Saturday, 20 August 2011

Dzino, Rex and the legacy of the Zimbabwe Peoples Army (ZIPA)


The last week in Zimbabwe saw all of us come to terms with the history of our country’s war of liberation. On Monday 15 August, Wilfred Mhanda (Chimurenga name Dzinashe Machingura) launched his memoirs titled  Dzino. Memories of a Freedom Fighter. The celebrated deputy political commissar of the Zimbabwe Peoples Army (ZIPA) had finally put his experiences on paper. In the early hours of Tuesday 16 August the even more celebrated  former Commander of ZIPA and first black commander of our country’s Defence Forces, Solomon Mujuru (Chimurenga name Rex Mujuru) passed away in the most tragic of circumstances at his farm in Beatrice. He had however not yet put his liberation war experiences to pen and paper. Others however, have done so, and will continue to do so for various reasons and their attendant biases. Such is the nature of the writing/recording of history.
Be that as it may, the two legends of our war for liberation, in the last week and in different circumstances made us remember our brave history. And it is a history that is well worth remembering.
In my own remembrance however, I am aware that I only experienced the struggle from my mother’s back. And so I write this article not with the benefit of hindsight because I do not personally remember the struggle. That does not however make me any less Zimbabwean or any less patriotic. I know of the struggle from the tales told to me by my parents, my war veteran relatives, my teachers, in the books that have been written by many academics and of late in the memoirs written by Fay Chung, Edgar Tekere and Wilfred Mhanda. In all of these tales and texts I have discerned that an objective history of our liberation war struggle is well nigh impossible. Everyone has their own version of the facts except perhaps for the dates of particular events. But as to who really made what happen, and why, that is always in dispute from one narrative or the other.
I will however dwell on the lives of the two men, Dzinashe Machingura and Rex Nhongo. These two men as legend has it were key to the resumption of the liberation war after the Lusaka Unity Accord of 1975. The death of Herbert Chitepo in the same year had led to the arrest of Josiah Tongogara by President Kaunda of Zambia. This had led to a serious leadership vacuum for Zanu and Zanla in exile. Further to this, the failure of the Lusaka Unity Accord did not diminish the insistence by the Frontline States on the unification of all the liberation movements and parties including their military wings.
It was however to be the differences between the guerillas and the political leadership under Ndabaningi Sithole that led to the now famous but not so celebrated Mgagao Declaration of  which Dzinashe Machingura was a key architect. The authors of this declaration also sought the permission of Tongogara who was in prison to continue with the war of liberation. They then proceeded to seek audience with Samora Machel of Mozambique as to the futility of the Lusaka Accord (Rex Nhongo and Dzinashe Machingura were part of this delegation). ZIPA was then formed in 1976 and had in its initial leadership Rex Nhongo as the overall commander, Nikita Mangena as political commissar and Dzinashe Machingura as deputy political commissar.
It is from ZIPA that the liberation war was reorganized in the aftermath of détente. And this is of particular importance if one is to understand the role of the guerillas in the war, because they had, through ZIPA, undertaken a political role which some would refer to as revolutionary.  ZIPA under Mujuru’s command, filled in the political vacuum of arrested political leaders as well as the military task of remobilizing for the war. This was a feat that the political leaders had failed to achieve, and this is why, after the Mgagao Decalaration, it was also the ZANLA component of ZIPA that decided to position Robert Mugabe as Ndabaningi Sithole’s replacement with the specific permission of the imprisoned Josiah Tongogara and the Zanla High Command.
That ZIPA has generally been erased from our remembrance of history is an issue that should make us all seek to understand it better. The eventual imprisonment of Dzinashe Machingura and his colleagues as well as the disbandment of ZIPA does not take away their historical role in the liberation of our country. Neither does it take away the significance of the pragmatic nature of the intervention of ZIPA under Rex Nhongo, Nikita Mangena and Dzinashe Machingura amongst others to pursue the revolutionary path. It does however ask questions of those that claim war veteran status today, who continually refer to war when there is no military war to be fought in contemporary Zimbabwe. On the contrary, unlike in the circumstances that necessitated the formation of ZIPA, the only battle we have today is that for the democratic pursuit of the people’s interests, not by soldiers, but by civilians. As Cde. Rex and Cde. Dzino would have it, it is the gun that follows the politics not the politics that follows the gun.
`*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity.