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A Heroes’ Day review of Dzino: Memories of a Freedom Fighter

By Lenin Tinashe Chisaira

Zimbabwe commemorates its Heroes Day in August each year. The 2016 commemoration comes at a time when the political relations between the state, citizens and most interestingly the war veterans are not cordial.

The late former freedom fighter and political analyst, Wilfred Mhanda joining the BBC Network Africa paper review live from Harare several years ago
The late former freedom fighter and political analyst, Wilfred Mhanda joining the BBC Network Africa paper review live from Harare several years ago

In that regard, a review of one of the latest and most informative memoirs about the liberation struggle, Wilfred Mhanda’s Dzino: Memories of a Freedom Fighter[1] seems in order. The author, Wilfred Mhanda’s[2] nom de guerre was Dzinashe Machingura hence the nickname Dzino in the title of the memoirs. Dzino was one of the fiercest critics of the post-war Zimbabwean state for which he spent his youthful days fighting for.

Dzinashe Machingura is undoubtedly one of the most distinguished yet disinherited freedom fighters to come out of Zimbabwe. He contributed to the success of Zimbabwe’s liberation war at a time when allies of the Zimbabwean struggle such as “(President Samora) Machel …lamented the Zimbabwean nationalist leadership, which he did not consider equally committed to a long and difficult fight to liberate the country.”(p. 94).

It was also a time when military commanders in the Zimbabwe National Liberation Army (ZANLA) like General Josiah Magama Tongogara were in incarceration in Zambia following President Kenneth Kaunda’s clampdown on the ZANLA High Command in the aftermath of the assassination of Herbert Chitepo, Zimbabwe’s first lawyer and then chairperson of the revolutionary Dare reChimurenga (p62-66).

In those troubled times, Dzinashe Machingura reveals how he and other commanders on the ground formed the ZIPA on 25 November 1975 to carry on the armed struggle. The army was a merger between ZANLA and the Zimbabwe People’s revolutionary Army (ZIPRA).

The Military Committee of ZIPA included Solomon “Rex Nhongo” Mujuru, Dzinashe Machingura, Elias Hondo, James Nyikadzinashe, Saul Sadza, Parker Chipoera, Webster Gwauya and Tendai Pfepferere from the ZANLA side.

The ZIPRA contribution consisted of Nikita Mangena, John Dube, Enoch Tschangane, current Vice President Phelekezela “Report” Mphoko, Ambrose Mutinhiri, David Moyana and Dr Augustus Mudzingwa (p. 96-97).

ZIPA was the entity that was to open military fronts and to resuscitate the liberation war in earnest (p. 100-107). However its role in history seems to have been officially blacklisted.

Dzino’ memoirs honestly admit the crucial role of the Marxist/socialist ideology in being the lifeblood of the Zimbabwean liberation struggle. This ideology was sin instilled in the freedom fighter from the training stage.

Dzino indicates that “At the end of the formal training programme, before proceeding to the transit camp in Kongwa in the Dodoma region, most of our time was spent on productive activity and on extra political lessons. A voluntary group of about eight, headed by Dick Moyo, was formed to study the basic tenets of Marxism-Leninism. I was part of that study group.”(p. 24).

In that regard, the current neo-liberal cum nationalist capitalism models the nation finds itself in is the mere result of a struggle betrayed and a very Zimbabwean model of state capture.

The revolution devours its children

French royalist journalist Jacques Mallet du Pan’s[3] adage that “the revolution devours its children” is well known and well documented and has already been proved to be true in most revolutions that have occurred around the world through the history of humanity.

Of particular interest are the French Revolution with its Reign of Terror[4] and the Russian Revolution with the Stalinist Purges[5]. For Africa, Chinua Achebe[6] creatively narrates about that kind of dog eat dog politics in post-revolutionary Africa in his novel, Anthills of the Savannah[7].

The book under review, Dzino, exposes the origins of persecution that took place in the liberation struggle. These were the roots to most of the problems that face Zimbabwean politics in the present times. These political problems include the politics of using disciplinary hearings to settle political/personal scores as well as to boot out dissent even from former comrades in arms.

With independence getting nearer again,  Dzino and others were suspected of harbouring political ambitions using ZIPA and they were lured into an underground prison in Maputo (p. 186-193). President Robert Mugabe, in July 2016 confirmed the incident whilst issuing warning against the dissenting leadership of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA). He warned that  “During the war, we would punish defectors severely . . . we kept them underground like rats, in bunkers”[8], highlighting the truth in Dzino’s memoirs.

A history distorted

The books most importantly serves to provide an additional picture to those that have been presented by the other few Second Chimurenga historians like David Martin and Phyllis Johnson, whom Dzino himself accuses of being biased towards President Mugabe in their book, The Struggle for Zimbabwe[9].

Dzino: Memories of a Freedom Fighter also exposes the often told lie that freedom fighters fought for the struggle selflessly and without payment. The selflessness has already been demystified by war vets’ self-centred demands of the late 1990s and at the 2016 War Vets Meet Patron indaba. In the book, Dzino writes of freedom fighters receiving a weekly stipend, in  addition to cigarettes  (p. 28)

The only blight in Dzino’s book is the last third of the book, written as “Reflections on Post-Independence Zimbabwe” and the conclusion. This section is so different from the tone of the early ideologically coherent parts that is appears as if it was inserted by someone else.

The section goes into overdrive to reflect ordinary Zimbabwean civil society’s neo-liberalism. These include attacks on the Fast Track Land Reform Programme (p. 228). However it is up to each reader’s perspective to interpret the book.

Every person must read Dzino: Memories of a Freedom Fighter

In conclusion, every person interested in Zimbabwean politics and liberation must read Dzino: Memories of a Freedom Fighter. It has been said that socialists are the memory bank of the revolution, because they read and know how to pursue revolutionary actions backed by revolutionary theory and vice versa.

In the same vein, activists  and politicians on Zimbabwe should, as the nation makes reflections on its Heroes’ Day, make a habit of learning from the works that touch on Zimbabwe’s past as this possibly shapes the future political and economic structure of the country.

In addition to books like Martin and Johnson’s The Struggle in Zimbabwe, Maurice Nyagumbo’s With the People, Didymus Mutasa’s Black Rhodesian Behind Bars, Ian Smith’s The Great Betrayal, Munyaradzi Gwisai’s Revolutionaries, Resistance and Crisis in Zimbabwe, Joshua Nkomo’s The Story of My Life and Edgar Tekere’s A Lifetime of Struggle, people must definitely read Dzino: Memories of a Freedom Fighter.

Lenin Tinashe Chisaira is an activist, socialist, lawyer and writer based in Harare, Zimbabwe. He tweets at @LeninChisaira and blogs at www.cdetinashe.blogspot.com

[1] Published by Weaver Press, Harare, 2011

[2] (b. 1950 – d. 2014)

[3] (b. 1749 – d. 1800)

[4] (6 September 1793 – 28 July 1794

[5] (1936 to 1938)

[6] (b. 1930 – d. 2013)

[7] Published by Heinemann, 1987.

[8] Newsday, “Mugabe in brutal crackdown threat”, 28 July 2016, accessed 8 August 2016 at https://www.newsday.co.zw/2016/07/28/mugabe-brutal-crackdown-threat/

[9] Published by Faber and Faber, London, 1981