I was on a bus on Thursday morning, the 24th May 2019, travelling through Botswana from Kwa Bulawayo, Mthwakazi when news about the untimely death of Dr Dabengwa reached me via the social media. That was a very profound and sad moment for me, more so that I was hearing of this news whilst travelling through another country in pursuit of survival, about Dr Dabengwa who had not died in his own country, Mthwakazi, but elsewhere outside of it, in Nairobi, Kenya, from seeking medical attention from India.
If ever there was a conundrum, this was it and it could not get worse than this reality. For me, here was a man who passes on at the age of 79, having lived all his entire adult life being persecuted for nothing other than his identity, a person and human being whose defining characteristic is beyond any kind of riddle that he for all intents and purposes was Mthwakazian. Yet throughout his adult life right until his untimely death he pursued a dream, like many who departed before him, such as the likes of Dr Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo, George Silundika, Jini Ntuta, my own father Makhathini Bhekisizwe Guduza and scores of many others, a dream that can best be described as a mirage, a pie in the sky and visionless and directionless reality.
2. But who was Dr Dumiso Dabengwa?
As we mourn Dr Dabengwa’s passing, we, as the people of Mthwakazi should be brutally honest about his legacy and that of all the departed ZAPU and ZIPRA stalwarts because if we ignore the past failures there is no way we can hope to liberate ourselves from Zimbabwe. Probably Dr Dabengwa’s greatest failings alongside that of his comrades, was their failure to see the machinations of the enemy both before and after Zimbabwe’s independence.
It is absolutely critical to recognise that the liberation of Mthwakazi can only be realised if we do not ignore the reality that the enmity that was planted by the ZANU-PF regime to its followers and the Shona speaking population at large is far deeper than meets the eye. It is far much easier to destroy but exceedingly difficult to build a nation or nation state comprising of different ethnicities and nationalities when the hurt, enmity and destruction is so deep, entrenched and systematic. Many years of subjugation and domination have made our people to prefer expediency to principle. It is easy for many to embrace what they should despise and to hate what they should love. This is especially true when it comes to political choices.
Social media is abuzz with descriptions of Dr Dabengwa as a hero, somebody who always had a listening ear, a ‘Black Russian’, to a down to earth man and disciplined individual who was and could not at any given time be above the rule of law. For me, he was a nice human being whom I looked up to as a father. I remember inviting him to give a vote of thanks at the funeral of my late father held at Pelandaba cemetery on the 11th December 2004. He paid tribute to my father on the day without reflecting on the past failings of ZAPU AND ZIPRA, without mentioning even at the very slightest why my father had to escape into exile to South Africa from ZANU-PF rule and die in a Johannesburg hospital. At the time the ZANU-PF regime had wanted to recognise my late father as a hero, but I would have none of that arguing instead that there was no way he could be persecuted alive and then declared a national hero in death by his detractors and persecutors.
Later on, during early 2008, I was approached by friends of mine who were close to Professor Jonathan Moyo, who proceeded to introduce me to him at Rainbow Hotel in Bulawayo. Not that I did not know the good Professor, but that the Professor had a proposal that he needed delivered to Dr Dabengwa. The 2008 elections were fast approaching. There the good Professor asked me if I would be in a position to engage Dr Dabengwa on his behalf and hand him the proposal he had in mind regarding the way forward out of the then continuing impasse in the country. The paper that had been penned by the good Professor was titled the ‘Third Way’. In terms of this Third Way, Professor Moyo had confidence that Dr Dabengwa could lead our people to a promised land, a new beginning and dispensation.
During this period, the good Professor was out in the cold, having been expelled from ZANU-PF and I believed he had finally come to his senses. The Third Way therefore charted a path different from both ZANU-PF and the MDC. My own motivation in engaging the late Dr Dabengwa in that regard was fuelled by the realisation that just like the ZANU-PF regime, Tswangirai’s MDC had no desire or any intention of addressing the Mthwakazi question. In fact, the split that had happened under Tswangirai’s watch had a lot of ethnic undertones which reinforced the view in some of us that in terms of political culture, the MDC was just another ZANU-PF except in name. This remains the case even today, no amount of political tinkering will change the MDC philosophy from that of seeking to subjugate, dominate and rule the people of Mthwakazi by conquest perpetually.
As Zimbabwe was preparing for the 2008 elections, there was no time to waste and I immediately proceeded to set up an appointment to meet with Dr Dabengwa at his offices adjacent to the City Hall in Bulawayo. Once he had agreed to meet with me, I quickly put together a delegation that included the historian Pathisa Nyathi, Jethro Mpofu and Qhubani Moyo. At the other side of the table at his offices Dr Debengwa had been joined by the former ZAPU Administrator in Lusaka, Zambia, Mr Albert Nyathi. No significant progress was made at this meeting regarding the proposed Third Way from the good Professor. This was because Dr Dabengwa indicated that he would first have to consult with his wife, MaKhumalo, as he did not want to find himself again incarcerated by the Mugabe regime. But over and above that he thanked us for the engagement and indicated that he would call me to inform me about the way forward as soon as he had consulted with MaKhumalo. It is important also to underline that some of the people who met the late Dr Dabengwa with me, now feed from the ZANU-PF trough and now despise anything Mthwakazian. Unfortunately for them the Mthwakazi project is unstoppable and future generations will spit on their graves.
Two days later after this encounter, Dr Dabengwa through his secretary whom I only knew as MaNdlovu called and invited me to his Four Winds house. I went there in the company of Joshua Mhambi as per agreement with him and on arrival at his house we were joined by Dr Themba Dlodlo. It was at that meeting that Dr Dabengwa came up with an unbelievably stranger than fiction, simplistic and hard to comprehend kind of strategy that would dislodge ZANU-PF rule and hegemony from power for good. This according to the infamous ‘Black Russian’ was top secret, to be known only by the trio (myself, Joshua Mhambi and Dr Themba Dlodlo) and of course himself.
At that meeting at his house, Dr Dabengwa mentioned that Professor Moyo’s Third Way would take a very long time to dislodge ZANU-PF from power, and that he had already begun working quietly with Simba Makoni, and Solomon Mujuru (mostly at night) to defeat ZANU-PF at the polls. According to Dr Dabengwa, Simba Makoni was to quit ZANU-PF first and publicly on a definite date which is really what happened. Two weeks later it would be he Dr Dabengwa to quit ZANU-PF again publicly followed by Solomon Mujuru two weeks later, and that act of quitting by the trio of them in turn would destroy ZANU-PF irrevocably. Although Dr Dabengwa was adamant that Mujuru would quit ZANU-PF, I myself was not convinced by his argument, so too was Joshua Mhambi. And we were proven correct, Mujuru did not quit, it was only Simba Makoni and Dabengwa who quit resulting in their formation of the Kusile Mavambo project which contested the 2008 election and got only eight per cent of the vote. However, the actual results will never be known except that but for electoral fraud and the violence that ensued, ZANU-PF would be a dead party by now. Undoubtedly this effort by Kusile Mavambo did shake ZANU-PF to the core.
For that election campaign I had met with a few Mthwakazi personalities in Johannesburg and together assisted in fund raising on behalf of Dr Dabengwa. I personally went with him to meet with the newly appointed South African National Congress Party (ANC) President, Jacob Zuma who had triumphed against Thabo Mbeki at Polokwane, at the ANC’s Luthuli House headquarters. There at the meeting with Zuma, we were joined by Ayanda Dlodlo and Billy Masetla (then ANC intelligence operative), who together assisted with identifying business people who donated thirty thousand litres of fuel (sixteen thousand litres of petrol and fourteen thousand litres of diesel) for Dr Dabengwa’s campaign at home, including the printing of thousands of t-shirts and posters that were transported to Bulawayo with the help of the now late first Mthwakazi Chief Albert Zwelibanzi Gumede. After we had met with Jacob Zuma, Ayanda Dlodlo and Billy Masetla at the 10th Floor’s Luthuli House, we also met with Kebby Mapatsoe, Chairperson of the MKMVA on the 9th Floor of the same building. Some bit of hard cash funding had been received from the Institute of South African Democracy (IDASA) for Dabengwa’s campaign.
I had personally gone there to their Pretoria’s office with Dr Dabengwa, having been referred there myself by Judith Todd. But the officials at IDASA had wanted to meet Dr Dabengwa in person, so I made arrangements with him to fly to Johannesburg where I met him at the airport and drove with him to Pretoria. Of course then our strategy was that if Kusile Mavambo won the election, Simba Makoni would control Mashonaland and Dr Dabengwa would take charge of Mthwakazi in its entirety. We did not have a single person of Shona origin in the Kusile offices, so too did Simba Makoni’s Harare office, not a single person of Mthwakazi origin.
It was not that Dr Dabengwa had sanctioned such a strategy of liberating Mthwakazi, but that it was the way things had to be, we were going to chart a new path that would give our people power in the event that ZANU-PF was defeated. However, it is important to underline that it was only Dr Dabengwa who really believed in this project and who had absolute conviction that Solomon Mujuru would indeed desert ZANU-PF and join forces with him and Simba Makoni. But as we know that never happened, instead Mujuru met his demise by being killed and burnt at his house somewhere in Harare. After Solomon Mujuru’s death I am one of the people who challenged Dr Dabengwa to revive the old structures of ZAPU and transform them into a new beginning by forming what I proposed to him as the Mthwakazi Active People’s Union (MAPU).
But Dr Dabengwa would have none of it, instead he argued for the revival of ZAPU of which he became its President right up until his untimely death. By then I agreed with Dr Dabengwa that for me anything with Zimbabwe was no longer tenable, hence I became one of the founding members of the Mthwakazi Liberation Front (MLF), after many engagements and deliberations together with the late Chief Albert Zwelibanzi Gumede, General Nandinandi and Joshua Mhambi at the time, throughout the breath and length of Mthwakazi, Botswana and South Africa, before reaching out to other destinations including Europe where our homeless Mthwakazi people have sought survival.
In retrospect, I must say that my underlying reflections of Dr Dabengwa are that I worked with him and respected him very much throughout the period that I knew him personally. He had that disarming personality of respectability as both a human being and an elder. This was not how I perceived him during the war years and how I perceive him as a revolutionary. As Dr Samukele Hadebe put it, ‘he always had a listening ear to all efforts from our diverse political persuasions’ which, again in the view of Dr Hadebe, is what constituted his ‘greatest strengths’. Clearly it is in that sense that Dr Dabengwa could listen even to a small child, but this is where my respect for him stops, not as a revolutionary or intelligence operative.
3. Writing this tribute with authority and qualifications
I write this tribute as an ex-ZIPRA combatant and commander who at the age of 20 years left Soweto following the June 16 student revolt in 1976 to join ZIPRA in Zambia. Prior to joining ZIPRA it is important to highlight that I grew up visiting my father, Makhathini Bhekisizwe Guduza, in various prisons and detention camps in the former Rhodesia which included, Gonakudzinkwa, Wha-wha, Gwelo, Goromonzi and others from my home in Soweto where I grew up. I had been born in Alexander Township to a South African mother and of course a Mthwakazian father, who then was classified as a Rhodesian.
It is in this sense therefore that I write drawing from a wealth of experience of persecution as a child which motivated me to join the liberation struggle led by ZAPU and ZIPRA at an early age. I was trained in Angola, the first group of ZIPRA to be trained in that country by the Cubans, and from the outset commanded an artillery battalion under the Camp Commander and leadership of Ben Mathe (who was also known as Dhubhu). From Angola I was deployed inside the country, Rhodesia then, where I fought gallantly in Wankie, Binga, the whole of Lupane, parts of Nkayi district, Tsholotsho and Plumtree. Throughout this period, not only did I experience the deaths of my comrades at the frontline battlefields at home but also at the rear in Angola and later in Zambia where I witnessed first-hand the massacre and burial of hundreds of my comrades who were buried in a mass grave that had been dug up by a grader, following the first bombardment of the Freedom Camp (FC) by the Rhodesian air force, which lies about 15 kilometres east of Lusaka, the capital of Zambia.
Furthermore, it is important to note that I write this tribute in respect of the late Dr Dabengwa, as someone who gallantly resisted the organised slaughter of ZIPRA forces by both the Rhodesian and ZANLA forces at Entumbane. In addition to that, I am writing as someone who after Entumbane escaped certain death at the hands of Gukurahundi mass murderers by fleeing the country into neighbouring Botswana and ultimately escaping again from the reach of ZANU-PF hands in Botswana and ending up in London, Britain, where I utilised my years there productively in the education field and resulted in obtaining a doctoral degree in development economics. However, my father was not so lucky, as he was deported by the Botswana authorities back into Zimbabwe in 1986 and was subsequently incarcerated at Chikurubi Maximum Prison by the ZANU-PF regime.
It is in light of the foregoing therefore that this tribute represents a critical assessment by a soldier of his commander and others that went before him. More than that though, this assessment does not cast doubt and aspersions on the role of the commanders per se, but casts serious questions on the credibility of the struggle vision and goals of both ZAPU and ZIPRA, as totally directionless, irresponsible and therefore grounded on a disoriented historical and contemporary perspective. Put simply, there was no basis whatsoever for people of Mthwakazi to struggle and die for Zimbabwe. Had they struggled and died for Mthwakazi, there would be no need for any Mthwakazian to survive as a pauper and die as one outside Mthwakazi just as Dr Dabengwa died.
The struggle for liberation requires a passionate champion of the goals of freedom, the right to life, the right to identity and existence and a positive impact on the lives of the citizens and all of the people at large, irrespective of race, colour, creed, gender, disability, etc. It is in this regard therefore that whilst it is normal practice for people to speak good about the departed, in this case it is important to underline that I pay tribute to Dr Dabengwa with brutal honesty by drawing your attention that thousands of my comrades who perished for the liberation of Zimbabwe under the auspices of both ZAPU and ZIPRA never received decency and recognition in death and continue to lie buried and some with their bones exposed to the elements without names, no mourners and no witnesses, no justice but disposable human beings for a disposable cause.
I for one, for as long as I live, will continue to press for the decent burial of all those who lie in all the identified graves. It is absolutely critical to recognise of all these departed comrades, including by way of commissioning of expert anthropologists who through use of advanced methods may identify each and every remains so that their relatives can also find permanent closure regarding this false investment in a false cause called the liberation of Zimbabwe. It is for this specific reason why in the MLF I have cautioned against those who have advocated for a war against Zimbabwe as the same advocates may end up choosing comfort and pleasure over the departed and disposable human beings. Who must die in order for others to enjoy life, and perhaps engage in the looting of a country’s resources at the expense of all its citizens, especially the poor and downtrodden?
4. Dr Dabengwa as revolutionary
During the war, I was one of the people who rigorously opposed Dabengwa’s leadership at the helm of ZAPU’s National Security Organisation (NSO) in Zambia, where he was deputised by my late cousin, Gordon Sibutha Butshe. I for one could not understand why it was possible that the Rhodesian Forces, specially its air force would bomb and kill our comrades in their hundreds when we had this fearsome NSO. What was its role and that of its leaders? How could hundreds, if not thousands of our comrades get killed by being bombed by the Rhodesians whilst attending a parade such as at the Freedom Camp (FC) where there were not even trees nearby for comrades to run to and take cover? What kind of intelligence was being headed by Dr Dabengwa? For it was not only the FC that was bombed on the same day, but Kabwe bases, Mukushi, Solwezi and other bases along the Zambezi River at such fronts as the Death and Casualty (DK) and in the interior only referred to as Emagojini.
I can equivocally state without fear nor favour that the entire ZIPRA’s military leadership, apart from Alfred Nikita Mangena and John Dube had absolutely no vision about why so many hundreds of thousands of lives who had invested in the military campaign for the liberation of Zimbabwe had to be lost without a name. That cannot be called intelligence; neither can it be called heroism to lead so many thousands who invested their lives to their early and unwarranted deaths. I am not going to delve into the history of the shenanigans that went on under the leadership of Dr Dabengwa and his comrades Lookout Masuku, Jevan Maseko and others, including of course the Chief of Staff of ZIPRA, Ambros Mutinhiri, who immediately joined ZANU-PF after independence in 1980, save only to say they could not see the woods out of the trees.
It is not surprising therefore that in their presence, long before they (Dr Dabengwa and Lookout Masuku and others) were incarcerated by ZANU-PF, they presided over a military giant, the best in the whole of Southern Africa, which was disarmed willy-nilly by Dr Joshua Nkomo in the presence of then Brigadier Chinenge (now General Chiwenga) at the massive Gwaai River Camp. Where were they (Dabengwa and Masuku)when Dr Nkomo and Chiwenga went to disarm the best equipped military camp of ZIPRA which had literally everything: tanks, anti-aircraft guns, artillery pieces and so forth. Surely any intelligence operative, let alone a Black Russian would have known that after this disarmament only death to the combatants was to follow. This disarmament happening when Dr Dabengwa and his comrades knew fully well that ZANU-PF was not disarming. There is a wealth of evidence and information about this reality, including in Nkomo’s Story of My Life and other written sources. It was extremely naïve on their part to allow Dr Nkomo to be accompanied by Chiwenga to disarm ZIPRA at its Gwaai River Camp. There was absolutely no logic why Chiwenga would accompany Dr Nkomo into a ZAPU camp for the purposes of disarming ZIPRA, when Dr Nkomo and his military commanders could never enter into a ZANLA military camp. To me this marked a significant step by ZAPU under Dr Nkomo’s leadership and that of his military commanders who included Dr Dabengwa to capitulate to ZANU-PF hegemony without a single shot ever being fired.
How could Dr Dabengwa , Lookout Masuku and others be detained by their ZANU-PF counterparts (whom they knew very well – the likes of Rex Nhongo (Solomon Mujuru, Perence Shiri, Constantine Chiwenga, Emerson Mnangagwa) when they had a ZIPRA army, a well-trained one for that matter? I have always thought that to be a hero, one has to sacrifice on behalf of their people or followers. Was the arrest of these military leaders a sacrifice on behalf of their people? What purpose did the arrest of Dr Dabengwa and Lookout Masuku serve for their people? Was it beneficial? If indeed, how and who benefitted? Surely history will never be kind to such leaders after all it must never be subjective but objective. It is this kind of military leadership that resulted not only in the deaths of thousands of young people in various camps in Zambia, Tanzania, Angola and elsewhere, including of course in the former Rhodesia, where not only the young were maimed but the elderly men and women and children were killed by Smith’s forces. Those killed by Mugabe during Gukurahundi and throughout the ZANU-PF tenure also need to be understood in that light.
Today, Dr Dabengwa, being one of the last known figures, also leaves a legacy of great weakness for the people that he led, a legacy where not even the names of their dead are known, let alone in statistical terms, a legacy where even the remains of those who lie buried at mass graves in Lusaka and elsewhere have not been brought home, a legacy of not even having left behind memorial stones in remembrance of the dead throughout the breath and length of Mthwakazi.
Dr Dabengwa also leaves behind a legacy of hopelessness, a legacy of stolen land which is being sold to the highest bidders of Shona hegemony, a legacy of insignificant change in the fortunes of the City of Kings, Bulawayo, now ruled over by the Shonas, a legacy of the defeat of the people of Mthwakazi even when they were never defeated in battle or in any war by their rulers by conquest – the tribal and criminal organisation ZANU-PF, and finally a legacy of being monumentally negligent, responsible and accountable for their failure of not protecting the investment of trust placed in them as leaders of ZAPU and ZIPRA by thousands who laid down their lives for a pipe dream and pie in the sky called Zimbabwe. History will be accordingly brutal to Dr Dabengwa and all the past leaders of both ZAPU and ZIPRA combined.
5. Way forward
Dr Dabengwa’s death presents a compelling case for all the people of Mthwakazi to change course. He died truly a Zimbabwe. Even in the face of perpetual persecution and rule by conquest, he still believed in the Zimbabwean project. Now that he represents perhaps the last of the stalwarts of the Zimbabwean project, the last of the assimilators to an impossible never realisable dream, the last of those who deny that even birds are different, the last who thought in order to survive one must be perpetually subjugated, violated, humiliated and therefore stateless, the last who saw no hope of being who they are and the last who did not want to escape the squeezing chains of a larger Zimbabwean prison, it is time that the people of Mthwakazi with no holds barred strive for their liberation by whatever means at their disposal.
But to do this, the people of Mthwakazi must reject fake nationalism under any guise, including those who claim to have been sent by their Gods with whom only they can communicate and those good for nothing narcissistic house of cards leaders who want to be praised for leading our people astray. It is incumbent on all of us to recognise our role in shaping the destiny of our people, lest our own children shall spit on our graves for our failure to do so. The question that each and every one of us must answer is: what is our own contribution, my own and your own contribution in changing the lives of our people as we pass through earth. Remarkably just like some narcissistic Mthwakazi movements that have sprung up in recent times, ZAPU and ZIPRA led a struggle without a single document that projected what kind of vision that hundreds of thousands of lives were sacrificed for. This we will not tolerate.
The Mthwakazi Liberation Front (MLF) will therefore insist against fake populism and insist that those who want the people of Mthwakazi to invest their trust in them must produce a well written, argued and compelling document regarding the vision for Mthwakazi that they propagate not a pie in the sky kind of political hooliganism and insanity. Never again shall our people be led astray and never again will they invest in shenanigan and cosmetic politics and falsehoods. As the MLF, we have indeed produced that vision for the kind of Mthwakazi that we seek, in the form of the Draft Constitution for the Federal Republic of Mthwakazi. We challenge any serious Mthwakazi political movements to engage us in that regard or to produce their own vision instead of proceeding like ZAPU in persuading our people to invest their trust with their lives into hooliganism and shenanigan directionless populism intended to lead our people astray and into a bottomless dumping pit.
With these few words, there can be no doubt that Dr Dabengwa, like many before him, especially his comrades and predecessors in ZAPU and its military wing ZIPRA was an enigma, a puzzle who did not really know what they wanted in the liberation struggle, and could not distinguish between the politics of appeasement and those of power, authority, subjugation and domination. As the fallen spirit of Dr Dabengwa joins all the departed from Mthwakazi, his spirit should recognise that all those fallen comrades shall be recognised in a liberated Mthwakazi. I can only bid him farewell as a father figure and ask him to convey our revolutionary greetings to all the departed that Mthwakazi is rising and is unstoppable, especially all those without names, who knows, maybe he will be accorded an opportunity to apologise to them for not having protected their investment of trust in ZAPU and ZIPRA.
Last but not least, we all need to recognise that it is absolutely useless and a negation of the hopes and trust of our people to engage in the liberation struggle for Mthwakazi, if we are not determined to seize power in all its manifestation (political, social, economic and cultural). Without achieving this kind of spider web power, Mthwakazi shall remain under chains and rule by conquest. We can only proceed by way of building our own institutions as the people of Mthwakazi and not participating in anything Zimbabwean. The fundamental and decisive step to take, in this regard, is to pass our own constitution as the people of Mthwakazi which shall be the supreme law of the Federal Republic under which all of us shall abide and take oath without failure, fear or favour.
Finally, the critical step in this direction is to immediately establish without any further hesitation the MTHWAKAZI SOVEREIGN FUND (MSF) which shall deliver a liberated MTHWAKAZI to all its linguistic communities throughout the breadth and length of the country, to facilitate the construction and development of proper schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, specialized medical facilities, infrastructure – roads, bridges, dams, airports, power facilities, etc. Only that way can we pay real and not cosmetic tribute to all the departed by ensuring that even in ill-health, not a single citizen of Mthwakazi unless by own choice leaves their motherland and die as Dr Dabengwa did, en route to and from seeking medical attention elsewhere in the world. The struggle must continue. Vuka Mthwakazi. Abantu. Yithi. Mayihlome Ihlasele. Lala ngoxolo Dr Dabengwa with full knowledge that okungapheliyo kuyahlola. Mthwakazi will rise and achieve statehood in the lifetime of its people noma kanjani.