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Wilfred Mhanda and Pedzisai Ruhanya Behind the Headlines

During a Heroes Day special programme SW Radio Africa journalist Lance Guma spoke to former guerrilla commander Wilfred Mhanda (whose liberation war name is Dzinashe Machingura) and political analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya. The two share their views on national hero status and why many prominent Zimbabweans have been denied that honour, despite their outstanding contributions.

Wilfred Mhanda and Pedzisai Ruhanya Behind the Headlines
Wilfred Mhanda and Pedzisai Ruhanya Behind the Headlines

Interview broadcast 13 August 2012

Lance Guma: Good evening Zimbabwe and thank you for joining me Behind the Headlines. Tonight we have a Heroes Day special programme looking at the contributions of various individuals in the struggle for an independent Zimbabwe.

Some have been honoured as national heroes, while others have been ignored for various reasons. Joining me is former guerrilla commander Wilfred Mhanda, known by his liberation war name Dzinashe Machingura and political analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya. Thank you both for joining me on the programme.

Wilfred Mhanda & Pedzisai Ruhanya: Thank you, you are welcome.

Guma: Okay let’s start off with Mr Mhanda; the Zanu PF controlled Sunday Mail newspaper is having a go at you and the late Ndabaningi Sithole, describing you as ‘sell-outs’ in the struggle. Let’s start the programme off by getting your reaction to that article.

Mhanda: Yah I would understand it in the sense that maybe with regard to the late Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole, Morgan Tsvangirai had actually attended a memorial event at his farm and probably Zanu PF would think maybe Morgan is trying to make political capital out of it.

But for me actually to link the two, I’m at a loss as to why they would just come out and say such a thing without any corroboration at all. And actually I would say it’s the very first time maybe in the local press it has come out so strongly to say a ‘sell-out’ which is different from the Shona parlance of maybe say kupanduka, kupanduka means vanhu vasiyana pfungwa, we know it has happened kunana Tsholotsho. But when you go to the extent of saying ‘sell-out’ without providing any evidence I think it has gone beyond what is reasonable.

Guma: Was any attempt made to maybe get your reaction to those allegations?

Mhanda: From whom?

Guma: The Sunday Mail. Did they make any attempt to get you to react to the article?

Mhanda: No, no, no, no not at all. Actually, the problem is, I would say it’s like even when I published my book, “Memories of a freedom fighter” the only person from the Zanu PF aligned press and hierarchy who responded was Lovemore Mataire who was not even born for the period that I was writing about.

That is what is fascinating me, you get Munyaradzi Huni – I don’t believe that he was even born during that period. How then does he have the audacity to use such a strong term as to say ‘sell-out’ without any shred of evidence. At what point did I ever betray the struggle? Having a difference of view and a difference of opinion with Mugabe is not tantamount to selling anybody out.

From what I understand, I think I made the whole saga clear in my book and no-one has come out from Zanu PF to challenge my account of what actually transpired and happened. For then someone to come out the blue and say ‘you are a sell-out’, I’m taken aback, I don’t know it’s like they are clutching at straws, they are failing to find a way to get at me.

Guma: Let’s get Mr Ruhanya to contribute on this – Pedzi – your reaction to the Sunday Mail having a go at Mr Mhanda?

Ruhanya: I’d have been surprised if they’d not done that. They sought to malign those who differed with the leader of Zanu, Mugabe, and said they are sell-outs but I’ve not heard them saying that Chihuri is a sell-out, Rugare Gumbo is a sell-out.

You know all those guys who were once incarcerated by Mugabe during the said period but they are now, one is a spokesperson, the other is chief of police and so many other things but, the other thing is that if you look at the history of Mugabe since he went to the helm of Zanu, I don’t know any person who has critically differed with Mugabe who has not been called a sell-out.

Mugabe and Nkomo
Mugabe and Nkomo

So in fact those who have not been called a sell-out by Mugabe are the real sell-outs. You read “The story of my life” by the late Joshua Nkomo how Mugabe treated him, how he was called a sell-out and when we were in primary school in the 1980s we used to compose songs, sing songs denouncing Nkomo.

When I was at primary school I remember having a choir that was being led by Zanu PF zealots, masquerading some of them as war veterans, and were singing songs denigrating all these people for the sole reason that they differed from Mugabe. And to differ with Mugabe does not mean that someone is a sell-out.

And we know, as far as we are aware, there’s no evidence, there’s no any history that tells us that the likes of Mhanda were sell-outs, we don’t have that kind of history. That history is only found at the Sunday Lies and the Herald; that is the place where we kind of find that concocted, distorted, malicious history that seeks to denigrate the living heroes like Mr Mhanda.

It is undisputed that he played a critical role in the liberation of this country and for people to move around, writing to say Mr Mhanda is a sell-out – we don’t know where they get that and what is most tragic about it is that the man is there, he wrote a book, no-one could gave us have another view, no-one went out to say they challenge that book but they simply write malicious stories and anyone who listens to that kind of malice is not interested in the history of this country.

Guma: The issue of national hero status has been contentious since independence; let me get your thoughts on this Mr Mhanda – this issue about deciding who is a hero and who is not – what are your thoughts on it?

Mhanda: It is indeed a contentious issue, this conferment of hero status. As far as I’m concerned, what has happened since independence that this has been based on dispensing patronage. I do not doubt that there are people who played truly heroic roles like Herbert Chitepo, Tongogara, Mangena and others.

But I don’t believe in the concept of national hero status because the problem is I know of the sacrifices made by rural folk, peasants in the countryside, the mujibas and chimbwidos and ordinary fighters, whose memories of their sacrifices are not harboured anywhere and when you look at Harare and Bulawayo, you find street names named after the nationalists, not even ordinary fighters, not even leading commanders like Josiah Tungamirai or Mayor Urimbo or Lookout Masuku.

Why? Why this discrimination as if the heroes were only the nationalists? So I really take exception to the concept of national heroes. I believe there should be no discrimination after death. All people contributed equally and we should not claim a bigger share.

Actually most of those people who are now claiming, or arrogating themselves the privilege of appointing hero status, probably were more of a liability than an asset in the struggle but now they arrogate themselves the responsibility of deciding who is a hero and who is not when probably if a fair account is given, they were more liability to the struggle than an asset.

Guma: Mr Ruhanya – your views on the national hero status?

Ruhanya: I think Mr Mhanda came up with a broader perspective, a more inclusive perspective of having, recognizing those who fought for this country. To say that were it not for those on the forefront, those who were holding guns but there were different people in different sections in society who contributed to the liberation struggle.

But my contention is that even using the Zanu PF standard, I think what Zanu PF has done is flawed, it’s discriminatory and is also a way of victimizing those who particularly did not like or differed with Mugabe. I think this is the most sad and tragic aspect of the whole heroes thing, I would give as an example, in my home area, I come from Zaka and people usually talk about a war veteran, an ordinary war veteran whose name was, chimurenga name was comrade Musa.

Even now when you go home, people talk about him. But when I hear that there are people who have been put on the heroes acre, then I look, I listen to these stories about rural folk who talk about this generous, critical and inspiring liberation war hero who was not even declared a village hero.

So I would concur with Mr Mhanda but also to say that the way Zanu PF that has done it is illogical, it’s criminal and is a sham, because particularly and most importantly, you have to have to be in good books with Mugabe but Mugabe is not Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe is not Mugabe.

Guma: Someone like Ndabaningi Sithole, a founding Zanu member, not even getting at the national heroes acre, Mr Mhanda, I’ll throw this question to you – for our listeners listening in – why on earth would somebody like Sithole not make it to be a national hero? Setting aside your views on the whole concept, why would someone like Sithole not make it to the national shrine?

Mhanda: Yah obviously I think what Mr Ruhanya has been saying is as long as you’ve got past with Mugabe, you are condemned, you then become an untouchable, nothing can come your way that is favourable. It is all negative simply because Mugabe had dethroned Sithole in Rhodesia unconstitutionally and this was challenged and rejected by all the leaders of the frontline states and that then sets Mugabe against Sithole.

Hero ... Ndabaningi Sithole
Hero … Ndabaningi Sithole

And for that reason he will never forgive. Mugabe is not known for forgiving anybody. But when you look at it, articulating the objectives of the liberation struggle, the concept which became the rallying cry for the liberation struggle like we are our own liberators’, no other person in Zimbabwe ever articulated it in such a way.

It was such a motivating factor to the fact, to the extent that we really believed in our own capabilities in terms of liberation also but this is an inspiration that came from Ndabaningi Sithole. He was a decisive and able leader, irrespective of what might have happened along the way.

There are so many things, when other people, generations later, come to look at and view what has happened in Gukuruhundi in the early 80s, I’m sure they’ll all come to their own judgment about Mugabe’s character and whether he was actually qualified to be a national hero given the divisive approach that he adopted at independence by refusing to cooperate with, only when he thought Zapu was weakened he was ready for unity in 1987.

But in 1980 he was not prepared to share a platform to contest as Patriotic Front simply because he does not want anything who is a potential challenge. He said even during the period of Gukuruhundi – if there is a snake in the midst, strike it out, meaning Joshua Nkomo. It’s only now that Nkomo is dead that he is heaping praise on him for the sake of maybe reaping electoral benefits from Matabeleland.

Guma: Mr Ruhanya, are there people…

Ruhanya: …I just wanted to add to what Mr Mhanda said – in fact “The story of my life”, Mugabe called Nkomo the son of dissidents; he also called Nkomo a cobra. And you know what a cobra is – it’s a snake, a poisonous snake and when you meet a snake, poisonous as it is, if it gets into your house or near it you have to kill it so he incited violence against the founding father of this republic.

When we come to independence in 1980, the most senior nationalist pulled them altogether was none other than Joshua Nkomo and Mugabe rewrote his own history but unfortunately that won’t stand the test of time.

Guma: Are there people Mr Ruhanya who are currently buried at the national shrine that you think should not be there.

Ruhanya: Yes of course there are national thugs like Chenjerai Hunzvi, Border Gezi, Elliot Manyika and even the likes of Solo Maimbodei, you can’t compare Solo Maimbodei and that woman, I think if my history’s proper I think comrade Mhanda could assist me on that, that Sheba Tavarwisa was one of the few women in the liberation struggle who was up there.

I think when she died she was a senior army officer in the Zimbabwe airforce, air commodore or something like that but you have national thugs like Hunzvi, how many people did Hunzvi kill in the 2000 parliamentary election? How many people during the campaigns, Zimbabweans who only differed with Zanu’s ideology who died at the hands of Manyika, at the hands of Border Gezi.

And what does Mugabe do because these were his puppets, these were his surrogates, he gave them the national heroes acre to enjoy the tax dollar to enjoy our money after having killed, in fact they are enjoying the money of the people they killed.

Guma: This concept of who is a war veteran, who is a national hero is kind of hard to define Mr Mhanda and we’ve all these competing war veterans associations. Could you make sense of it for us – we’ve got all these associations claiming to represent war veterans – how do you determine who is a genuine one and who is not?

Mhanda: I think the War Veterans Act itself clearly defines who a war veteran is. He must have actually left this country with the intention of undergoing military training and actually did undergo military training and was then deployed either to the front or any other task but after training – that is the definition within the War Veterans Act.

But then what happens is because you had people who had not participated in the war and who felt, who Mugabe felt had to be war veterans, he then came up with the concept of third chimurenga and to say now they are veterans of third chimurenga. That’s why people like Chenjerai Hunzvi and others who would then qualify, and the Border Gezi’s and that.

Coming up with the concept of third chimurenga for convenience of conferring hero status on people. Normally I’m not keen to say ill of the dead in terms of our culture but when you look at what Chenjerai Hunzvi was doing and what Elliot Manyika and Border Gezi were doing, that cannot be condoned at all.

We have people like Jabulani Sibanda it might be debatable whether he underwent training or not; maybe at best he did undergo training but he was a very junior person because he only joined in 1979. But the point I am still trying to say is the struggle, the armed struggle in Zimbabwe started in the 60s; where are these people? Why is reference not made to these people?

Why do we get to hear of people who came 1977, 78, 79? Where are these senior war veterans? Mugabe does not like it that’s why he invents his own, these new veterans through the third chimurenga which actually incidentally they were actually mentioning even in the article that was deriding me in the Sunday Mail.

They want to make, to nullify the second chimurenga because Mugabe himself did not play a central role in it. He now wants to become the leader of the third chimurenga so he that gets the hero status that he has been craving for.

Guma: Well we’re running out of time – Mr Ruhanya I’ll ask you to throw in a few names that you think should be at the national heroes acre who are not there. Who would you recommend Mr Ruhanya?

Ruhanya: I think the founding president of Zanu Ndabaningi Sithole, he is the founder, Mugabe did not ‘found’ anything just like you heard from comrade Mhanda, I think Zimbabweans need to know this. He was not the founder of this party that he took to his pocket, firstly.

Secondly Ndabaningi Sithole coined the name, the thing, ‘none but ourselves’, to make Zimbabweans realise that we have to liberate ourselves. What is it that you know about Mugabe? In fact I wanted to ask a question as my closing remarks to say that I have seen that the external wing of Zanu, the critical people who played a critical role in the liberation of this country did not see independence or were sidelined.

We are talking about Chitepo – he died during the liberation struggle; Ndabaningi Sithole was booted out; Tongogara died during the liberation struggle. Then a critical core group of the liberation commanders including the one on air, Mhanda, did not see independence in terms of leading this country.

Why is it that those who were out, who were fighting for this country did not play a critical role in 1980, those who were under (Ian) Smiths jails, including the president are the ones who are now singing a whole lot of nonsense about the liberation struggle. Those who were in Smiths jails are the ones who think that they fought but those who fought were sidelined, criminalized, de-legitimised or died – why?

Guma: Well we give the final word to Mr Mhanda – what would you suggest as a way forward? Supposing we have a new dispensation, a new government – how should these issues be dealt with Mr Mhanda to the satisfaction of all?

Mhanda: We do indeed need a time for soul searching. What I would appeal is to all the former fighters to put pen to paper and write down about their experiences, the sacrifices of all those they knew so that the country knows that there were multiple sacrifices that made this liberation possible.

We need those accounts by, including even by civilians, by people in the countryside, we need their accounts so that people get a true account, not a sanitized version of how the liberation struggle for Zimbabwe was fought. We need the accounts of everybody; everybody should contribute to the historical narrative of the liberation struggle.

Guma: Well Zimbabwe that’s former guerrilla commander Wilfred Mhanda, known by his liberation war name Dzinashe Machingura and political analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya joining me on this special Heroes Day programme Behind the Headlines. Gentlemen thank you for your time.

Ruhanya and Mhanda: You are welcome. Thank you.

To listen to the programme:


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