The Sunday News
ON Wednesday, 22 January will mark 43 years since veteran nationalist and Zapu Vice-President Jason Ziyapapa Moyo (JZ) died. A dark cloud engulfed the country’s nationalists movements on 22 January 1977 when a letter bomb exploded in Cde Moyo’s hands at the Zapu offices in Lusaka, Zambia. Forty three years later his death is still shrouded in mystery as people continue to ask questions on who really killed the maverick nationalist. In recognition of his contribution to the liberation struggle, Cde Moyo was declared a national hero after independence and his remains exhumed from Zambia and reburied at the National Heroes Acre. The new dispensation after President Mnangagwa went further and renamed Suri Suri Airbase in Chegutu, Mashonaland West after him. Some streets around urban areas especially in Harare and Bulawayo also carry his name. This week our Assistant Editor Mkhululi Sibanda (MS) spoke to former Zipra Chief of Military Intelligence Retired Brigadier-General Abel Mazinyane about the life and circumstances surrounding the death of Cde Moyo who was said to be the darling of the combatants. Rtd Brig-Gen Mazinyane was in the company of his colleague in the armed struggle, Cde Stanley Nleya commonly known by pseudo name Gagisa, an accomplished military instructor who in the later stages of the war was the Zipra Deputy Chief of Operations. Below are excerpts of the interview:
MS: Rtd Brig-Gen Mazinyane, you worked with the late Jason Ziyapapa Moyo. When did you come across JZ as he was affectionately called?
Rtd Brig-Gen Mazinyane: I first met Jason Ziyapapa Moyo in 1969 in Zambia when I joined the armed struggle. He used to stay at the Zimbabwe House (ZH), which by then was also used as a camp within Lusaka urban. It was used as a residential place for recruits on transit to established military camps such as Albert Luthuli. At first I used to see him from a distance, but he had this knack of listening to recruits talking about the situation back home. During our first days I remember as recruits arguments on what will happen when we attained our independence. One of the heated arguments was centred on the fact that when we attained our independence our women will be employed and while at work they will leave the children at the kindergarden. Among us the recruits there was Magutshwa who was older than us and a traditionalist. Magutshwa said he would not entertain that a woman he married and paid lobola for could leave his children under the custody of another woman, so it would be better to take the woman who was looking after his children as his wife. JZ would be there sitting among us, listening to us with a keen interest and among us we also had Roy, Tendai Nyamukapa and James Sakupwanya. As the names suggest we were from different ethnic backgrounds and JZ accepted all of us in equal measure. From a personal point of view I could not believe my eyes and ears that there among us was seated the man I used to listen to from Radio Zambia broadcasts throwing hard political punches at the Rhodesian regime. He used to call Sir Roy Welensky, who at one time was the Prime Minister of the Rhodesian Federation government Sidlagwayi (one who eats tobacco) and I think it had to do with the Rhodesian politician’s love for cigarettes. He had this tendency of using derogatory terms against the Rhodesians. Although we were still recruits we could see that things within Zapu were not well.
MS: What was happening?
Rtd Brig-Gen Mazinyane: We realised that we were beginning to face food shortages and that was because there was a rift within Zapu, what was later on to be called the Chikerema Crisis. Chikerema, who was the Zapu Vice-President and leader in exile was a signatory to the party accounts and at that point was withholding money as tension was building within the party. It was at that point that the party came up with the plan to start selling its publication that was being printed in East Germany, the Zimbabwe Review. So recruits and guerillas would go to the streets of Lusaka to sell that magazine and proceeds from the sales would be used to buy food. It was during that period that I was noticed by JZ. The reason being that I was the only one who would bring positive results after selling the publication. Others would come up with all sorts of excuses. The reason for declaring all the proceeds from the sales was that unlike others I was not hooked to alcohol and tobacco. In fact I have never taken alcohol in my life neither have I smoked. So JZ was impressed with my honesty and one day he came to me and said he was not sure whether I will remain like that even when I had learnt the habit of drinking alcohol. I was still a recruit. He charmed us with his simplicity and desire to talk to anybody.
MS: I know you were in a war situation but at times I suppose people would throw caution to the wind and indulge in the pleasures of life. What did JZ like to do in passing time?
Rtd Brig-Gen Mazinyane: JZ liked his beer and meat. However, he only started drinking after 5pm. He never took alcohol before 5pm. His drinking habits also brought the lighter side of him. There was a day this guerilla called Cde Mthambo who was from Mbembesi brought his beer to Zimbabwe House and put it in the fridge and left it there. JZ saw it and took it and when Mthambo came back and found his beer gone, he asked around and was told that JZ had drank it. He approached JZ and complained. In response JZ said since he saw the beer in a Zapu fridge, he thought the alcohol belonged to Zapu, that is why he took it. Everybody laughed about it. Although JZ discouraged those who worked at the headquarters from partaking in meat, in fact during his time it was an offence to be seen at ZH eating tinned beef as he said such food stuffs belonged to the troops at the front, but he had a huge appetite for meat. Although he ate vegetables which was the usual relish at the ZH he did not hide his love for meat. There was one incident over meat that pitted him against the now late former ZPRA Chief of Operations John Dube (JD).
MS: How and why?
Rtd Brig-Gen Mazinyane: I am not sure which year it was, but what happened is that JD brought a rabbit which he had hit with the army’s Land Rover. When he was sorting it out JZ asked him that they share this delicacy and JD openly refused, saying it was not enough for two people, he will have it all by himself. JZ then said there was no way he could have the whole rabbit to himself, after all it was hit by a Zapu Land Rover. In response JD quickly retrieved the vehicle’s keys and handed them to JZ and said he could try his luck and go hunting for the rabbit. The situation was getting a little bit tense, JZ then said JD could go ahead and enjoy his delicacy on his own. JD went on to argue and say he did not see any need to share the meat with anyone because if he had hit a landmine planted by the Rhodesian forces could anyone of us had shared that with him. JD went on to prepare his rabbit meat and when the meal time came, JZ who used to eat the same food and at the same table with the soldiers and ordinary office workers stood up to serve himself isitshwala and beans. JD then dished his rabbit meat on a tray and waited for it to cool down. After some time he took his meat and when he started to eat, lo and behold the meat was uneatable, it was too salty. Someone had obviously poured a huge amount of salt into JD’s meat. JD was very disappointed and livid as the meat was not edible. No one missed the naughty smile on JZ’s face, he is the one who could have done that to spoil JD’s meal. Those are some of the lighter side of things that were happening during our struggle. Such events loosened the tension during difficult periods when we had no food and we were always on the lookout for the enemy, which could raid us anytime.
MS: You speak of his love for the bottle, did you see him staggering after taking one too many?
Rtd Brig-Gen Mazinyane: Like I said he only started drinking after 5pm and religiously followed that schedule. (Stanley Gagisa interjects and says JZ never took more than four pints of beer during his evening drinking sessions at a local bar which was about 200 metres from ZH). I remember there was a time when JZ visited the MPLA leader, the now late Agostinho Neto at Victory Camp in Zambia where the MPLA headquarters were situated. During their discussions Neto took out a bottle of Vodka and asked JZ to join him in drinking. JZ politely declined the offer and said he only indulged in alcohol after 5pm. In response Neto laughed at him and said there was something wrong with Zimbabweans as alcohol drinking did not have a timetable. Neto went on to tell JZ that in fact he was not surprised with that attitude as there was something also amiss with the Zimbabwean struggle. Neto said he did not understand why people fighting such a formidable regime as the Rhodesian one had put clergymen in the forefront of the struggle. He was referring to Ndabaningi Sithole and Abel Muzorewa of course.
MS: How did he relate with the security people like yourself, considering that you were provided protection to VIPs?
Rtd Brig-Gen Mazinyane: He was a nightmare to any security personnel. He used to say he did not want to see people swarming around him as that gave an impression that he was too important. So when he was going for a drink or two he would just sneak out and the security guys had to follow him but at a distance. Even when he was in the bar our guys will be keeping an eye on him from a distance. To show how simple and down to earth he was there was a day when he went to collect his clothes from a dry cleaning facility. He took the now late national hero Colonel Masala Sibanda with him. On their way back they met someone who knew JZ and the man was surprised that JZ was the one carrying his clothes while there was a young man walking by his side. When the man put that across to JZ he shot back and said Masala, like any other Zimbabwean, was in Zambia to fight for the freedom of Zimbabwe not to worship politicians. Another thing is that JZ disliked formal wear especially a jacket and tie. He preferred loose fitting shirts or sports jackets. He once went to a meeting in Cyprus and dressing during that event was strictly a jacket and tie. After being stopped at the door and told that he was supposed to be dressed in a jacket and tie and turned back, he looked around and saw a waiter. He moved towards the waiter and borrowed his bow tie, that is how he was able to attend that meeting.
To be continued next week with Rtd Brig-Gen Mazinyane talking about how JZ reo-organised Zapu and its military wing which was transformed into Zipra. He will also talk about the Commission of Inquiry, which was set up to look into JZ’s death. Mazinyane will also mention how JZ and the late former President Robert Mugabe displayed a high level of prankishness during a visit in one of the countries where they had gone to seek aid.