By Dr Irene Mahamba
IN the liberation struggle, on first getting to any camp or station, you did not say this is where I want to live, I want that posto or barrack.
The senior command allocated everything and that is where you stayed for the whole time or until further notice.
In Maputo, some comrades lived at Matola, at Zimbabwe House, at the Vice-President (Cde Simon Muzenda)’s residence, Cde Edgar Tekere’s or any other place the senior command saw fit for you to reside.
When I first got to Maputo after the mission in Dar es Salaam in December 1978, I was allocated the Vice-President’s residence.
I joined other comrades who were already living there.
There were eight-or-more of us living there altogether.
When I came back from Denmark (September 1979), I was still to remain in Maputo.
My leg was still in a plaster cast and I had to use crutches to get about.
It was therefore decided I had to work from home, at the Vice-President’s residence where I was ensconced.
In this moment I remember editing a book by Cde Muzenda on the early days of nationalism.
The Lancaster House Conference ended triumphantly for us.
The white fascists sealed and signed their terms of surrender and we were jubilant.
The Lancaster House Agreement was signed on December 21 1979 and everything was ready for us to go home.
We knew there were major hurdles but we were confident we could surf the tide.
However, fate had a bombshell for us.
My last moments with Cde Josiah Tongogara came while I was in the Vice-President’s Office, on the second floor of his residence.
I was busy editing the VP’s book on the early days on nationalism as I have mentioned above.
Cde Muzenda was at his desk doing some work.
Cde Tongogara came in with Cde Josiah Tungamirai.
Cde Tongogara informed Cde Muzenda that he had decided that before leaving for Zimbabwe by air as scheduled, he would first go to the camps to inform the comrades in the bases of the proceedings at Lancaster personally so that ‘they will not think we sold them out’.
Cde Muzenda had some reservations about this but Cde Tongogara felt very strongly that he had to do it his way and Cde Muzenda let it be.
The two comrades then said goodbye to Cde Muzenda and left.
In a few seconds Cde Tongogara came rushing back upstairs, came to where I was seated, held out his hand and said: “Little sister, I did not say goodbye.”
I had no idea it was for good.
A day-or-so later, I answered the door at the VP’s Residence. It was Cde Joachim Chissano, the Vice-President of Mozambique.
I was shocked.
What could bring the VP of Mozambique himself?
He asked if the VP was home and I said he was not.
He said when he comes home, I should tell him he was looking for him urgently.
They must have met up somewhere for later that afternoon, members of the Central Committee and other senior Party officials gathered in the lounge, at the VP’s residence.
By that time we also knew.
It was a sombre moment, heartbreaking.
For the first time in my life, I saw men cry.
There was so much grief.
We were all stunned, I was numb, I could not process it.
A dark cloud shrouded plans to go home; ceasefire, elections, the whole march towards independence.
I remember Cde Muzenda, his voice breaking, repeating to the comrades gathered in the lounge (of his home): “Tinoisumudza here Zimbabwe zvazvadai, tinoisumudza here?”
It was the heaviest blow we could ever have imagined; not after the war was already won, not after the whites had already signed their terms of surrender!
Later we gathered at Cde Tongogara’s residence in Maputo. Mai Hondo, Cde Tongogara’s wife, was crushed.
Overnight she had lost so much weight, she was just a shadow of herself.
She sat there, no more shedding tears.
The grief was too much, she did not ensconce well.
We could not bear to see her grief.
The late former President Cde Robert Mugabe was there, looking like a strange old man.
He had aged so much he looked more like he was in his 70s, not 50s.
He sat there, so alone among the many who were in the room with him.
When we shook hands with him in condolence, he hardly ensconced; he was so far away, so bereft.
We sat around the home, mostly silent or we would talk very softly; it was one of the most difficult moments for us, for the Party, it was harsh.
Cde Tongogara was our supremo, but he was more than just our commander.
We held him very closely in our hearts and he was dearly beloved by us.
His charisma, dedication to the struggle and love for all of us wove the strongest bond between him and the fighters, the ZANLA he commanded so ably, so faithfully.
We could not step aside and grieve for long.
We had to pick up our guns and fortify ourselves.
The nation of Zimbabwe was also grieving.
They needed reassurance; the plans for ceasefire had to get into place, the march towards independence had to proceed, though with grieving hearts.
The combatants at home, stunned as we were, had to be at peace.
They had to prepare to get into Assembly Points though everything was so difficult.
The mission Cde Tongo had sacrificed and fought for would see the light of day, that was our commitment, so we marched on though with broken hearts.
The West predicted the worst, that ZANLA at the front would not get into Assembly Points.
They even went on to speculate Cde Tongo’s death was a result of ZANU infighting, but the truth prevailed; the combatants at the front went into Assembly Points and ZANU and ZANLA remained intact.