick action, the ‘‘coup’’ might have succeeded, while Mugabe and Tongogara were away from Maputo, in Malta at yet another of those abortive attempts at resolving the ‘‘Rhodesian crisis’.

There is this unfortunate tendency in autobiographies and biographies by former combatants of Zimbabwe’s War of Liberation, including Dzino himself, to view such events in terms of ‘‘revolutionary’’ and ‘‘anti-revolutionary’’ or ‘‘progressives’’ and ‘‘sell-outs’’ in the implicit suggestion that yours was the only noble course as opposed to the actions of those who successfully overtook you in what was nothing less than a power struggle.

In retrospect, even Mugabe might be deceiving himself in concluding that Rex was merely a pawn, however pivotal, in a power struggle in which he emerged as Prime Minister in 1980 and, subsequently, as virtual ‘‘Life President’’. An outcome which, according to Edgar Tekere’s autobiography (A Lifetime of Struggle), might not have been a foregone conclusion were it not that Rex and his fellow generals who put their weight behind the Mugabe-Muzenda alliance against their internal rivals.

This was Rex the Machiavellian at work.  For example, he acknowledged privately to me in those days that the happenings around the Gukurahundi era were contradictory to the principles of the liberation  and yet he had become such an integral and pivotal part of the new Zimbabwean state, something he could no longer reconcile with principle, including having had to see such of his Zipra comrades, including Dumiso Dabengwa and Lookout Masuku, languish in detention during that period.

But it was during the Zanu PF congresses of 1999 and 2004 that Rex played Machiavellian politics behind the scenes as part of his plan to see a peaceful leadership succession in Zimbabwe. Certainly, it was largely through Rex’s efforts, assisted by that other strategists like Eddison Zvobgo, that John Nkomo emerged victorious over Emmerson Mnangagwa in the contest for the  position of Zanu PF chairman in 1999.

Rex also played a key role to ensure that during the 2004 Zanu PF congress his wife, Joice Teurai defeated Mnangagwa to become vice-president of both Zanu PF and the State. The process had been a bruising affair.  The last four years during which the issue of Mugabe’s succession has heated up, with the incumbent’s apparent rebuff of Joice Teurai Mujuru’s presidential ambitions during his birthday interview on February 20, 2007 and the inexorable rise of Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC as serious contenders for state power, Rex became even more active behind the scenes.

Not only Rex who believed by 2007 Mugabe had become a political liability for Zanu PF, there were many others who believed and still do. Although during the 2006 Zanu PF conference in Goromonzi, the issue of succession had become critical, Rex and his allies failed to challenge Mugabe directly.

Emboldened  by their cowardice, Mugabe  went on to throw the gauntlet at them. To this day many in and outside Zanu PF have no doubt Rex could have successfully launched a motion in the politburo which would have compelled Mugabe to retire before the 2008 elections, but he didn’t.

Others would argue that his ‘‘quiet diplomatic’’ support for Mavambo-Kusile-Dawn was part and parcel of Rex’s strategy to try and compel Mugabe to stand down as presidential candidate in 2008. Mavambo leader Simba Makoni had that ‘‘secret’’ meeting with President Mugabe on January 27 2008 on the advice of Rex although we don’t know for sure what was discussed.

Whatever the case or the truth of Makoni’s explanation both this ‘‘secret’’ meeting and Rex’s subsequent failure to make good his alleged undertaking that he would bring into the Mavambo fold a significant number of the Zanu PF heavyweights put paid to Makoni’s political ambitions in 2008.  Rex may have, albeit inadvertently, ‘‘unmade’’ Makoni altogether.

But after all is said and done Rex left his wife Joice on the eve of a new dispensation on firm ground if Zanu PF and Zimbabwe are to follow a constitutional and democratic succession process.

Ibbo Mandaza is a Zimbabwean academic, author and publisher