The Sunday News
ALThough the sun may have set, it is vital for the sake of posterity to narrate the journey undertaken by the sun when it shone and traversed the blue sky.
Doctor Dumiso Dabengwa epitomised both the nationalist struggle and its transformation into a fully fledged armed liberation struggle. As pointed out in a previous article, Dabengwa was a giant bright beacon in the struggle for independence. In that struggle, he was instrumental in the cooperation between the African National Congress’ armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) and the Zimbabwe African People’s Union’s armed wing from the days it was under the Special Affairs headed by James Chikerema.
This article seeks to recount the story of cooperation between the two liberation movements from pre-to post independence periods. It was a collaboration which spanned several decades and Dabengwa played an illustrious role in most of the engagements. The two political movements, part of the six authentic movements in Southern Africa alongside Frelimo of Mozambique, Paigc of Guinea Bissau, Mpla of Angola and Swapo of Nambia, sent its early cadres to train in China.
The Zapu cadres that left Southern Rhodesia as far back as 1961 were trained by MK cadres under cover in Zambia, even before Zambia had become independent. Clark Mpofu, Amen Chikwakwata and John Mondiya Ndlovu were trained by MK cadres in the bushes of Zambia where they spent the Christmas of 1962. This was before the trio and many others proceeded to China for formal training in sabotage. China then hosted both Zapu and ANC cadres such as Mlangeni and Joe Gqabi.
Before the commissioning of Morogoro as a military training camp in 1967, Kongwa in Tanganyika had a series of neighbouring encampments where both MK and Zapu were represented. After graduating from Algeria, some Zapu cadres went to Kongwa which was abandoned soon after when Morogoro was established. The cadres from Algeria were recruited as instructors at Morogoro.
In 1964 Dabengwa and other colleagues went to train in the Soviet Union. MK was also receiving training in the same country. Contacts had been made by then and would see the two movements collaborate in the liberation struggle in both Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa. In the military wings of the two movements the likes of Joe Modise and Dabengwa were instrumental in the execution of joint operations. The first, the Luthuli Detachment, was launched in 1967 after a Zapu contingent had, in 1966, undertaken a reconnaissance mission in preparation for the joint infiltration. John Dube (JD) was appointed to command the joint group.
At political level, the ANC was represented by Oliver Tambo and Mothobi, among others. The launch was delayed due to the demise of Chief Albert Luthuli, a former President of the movement. It was a befitting honour to name the Detachment after Luthuli. Dabengwa was in the thick of planning and the execution of the joint operation. However, there were some people who condemned the joint operation, arguing that it was a move to consolidate Nguni political and military hegemony. The Wankie Battles marked a turning point in the war of liberation. When I interviewed Dabengwa sometime last year seeking his insight on the periodisation of the war of liberation, he was quick to point out the 1967 encounter with the Rhodesians and the South African police who had been sucked into the confrontation.
The idea behind the joint launch was to enable the MK contingent to proceed beyond Southern Rhodesia into South Africa. Chris Hani, the Chief of Staff for the combined group, commanded the South African contingent. This was not the end of joint incursions involving cadres from both movements. Whereas the first incursion was launched downstream of Victoria Falls at Chisuma, the joint incursion in 1968 was launched further downstream at Feira with the aim, once again, to travel through a game reserve so as to avoid early detection. Further, this time, crossing was staggered so that small groups crossed at diffrenet times. Dabengwa, Report Mphoko and Abraham Nkiwane were among the members of the High Command who accompanied the five platoons whose overall commander was Moffat Hadebe.
During the internal crisis that afflicted Zapu, the Jason Moyo-led group located itself at Chakenga where the MK had a maintained a presence. Reconnoitering undertaken by Dabengwa and Jack Makethe Ndebele was out of fear that the Chikerema group might attack them. Following the independence of both Mozambique and Angola, ZPRA and ZANLA established a joint High Command to which each movement contributed 9 men, within the context of ZIPA, the Zimbabwe People’s Army. It was at the time of political machinations that had been initiated under the banner of Detente whose author was USA Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. When the situation came to a head, beleaguered ZPRA cadres at Morogoro were assisted by MK cadres to get back to Zambia. Some were assisted to travel to the Soviet Union for further military training, having done initial training at Mwembeshi where the Group of 800 received their initial military training.
In South Africa itself there were close links between Zapu and the ANC. Several men from Matabeleland South particularly from Kezi, Plumtree and Tsholotsho formed the nucleus of that cooperation which involved members of the Communist Party. It was collaboration that, in the end, led to the collapse of the Wenela labour recruitment towards the close of the 70s decade. In fact, ZPRA cadres assisted their colleagues in MK to find their way across the Limpopo River.
The ZPRA operational area south of Gwanda included MK fighters within their ranks who were en route to South Africa. When ceasefire was brokered at the Lancaster House Talks in December of 1979, some of the MK cadres went into Assembly Points together with their colleagues in ZPRA. Both Zapu and ZPRA were confident of winning the March 1980 General Elections. Under a Zapu government, the ANC was assured of getting rear bases in Zimbabwe. Both personnel and military hardware were to be moved into South Africa from Zimbabwe which was closer to South Africa than Zambia. As expected, the alliance between the two liberation movements was a threat both to South
Africa and the Nato Alliance who did not fold their arms to see Soviet tentacles extend into the geopolitically strategic Southern Africa.
Some of the MK cadres who had participated in the Pyramid Detachment(Sipolilo) were released from prisons in Zimbabwe. Some of them immediately remembered their former ZPRA colleagues. As a result, they welcomed being hosted by former ZPRA cadres living in Bulawayo. Safe houses in Bulawayo were availed to the ANC which even bought properties with a view to establishing a launch pad into South Africa. Joe Gqabi lived in Bulawayo, so did Thabo Mbeki who at one time was on the verge of being handed over to the South Africa apartheid regime when pressure was piled on Zimbabwe. It was a time when South Africa had a strong presence in Zimbabwe to spy on the ANC cadres operating from Zimbabwe. The aim was not just to obtain intelligence but as far as possible seek ways of eliminating the MK and ANC cadres while simultaneously driving a wedge between PF-ZAPU and Zanu-PF.
Despite the counter insurgency activities of the South African regime, collaboration between PF-ZAPU, former ZPRA cadres and those of the ANC/MK continued. ZAPU intelligence was still very much alive and kicking. For example, before the arms caches saga exploded, ZAPU intelligence officers had caught a South Africa spy. That was an incident that would ultimately get Dabengwa to spend years at Chikurubi Prison despite being acquitted by Justice Hillary Squires.
MK did manage, with assistance from ZAPU cadres, to launch attacks on South Africa. At times the green light was sought from General Lookout Masuku and Dabengwa languishing in Chikurubi, to sanction operations. These days cadres from the two movements share their experiences during the armed liberation struggle. Other liberation movements also do take part. At other times universities organise academic conferences and workshops where the liberation movements and scholars get together to review the various themes of the wars of liberation.