On the 23rd of May 2019, Zimbabwe lost one of its sons of contemporary revolutionary struggle against social, political as well as economic injustice since the early 60’s.
By Mlondolizi Ndlovu
Coming from a ZAPU inclined family in which my father was a member of the ZPRA army, I developed interest in the mother party’s history and easily connected with the Black Russian.
Through the current ZAPU Deputy Treasurer Mjobisa Noko, I easily had access to a number of interviews with the intelligence supremo. This article is a narration of Dr Dabengwa’s personal experience in pre and post independent Zimbabwe.
Born in 1939, Cde Dumiso Dabengwa was about 20 years old in 1960.
By then, he had not seen any military training of which is the major focus of whatever has been dedicated to his history.
Cde Dabengwa revealed to me that on January 1, 1960, some nationalists, the likes of George Silundika, Enos Nkala, Morton Dizzy Malianga and others, formed the National Democratic Party. It was a successor of the previously banned SRANC in 1959 of which Joshua Nkomo had been president.
Nkomo was in self-imposed exile when the NDP was formed in 1960. So, it was the first Congress of the NDP in 1960 which voted Nkomo as President in absentia.
By then, he said, the nationalist movement had no military wing, camps neither a clear -ut strategy. Thus in 1960, Cde Dabengwa was not a soldier but a youth of the NDP.
The major difference between the NDP and its predecessor SRANC was a tendency towards sabotage activities of which Dumiso became one of the several youthful participants.
It ought to be noted that confronting the settler colonial Rhodesian system had not been a joke.
Thus, the major players of the NDP’s youthful sabotage activities were generally in their early 20s in 1960.
They had a symbiotic relationship with the nationalists who somehow assumed a fatherly role in the general ideological thrust of the nationalist movement.
Nkomo came back to Rhodesia to lead the NDP which was to be banned at the end of 1961.
It was that ban which resulted in the resuscitation of the NDP as the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union [ZAPU].
Meanwhile, the first Publicity Secretary of the NDP had been one Robert Mugabe who had taught in Ghana. It was generally sabotage that drew the attraction of the Rhodesian settler military as well as Intelligence system towards the activities of Cde Dumiso Dabengwa and his confederates.
Cde Dumiso says he left the then Rhodesia in 1963 for Zambia, where the banned ZAPU was headquartered.
As an independent country then, Zambia was close to a year old.
In 1964, he and others left for military training in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics [USSR].
It is Cde Dumiso, Ambrose Muthinhiri, Robson Manyika and others that formed the core ZAPU group of trainees in the USSR in 1964. By then, the split of 1963 had taken place and ZANU was about a year old.
Back in Zambia in about 1965, Cde Dumiso became part of ZAPU’s military as well as Intelligence structures.
The struggle had not been about appointments by strategically trusted cadres thus some years later, cde Dabengwa was given the responsibility of heading ZAPU’s Intelligence Unit.
The Rhodesians were well informed about such developments and became a predator to the freedom as well as survival of Cde Dumiso.
As head of ZAPU Intelligence, Cde Dumiso saw the likes of Cde Alfred Mangena who was the commander of ZAPU’s military wing. In that way, he graduated from an NDP youth of 1960, to the guerrilla of the mid 60’s to the late 70’s.
From then onwards, The Black Russian became an eyesore to the Rhodesian Intelligence as well as military system to the extent that his comrade with whom he had trained, Ethan Dube was abducted in Botswana in about 1973.
The Rhodesians, under the political leadership of the Rhodesia Front [RF] led by Smith, were angry that an African Nationalist movement like ZAPU had gained a combat as well as Intelligence capability. Dumiso was always wanted by his foes.
Many conferences on the independence of Rhodesia came and went by, but the Lancaster House Conference of 1979 was the last.
Cde Dumiso arrived back in Southern Rhodesia, later Zimbabwe, between December 24 and 31, 1979 as part of the first ZPRA Commanders to land at Salisbury, later Harare.
At independence in April 1980, ZANU won the elections and Mugabe became prime minister. His first trusted lieutenants were Lt General Peter Walls, formerly of the Rhodesian Army and Intelligence Chief, Ken Flower.
Both these men had no love for Cde DD, Mugabe included. At independence, the first of Mugabe’s Cabinet had among its members, Joshua Nkomo the President of ZAPU as its Home Affairs minister.
In 1982, some arms caches, allegedly belonging to PF ZAPU, were discovered. That was the genesis of what Mugabe termed “a moment of madness”.
It was a decisive clampdown of PF ZAPU, its military, as well as political personnel, resulting in the incarceration of Dumiso after Zimbabwe had become a sovereign state by contemporary standards.
Cde Dumiso was released in about late, 1986 at the time that the PF ZAPU and ZANU PF unity talks were underway.
It was regrettable that his long-time colleague and comrade, Lookout Masuku died in state custody in about 1986.
In his own words, Dumiso said, “I was bitter after my release as a result of the treatment received under the ZANU PF government. It was Nkomo, the old man Josh who persuaded me to join the ZANU PF government under the unity umbrella.”
Thus, Dabengwa became, for some years, the Home Affairs Minister. On departure from government, he announced the revival of ZAPU and the topic became very contentious.
After the formation of the MDC in about 2000, he seemed to have found some pro –Democratic allies.
At his death he had been continuously agitating for a democratically free and independent Zimbabwe, and he endorsed MDC Alliance president Nelson Chamisa as the presidential candidate for the 2018 elections.
When I last spoke to him at his Harare home, he urged young people to commit themselves to fighting the current economic and political wars, saying supporting the status quo is not an option for young people.
Fare well Cde Dabengwa. Hamba kuhle qhawe lamaqhawe. Sizahlala sikukhumbula.
May his soul rest in peace.
Mlondolozi Ndlovu is a journalist by profession. He writes in his own capacity