After Chitepo, what next?


IN 1898, following the ‘successful’ capture and hanging of Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi, the British celebrated.
They had triumphed in crushing uprisings and resistance by locals to colonisation.
Being torchbearers of the First Chimurenga, providing inspiration in revolts against whites and preaching the gospel of war resistance, was their crime.
Without these two powerful spirit mediums, locals would be forced into submission, whites thought.
The country would be theirs.
A strategy was adopted.
Eliminate those leading the struggle.
Without its forerunners, the war would end, they thought.
This was a naive miscalculation as the brunt of the war lay on the shoulders of the people.
True to her final words, ‘Mapfupa angu achamuka (My bones shall rise)’, Mbuya Nehanda’s heroism became a significant source of inspiration in the nationalist struggle in the 1960s and 1970s.
Many, however, suffered the same fate as hers.
Whoever the regime thought was the face of the struggle was hunted down.
Some escaped.
Others did not and their deaths were suspicious.
Names of early nationalists including Dr Samuel Parirenyatwa, who was assassinated in August 1962 by security agents while on his way to Bulawayo, come to mind.
In an effort to conceal the assassination, a car accident was staged at the Heany Junction level rail-road crossing.
Investigations showed that the late Dr Parirenyatwa’s hands bore marks he had been bound with rope, proving it was foul play.
Dr Parirenyatwa, the first black medical doctor in Rhodesia, through his commitment and determination to defeat the white regime, had risen to the level of deputy president of ZAPU.
Another active nationalist, Leopold Takawira, died under suspicious circumstances in 1970.
Takawira, ZANU’s vice-president’s death is believed to have been caused by neglect of his diabetic condition by prison authorities when he was incarcerated at the then Salisbury Prison.
Veteran lawyer and nationalist Edson Sithole suffered the same fate.
Sithole was kidnapped by security agents on October 15 1975 and his whereabouts remain unknown.
In 1969, Rhodesians identified and targeted Herbert Chitepo, who was the ZANU national chairman, as the brains behind the ‘guerrilla war’.
He became a prime target of the Rhodesian CIO.
As such, Rhodesians sought to eliminate Chitepo by all means.
According to the book The Chitepo Assassination penned by David Martin and Phyllis Johnson, having identified Chitepo as their target, necessary groundwork was done to ‘get rid’ of the nationalist.
Chitepo is said to have been assassinated by the Rhodesian regime’s operatives in Zambia on March 18 1975.
The Rhodesians celebrated.
They thought the Second Chimurenga was over.
The joy of the perceived success must have been short-lived as the spirit and zeal to fight on was intensified even after the death of Chitepo.
The death of the ZANU chairman might have disrupted the operations of the freedom fighters, but this was not for long.
“The war was effectively brought to a halt and many ZANU guerillas fighting in the north-east of Rhodesia, cut off without supplies or information, were sacrificed,” writes Martin and Johnson.
The bulk of ZANU’s leadership, not already detained in Rhodesian prisons, were detained in Zambia and the names of leaders like Josiah Tongogara smeared in the courts and press.
On March 25 1975, members of the ZANU’s Central Committee at liberty in Rhodesia held an emergency meeting at Mushandirapamwe Hotel in Highfield.
Members in attendance included Cdes Robert Mugabe, Enos Nkala, Simon Muzenda, Moton Malianga, Maurice Nyagumbo, Edgar Tekere, Chrispen Mandizvidza and Edson Sithole.
The executive chose Cde Robert Mugabe, who was the party’s secretary-general, to go to Mozambique to lead the struggle.
He was the next most senior person in a position to lead in the ZANU leadership hierarchy.
The then leader, Rev Ndabaningi Sithole, was in prison.
His deputy Cde Takawira had died in hospital.
The party chairman Cde Chitepo had just been blown to pieces.
“The next man in the ZANU political hierarchy, Robert Mugabe, the party Secretary-General, should take over as leader, pending confirmation by a congress,” writes Martin and Johnson.
It was fortunate that Cde Mugabe was out of prison as he was expected to attend a conference on détente that sought to stop the war.
Curiously, the indaba was arranged by, of all the people, South African Prime Minister John Vorster, Ian Smith and the then President of Zambia Kenneth Kaunda.
ZANU was opposed to the whole exercise for the proposed ceasefire was crippling war operations.
The Central Committee decided to send two members, Cdes Mugabe and the late Tekere, out of the country to give leadership to ZANU’s external followers.
“Another task we were given,” Cde Tekere told Martin and Johnson in an interview, “was to get into Mozambique, make contact with the fighters in the bases and assist them as much as we could and then to fight on.
“This meant examining the supplies situation and trying to do something about it, and also making contact with thousands of recruits we had been sending out from home, looking into their conditions and making sure they were well integrated with the veterans.”
With the task in hand, Cdes Mugabe and Tekere headed for Mozambique.
“A Roman Catholic nun, Sister Mary Aquina, helped them to get to Inyanga (Nyanga) where Chief (Rekayi) Tangwena hid them and despite his considerable age, guided them across the border,” writes Martin and Johnson.
The Rhodesians’ modus operandi did not stop with Chitepo despite it not weakening the spirit of freedom fighters.
Alfred Mangena was killed in 1978 through a landmine explosion in Zambia, ZAPU second vice-president Jason Moyo was killed through a parcel bomb explosion in Zambia in 1977 and Philemon Makonese died in a suspicious car crash in December 1979.
ZANLA commander Josiah Tongogara died in a car crash in Mozambique in December 1979.
The strategy to suppress the struggle through assassinations failed dismally.
The war, however, was eventually won and independence was declared on April 18 1980.


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