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|Against the Grain, Memoirs of a Zimbabwean Newsman|
By Geoffrey Nyarota
'It was my task to brief Mugabe on our military operations and I found him both attentive and receptive, a good listener. However, the guerrillas and refugees who met him did not find him an easy man to deal with, and soon formed the opinion that we would not go very far with him,' said Mhanda.'He was secretive, stubborn and uncompromising, and the more I got to know him, the more I, too, began to fear for the future of the liberation struggle. When Mugabe takes a dislike to someone, he becomes vindictive and never changes his mind,' Mhanda told the BBC in an interview in January 2000.
After he returned to Quilimane, Mugabe was invited to attend a Front Line States summit in Dar es Salaam, where he was officially recognised as Zanu's new leader. From the Tanzanian capital he went to Maputo, where preparations were under way for the Geneva Conference aimed at settling the Rhodesian question. In October 1976, Mugabe led the Zanu delegation to the talks.
One of his first acts as Zanu leader was to disband Zipa, fearing that his archrival, Nkomo, might gain control of a single, united guerrilla force. This so dismayed Mhanda that he refused to travel to Geneva with the Zanu delegation. Shortly before Mugabe's departure for Switzerland Mhanda, using his alias, Dzinashe Machingura, told Zanla fighters via a Radio Maputo broadcast: 'We do not identify ourselves with any of the factions trying to lead us'.
For the duration of the talks, Mugabe brooded over what he saw as a threat to his leadership and on returning to Maputo, heartened by the fact that Machel had finally decided to support him, he persuaded the Mozambican president to act swiftly in order to forestall a military rebellion led by Mhanda.
On 19 January 1977, the Mozambican army arrested fifty of Zipa's top commanders at Beira, in Mozambique's Sofala province, while they were attending a conference to discuss the reintegration of political and military leaders arrested in Zambia in the wake of Chitepo's murder. Tongogara had been released from prison in Lusaka at Mugabe's request so that he could attend the Geneva Conference, where the two had forged an alliance. In the year that followed the Beira arrests, another 600 'dissident' guerrillas were rounded up at Tongogara's behest in the various training camps.
It was the start of what would be a ceaseless and ruthless campaign by Mugabe to neutralise anyone he perceived as a political opponent or threat to his hegemony.
Among those held were Elias Hondo, James Nyikadzinashe, Bournard Manyadza (alias Parker Chipoera), Dr Stanslaus Kaka Mudambo, Chrispen Mataire (alias David Todhlana) and Dr Augustus Mudzingwa of Zipra. Also arrested were Happison Muchechetere (alias Harry Tanganeropa) who later became the editor-in-chief of New Ziana, Zimbabwe's national news agency, after a stint at ZBC, and Alexander Kanengoni, who worked for the ZBC and wrote a column for the Herald after independence.
Mhanda was not among those initially arrested.
'In fact, Mugabe invited me to work with him,' he said. "We met a day after the commanders were arrested and I was informed of the so-called charges against them. I strongly disputed the claims and protested against this wilful and wanton act of victimisation.
'I refused to cooperate with Mugabe and the new central committee that he had just set up and demanded that the commanders be released, failing which I would join them. That is how I ended up in prison, too.
'The charges against the commanders were vague, to say the least. They were accused of straying from the party line kurasa gwara remusangano, as they say in Zanu.'
According to Mhanda nothing more specific was put to the detainees and no evidence was presented against them. There was no trial, not even a hearing in terms of the codes of discipline and conduct applicable to both Zanu and Zanla, and the accused were offered no chance to defend themselves.
'We were held in the basement of the abandoned Grand Hotel in Beira before being taken by road to Nampula province, where we were locked up in a military prison for a week. We were then airlifted to Pemba, the provincial capital of Cabo Delgado in the far north, and confined to our cells for more than seven months,' said Mhanda.
Those arrested in January 1978 were charged with plotting to overthrow the leadership of Zanu.
'They appeared before some form of kangaroo court,' said Mhanda. 'My understanding is that Mugabe was the presiding officer, assisted by Tongogara, Tekere, Herbert Ushewokunze and Emmerson Mnangagwa, who had just joined them in Mozambique after living and working in Zambia since 1970.'
After completing his studies at the University of Zambia, Mnangagwa had served his articles with a Lusaka law firm set up by Enoch Dumbutshena, who would be Zimbabwe's first black chief justice. Mnangagwa arrived in Maputo bearing impressive political credentials, despite not playing an active role in the liberation struggle during his time in Zambia. He had developed a close relationship with Mugabe in detention at Wha Wha and was married to Tongogara's sister. He went to Maputo at Tongogara's request and was appointed security chief, working out of the military supremo's office.
It was the perfect launch pad for his meteoric post-independence rise to minister of state security.
Prominent figures arrested during the second swoop on so-called rebels included Mudzi, Gumbo and Hamadziripi, all previously imprisoned by the Zambian authorities on suspicion of plotting Chitepo's death. Hamadziripi was a member of the original executive committee when Zanu was formed in 1963. Other detainees were Chrispen Mandizvidza, a founding central committee member, Webster Gwauya, the party's deputy secretary for external affairs, central committee members Matthew Gurira and Dr Joseph Taderera, and Augustine Chihuri, who would profess unflinching loyalty to Mugabe as police commissioner more than twenty years later.
On Chihuri's watch, the standards and performance of the Zimbabwe Republican Police reached an all-time low, with members being used to carry out witch-hunts against opposition politicians, the press and white commercial farmers. As the beleaguered country's most senior policeman, he was a prime recipient of Mugabe's legendary patronage, including agricultural estates.
Kangai and Richard Hove, who would both serve as cabinet ministers under Mugabe, were also detained. According to Mhanda, they spent several weeks in the Chimoio Dungeons, infamous for their execrable conditions, but escaped further incarceration due to their personal connections.
All the prisoners were eventually released as the result of intervention by Nyerere, chairman of the Frontline States at the time. However, Zanu refused to accept them back into its ranks and Machel, in abeyance to Mugabe, restricted their movements.
'We became free prisoners,' said Mhanda. 'After being confined to Pemba for six months, the Mozambican army's chief of staff persuaded us to relocate to an abandoned Portuguese military base at Balama, in rural Cabo Delgado. We were free to do whatever we liked, as long as we did not run away. Frankly, it was such a remote area that it would have been suicidal to try and run anyway.
'Mugabe had identified us as counter-revolutionaries and we were anxious to prove to Frelimo that this was not true, so we stayed for two years before we were eventually released.'
They were detained under extremely harsh conditions.
'For the week that we were at Nampula, we were never allowed out of our cells. The lights stayed on day and night, making it impossible to know what time it was.
There were twenty-five of us crammed into a cell clearly not intended for so many people,' Mhanda recalled.
Conditions at Pemba were no better.
'We were subjected to painful, cruel and inhuman torture. Our hands were tied behind our backs and we were thrown like bags of maize onto the back of trucks that were liberally strewn with broken glass. The guards derived great pleasure from beating us with anything they could lay their hands on. We were split into three groups of eight and confined to small cells of two metres by two metres.
'We were allowed out of our cells only once every ten days to empty the single bucket in which we had to relieve ourselves. We became accustomed to living with our waste.
'We had no blankets in the winter and our only clothing was a pair of trousers each. Our shirts had been confiscated so that in case we dared to try and escape, we could be easily spotted by our bare torsos. For almost eight months we were confined to our cells and during that period, we were allowed to bath only once, and then without soap.
We were so infested with lice that we gave up killing them. We endured all manner of ailments like malaria, high fever and diarrhoea without any form of treatment or medication.
'As for meals, we had rice sprinkled with sand grains, or sadza and beans. Many a time we had nothing to eat for a whole day.'
Tongogara, Mugabe and Nhongo never once visited the prisoners.
("No quiet on the western front", Chapter 7 of Against the Grain covers the political upheaval of the 1980's in Matabeleland - the Gukurahundi atrocities committed by Five Brigade. The extract tomorrow is a passage dwelling on one of the key players, former defence and former home affairs minister, Enos Mzombi Nkala.)