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The Battle for Zimbabwe: Ethnicity and Internal battles within Zanu (Part 2)

By Roy Muroyi

“I didn’t want to destroy Smith or the old lady, I did want to destroy the system that he had built “- Tongogara (De Waal 1990)

In this article, I strongly argue that Robert Mugabe is a product and beneficiary of the politics of factionalism within the broader nationalist movement in his own party before independence.

Robert Mugabe seen here with the late Joshua Nkomo
Robert Mugabe seen here with the late Joshua Nkomo

At the heart of the Liberation war for Zimbabwe, the year 1974 the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) executive in detention namely Nyagumbo, Tekere, Mugabe and Nkala conducted an election to vote Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole out as Zanu leader.

They accused him of working with the Rhodesians, derailing the efforts of the armed struggle. When the news reached Zambia and Mozambique, Kenneth Kaunda and Samora Machel were not pleased. Machel called the action a “prison coup” with Kenneth Kaunda threatening to jail the 2500 plus Zanla guerillas on Zambian soil if Sithole was not re-instated. The detained Zanu executive had no option but to re-instate Sithole.

Sithole and Mugabe’s relationship became bitter in prison, the general feeling amongst the leaders in prison was that Sithole was a sellout. Edgar Tekere in his book A life time of struggle even makes mention of the fact that Maurice Nyagumbo (who had a serious temper problem) even wanted to commit suicide, expressing this great betrayal by Sithole.

Karanga –Manyika conflicts

In the trenches of Zambia the Zanla leader Josiah Magama Tongogara was facing serious leadership challenges from the Manyika, particularly from Thomas Nhari who constantly accused Tongo of ignoring the welfare of soldiers. Nhari eventually led the rebellion that was to be known as the “Nhari rebellion” which I made mention of in my first article on this subject as one of the culminations of the Karanga and Manyika battles.

The internal battles between the Karanga and Manyika led to the deaths of John Makaure chief political commissar in the war council (Dare Rechimurenga) and Noel Mukono the external affairs secretary, they were both from Manyika land (Sithole 1980).

The Zanu Dare rechimurenga in exile remained Karanga dominated, but this changed after they were all rounded up by Kaunda and thrown in jail after they were accused of killing Chairman Herbert Chitep (Norman 2008).

Their arrest gave the Zezuru faction which was beginning to consolidate power after the demise of Front for the Liberation of Zimbabwe(Frolozi ) which was formed as an effort to unite Zanu and Zapu with Mugabe being the suggested leader.

Rex Nhongo took over from Tongo who was in prison as Zanla leader and Mugabe was in direct contact with the army, though he was virtually unknown with the international community, his support grew in Mozambique, this could be attributed to the fact that Rex was highly feared and his word was a command to the guerillas this gave the Zezuru and Mugabe to consolidate power.

When the Geneva conference was called in 1976, Mugabe had surrounded himself with Karanga and Zezuru comrades, making it clear that Ndabaningi Sithole had been left alone. This gave the Reverend a feeling that the Zezuru and Karanga had long been conspiring to overthrow the Manyika.

Tongoragra –  Machel Relations

After the prison “coup” Samora Machel had very little tolerance for Mugabe , on the other hand Josiah Tongogara and Samora Machel had been the best of friends in the struggle. Samora can be argued as the leading member of the front line leaders who helped Zimbabwe attain its independence.

The main difference between Zimbabwe African National liberation Army (Zanla) and The Mozambique Liberation front (Frelimo) was Zanla was a military wing of a political party, meaning to say Zanla was born out of Zanu. Frelimo on the other hand was a military organization that latter set up political structures.

Tongogara because of his close relationship with Samora had grown to appreciate the origins of Frelimo and strongly believed that Zanla should direct the political wing Zanu and not the other way round, a notion that Samora quite clearly seemed to subscribe to since the “prison coup”. There was general distrust amongst the politicians and the guerrillas.

Besides his belief system Samora opened up Mozambique for Zanla guerrillas and strongly believed that Mozambique‘s liberation means nothing when the rest of Africa is still under oppression. Tongogara on the other hand had a very strong policy on unity he had always argued for unity between Zapu and Zanu.

Like Tongogara, Joshua Nkomo was also a strong advocate for unity, hence the name “Father Zimbabwe”. Nkomo’s Zipra forces enjoyed support amongst the Zimbabwean masses in almost all of the areas the operated with.

It was only with the coming of the Zanla forces politicizing the masses during their “pungwes” that Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (Zipra) forces became less effective in some areas because of fear of unnecessary confrontations with Zanla forces.

During the Lancaster house conference in 1979 Tongogara strongly advocated for a one Patriotic Front (PF) comprising of Zanu and Zapu, but Mugabe and the other Zanu leaders where strongly opposed to this idea. The Zanu leaders strongly believed that they were the party that had won the elections and joining with Zapu was giving Zapu an undeserved recognition (Nyarota 2006).

Tongogara was not an outright extremists like his fellow comrades who even wanted to continue the struggle and abandon the London talks in 1979, he was a moderate man who was very good at negotiations, he had made peace with the fact that the war had achieved something that Zimbabweans could build from. He came to terms with the fact that it was time to work together with other political parties and forget the bitterness of the war for the betterment of Zimbabwe (Smith 2001).

Ian Smith himself makes mention of the fact that the police commissioner had assured him that Tongogara had been assassinated by his people, but perhaps this was Smith’s idea as he and Tongogara were on talking terms even during the Lancaster house conference.

Tongogara had lived on Smith’s farm where his mother worked and had seen how ruthless the system was at a closer range than most people. Tongogara was even seen inquiring about his mother from Smith during the conference.

Mugabe forced to sign the peace Treaty

The Lancaster house conference proved to be a very mammoth task with the PF members failing to work together in a reasonable manner. It is said that Dumiso Dabengwa the Zipra Commander had been given strict instructions not to negotiate with anyone else except General Peter walls.

It had to take Tongogara’s negotiation skills to convince everyone to work together so as to come up with a working solution, again this was made difficult by Mugabe and members of the political wing of Zanu who could not compromise and had to abandon the meeting only to be forced into signing the agreement by Samora Machel who told them point blank that if Zanu was to walk away from such a settlement then Mozambique was no longer prepared to help them in any way.

Collapse of the South to South Entente

The death of Tongogara left the Zezuru under Mugabe unchallenged and ironically just after the Lancaster house and the untimely death of Tongogara who had strongly opposed the idea of Zanu running in the elections alone, Mugabe and his comrades defected from the PF agreement and started campaigning on their own as Zanu.

Besides Tongogara and Nkomo’s efforts to unify Zanu and Zapu Mugabe and his comrades went on to exalt themselves as the only true party that fought for the Liberation of Zimbabwe. The idea of Unity had died with Tongogara who had emphasized that need to share the gains of the Liberation war with comrades in Zapu.

This left Joshua Nkomo who also had supported the idea of a united front in the cold. It should also be told that Tongogara had supported the idea of Nkomo running as the PF leader and not Mugabe, this forms the South to South Entente as Nkomo was from Matabeleland the Southern part of Zimbabwe and Tongogara from Masvingo also on the Southern side of the country.

Nkomo was a first generation nationalist who like Tongogara was not an extremist unlike Mugabe and the other second generation Nkomo had always believed in the power of negotiations, Tongogara on the other hand had proved to be a great negotiator through then Lancaster house and according to Fay Chung this made him a prime target amongst his comrades as his contribution had shown that he could not play second fiddle to non.

The South to South entente was perhaps an agreement on principles between the two individuals though perhaps not formally agreed on. The death of Tongogara was probably the demise of the PF and Zapu itself. When campaign time came, large numbers of Zanla guerrillas terrorized Nkomo supporters and according to Nkomo many Ndebele speaking people and other Nkomo supporters lost their lives during the run up to the 1980 elections.

The elections were marred with violence intimidation, handing Mugabe and Zanu the outright victory of 63%. The ill-treatment of Nkomo and his party was also noted during the 1980 independence celebrations when Zanu did not invite East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Vietnam who had been strong supporters of Zapu and its military wing Zipra.

Roy Muroyi is a pro-democracy promoter who also believes in youth emancipation and participation in all facets of governance. He is also the Secretary General of a youth movement called Youth Democratic Front –Zimbabwe. He writes in his own capacity and can be contacted on twitter @muroyi23

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