By Saul Gwakuba-Ndlovu
ONE of Zimbabwe’s periods characterised by acute national anxiety was 1962-64, especially after the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) was banned.
The defiant undertaking that the southern Rhodesian black nationalist leadership would not replace ZAPU with a new party, but would operate underground, meant that they had to create and adopt an underground organisation similar to either the Cypriot of Colonel George Grivas, or the feared Kenyan Mau-Mau that sent all white people from the rural areas to urban centres for relative security.
That message was not very clearly understood by the public, a small part of which thought that ZAPU would launch a ‘Government-in-exile similar to that originally led by Holden Roberto and known as ‘Governo Revolutionario (Revolution) de Angola no Exilio-GRAE’ under the banner of the ‘Frente Nacionale de Libertcao de Angola.’
Based in Casablanca in Morocco, the GRAE attempt failed because of the sheer distance between Angola and Morocco and also because of the then ruthless Portuguese security forces headed by its notorious Policia Intenacinal de Defesa do Estado (PIDE).
Some National ZAPU leaders went to Dar es Salaam at the expiration of their normal 90-day-long detention – restriction period.
Nkomo joined them there at the beginning of 1963.
But President Julius Nyerere would not have any of it and asked Nkomo and Maurice Nyagumbo to return to Zimbabwe to organise for armed struggle.
Those who remained in Dar es Salaam included a couple of junior officials such as Gamanya, Benjamin Madlela, Sikhwili Kohli Moyo and one or two others.
Meanwhile, two important things were occurring: one was negotiations to wind up the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, the result of which would lead to the independence of Nyasaland (Malawi) and Northern Rhodesia (Zambia).
That would leave Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) under a white, minority racialist regime.
To rub more salt and some hot chilli into the teary eyes of the black masses of Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), the British Government said it would hand over the Federal Air Force to the Southern Rhodesian administration at the dissolution of the Federation.
Because neither Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) nor Nyasaland (Malawi) had professional technicians to look after the aircraft, said Her Majesty’s representative on the negotiating team.
The reader can now understand why the Rhodesia Front regime of Ian Smith was able to send military aircraft to terrorise a part of the SADC region and kill hundreds upon hundreds of refugees.
He was using former Federal Canberra jet bombers, actually given to his rebel racist administration by Britain.
The second development that was happening during the time London was talking to Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland about pulling them out of the Federation was an anti-Joshua Nkomo campaign in some of Southern Rhodesia’s black urban communities.
Former ZAPU senior leaders who pulled no punches against Nkomo’s leadership were Michael Mawema, Leopold Takawira, Rev Ndabaningi Sithole, Edison Zvobgo, Enos Nkala, Edgar Tekere, Nathan Shamuyarira, Herbert Wiltshire Chitepo, Nyagumbo, Noel Mukono, Moton Malianga as well as Simpson and Aggrey Mutambanengwe.
In the very early stages of that anti-Nkomo development, Robert Mugabe’s name did not feature prominently, if at all.
So, Nkomo sent Josiah Chinamano with a message to him in Dar es Salaam, requesting him to dissociate himself and announce his continued support of Nkomo.
Mugabe rejected whatever Joshua Nkomo had proposed and told him that his loyalty was to the struggle and not to individual personalities in the struggle. Mugabe’s negative response deeply distressed Nkomo.
Sitting forlornly under a shadow of a tree in Amon Jerira’s Old Highfield yard on Chinamano’s return from Dar es Salaam, Nkomo was heard saying to himself: “Even Robert Mugabe!”
However, if the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, be told, Nkomo commanded such a huge following that all his rallies filled up whatever venue to capacity.
Commented the ZANU president, Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole, at Chaminuka Square at a rally attended by just 60 or 70 fearless ZANU supporters: “What we need is quality and not quantity.
“We can launch and sustain an armed revolution few as we are, but has Joshua Nkomo achieved anything with the hundreds of thousands who flock to his circuses?” asked Rev Sithole.
Some audience members ululated. The real message in the Rev. Sithole’s rather over optimistic remarks was that ZAPU had not immediately moved from the era of sabotage to that of armed confrontation.
ZANU PF had launched an armed group in the Eastern Highlands and killed a number of civilian whites.
Nkomo’s hardest critics, including Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda of Malawi, were publicly saying Nkomo lacked dynamism and that he should make the country ungovernable.
The core group wanted to replace Nkomo in ZAPU as the country’s topmost black nationalist leader.
After they had failed, they decided to launch the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and that was done at Enos Nkala’s New Canaan House, in Highfield, Salisbury, on August 8 1963.
The Rev Sithole was the ZANU founding president.
Meanwhile, ZAPU launched what it named the People’s Caretaker Council (PPC) at Cold Comfort Farm, outside Salisbury, an amorphous non-legally registered mass movement, with Nkomo at its head, deputized by James Robert Dambaza Chikerema.
No sooner were the two organisations launched that there was war between them, with rocks and any other portable missile used in the black urban communities.
It is by far an understatement to say that life was risky in the black urban areas. Not only were rocks used but petrol-bombs against perceived, suspected and actual political rivals.
It was at that time that the Rhodesian Front regime passed the highly controversial ‘Mandatory Death Sentence’, a penalty for using any missile containing inflammable substance such as paraffin, diesel, benzene, turpentine, petrol or whatever else.
Zimbabwe’s current President, Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangangwa, and about five colleagues were arrested for bombing the Fort Victoria-Bulawayo passenger train and were duly sentenced to hang, according to that fascistic law that gave the court no right of freedom to weigh the pros and cons of the evidence in such cases.
Mnangagwa was later freed because he was below the age of majority, which was 21 years, when he allegedly committed the act.
At that time, Mugabe had spent quite a few years under restriction at either Chikurubi or in detention at the Salisbury Maximum Security Prison.
Fate played an unpredictable part to shape the political rise of Mugabe; first the ZANU president, Rev Sithole, was convicted of circulating a clandestine anonymous document calling for the assassination of Smith, Walter Clifford Dupont and Desmond Lardner-Burke.
During his trial in Salisbury, Rev Sithole denounced the document and said, as a pastor, he was “…against violence, in word, thought and deed.”
His colleagues in jail said he had betrayed the armed revolution by using such words to defend himself.
They disowned and replaced him with his deputy, Leopold Takawira, who died of diabetes in prison a couple of years later.
So, the party’s most senior leaders alive then were, Chitepo, who was then in Lusaka, Zambia, after resigning from his job as director of Public Prosecutions (DPP); on the hierarchy was Mugabe, secretary-general then in either prison or in restriction in South Rhodesia.
When Chitepo was killed by a car bomb in Lusaka, Zambia, in March 1975, Mugabe became the most senior ZANU leader, and that was how he became the Patriotic Front co-leader with Nkomo. Both men led the PF delegation at Geneva from October to December 1976.
While at Geneva, Nkomo would express relative satisfaction with Mugabe’s capabilities and leadership by remarking to whom it might concern: “I’ve worked with him many times before, and I know him.”
Saul Gwakuba-Ndlovu is a retired, Bulawayo-based journalist. He can be contacted on cell 0734 328 136 or through email. firstname.lastname@example.org