Respected Zanu PF elder Cephas Msipa has suggested that liberation war hero Josiah Tongogara, would have pushed for the late “Father Zimbabwe”, Joshua Nkomo, to become Zimbabwe’s leader when the country gained its independence from Britain in April 1980 if he had not died ahead of Uhuru.
Writing in his well-received book titled In Pursuit of Freedom and Justice: A Memoir, Msipa says Tongogara was a moderate politician whose views as the commander of the Zanla forces carried a lot of weight and who apparently wanted Nkomo to become independent Zimbabwe’s first black leader.
Msipa claims that Tongogara had before his death expressed his willingness to have Nkomo lead the Patriotic Front — a coalition of the then Zanu and Zapu that fought for the country’s independence.
Sadly, Msipa says, Tongogara had died before that wish was realised — on December 26 in 1979 — amid differences regarding the exact circumstances in which the revered guerrila commander had died.
“PF Zapu was as shocked as Zanu PF about Tongogara’s death. We considered him to be a moderate in his party, and much more pragmatic than many of his colleagues. His views carried a great deal of weight.
“My own interaction with him in Geneva and Lancaster House left me with the impression of a leader prepared for unity under the Patriotic Front. He was very warm towards me, and affectionately called me ‘mudhara’ (old man).
“Nkomo was profoundly shocked by the death of Josiah Tongogara. It was thought that Nkomo’s chances as a co-leader of the Patriotic Front in the coming (1980) elections would have been better had Tongogara been alive.
“His death robbed us all of a great leader with a vision of a united people,” Msipa writes.
In 2012 Tongogara’s widow, Angeline, claimed that she was not given the opportunity to view her husband’s body in Mozambique, adding that she still had many questions about how he died.
Painting a contrasting picture between Zanla and Zipra forces when they returned home at independence, Msipa says the Zanla group led by the late Solomon Mujuru looked sullen while that of Zipra, led by Dumiso Dabengwa and the late Lookout Masuku, was jubilant.
And with Tongogara out of the picture, extremists in Zanu PF had had their way, Msipa says in his riveting book.
“I felt great. But by this time we had learnt, from announcements by Enos Nkala, that Zanu was going to fight the elections on its own and not as part of Patriotic Front.
“We were not surprised though, as the union had been seen as a loose arrangement to fight the war as a joint force, and for the negotiations for a new constitution, even though Mugabe and Nkomo had signed the Lancaster House document as representatives of the Patriotic Front.
“There had never been any formal, written agreement on the union. It was more of an expression of intent,” he says.
In a direct attack on Zanu PF, Msipa says Zanu was much more inclined to being ruled by small group at the top and to not permit debate within its ranks.
“Zapu was far more open and tolerant. There were differences of policy, with Zanu PF’s inclination towards socialism, insisting for example, the leaders would not be allowed to own more than 15 hectares of land, although this was quickly reversed,” he said.
In the hard-hitting book, Msipa also exposes Zanu PF’s system of using violence to win elections since.
“There were so many cases of our youth being severely beaten in Mashonaland (during 1980 elections), but Nkomo would only tell me to take up the matter with my muzukuru — meaning Mugabe.
“I did, and after he had listened to me, he called Ernest Kadungure, whose response was ‘such incidents occur in an election.’ In other word he and Mugabe condoned violence,” he writes.
With Zanu PF’s seemingly unstoppable factional and succession wars continuing to rip both the ruling party and the country apart, Msipa also urges Mugabe in the book to groom a successor to put Zimbabwe on a stronger footing.
In addition, he criticises Mugabe for failing to promote the necessary debate on his succession, and suggests that by failing to do so, the increasingly frail nonagenarian is responsible for the turmoil ravaging Zimbabwe.
A constant theme throughout the book is the country’s fragile democracy and the myriad political and economic challenges that its citizens continue to encounter, which prompt Msipa to ask the question, “is this the freedom we suffered and sacrificed for”?
“Sometime in 2003, several senior members of Zanu PF asked me to persuade President Robert Mugabe to name and groom the person who would eventually succeed him.
“These people were not wishing Mugabe to go away, they were only saying that one day he will go, as is the way of all flesh,” Msipa reveals in the book.
“I regret that I was unsuccessful in this bid as the president insisted that his successor would be democratically-elected by Zanu PF members through the appropriate structures. In theory, Mugabe is correct but in practice what he suggests may not work.
“I remain convinced that the current contentious approach to the succession is wasteful, destabilising and inappropriate for a country with such a fragile economy,” Msipa writes ruefully.
He also says bluntly that Zanu PF is to blame for the economic rot afflicting Zimbabwe.
“By and large, Zanu PF leaders and members seem oblivious to the critical bearing their conduct has on the nation, and particularly on the economy.
“Zanu PF conduct looms large in the minds of potential investors, and the constant upheavals and bickering within the party give the impression of instability,” Msipa writes.
Shooting from the hip further, Msipa dismisses the various charges that have been levelled against former Vice President Joice Mujuru as a mere “barrage of sensational publicity centred on unproven allegations of corruption, sabotage and assassination plots, and peppered with accusations of witchdoctors unleashing charms”.
And warning that the country could soon descend into an ungovernable abyss because of conflict within the top echelons of power spawned by the unresolved succession issue, Msipa says Mugabe has the means to end the deadly factionalism devouring Zanu PF.
“In all this, Robert Mugabe has the power to remove causes of factionalism. That has been my call and it will remain my call,” he writes emphatically.
A man of steadfast principles and strong convictions, Msipa also says in the book that when Zanu split from Zapu in the early 1960s, he was allegedly approached by Mugabe to desert Nkomo, but refused.
“When the split occurred, Mugabe had approached me and asked if I would join Zanu. I told him I would not because I did not trust Ndabaningi Sithole.
“He then said to me, ‘I hope this will not affect our relationship’.
“Why should it?’ I replied, and indeed it in no way affected our friendship, which continues up to now. He remains my ‘muzukuru’ and I remain his ‘sekuru’”.
Msipa also touches on the disputed 2008 elections in his book and says it was during the presidential run-off elections where the “army was active” that he had decided to end his illustrious political career, as he had been appalled by the army’s involvement in the elections.
“At one election meeting, in Chief Mazvihwa’s area in Zvishavane, I was surprised to find myself sharing a platform with army commanders.
“I kept asking myself, ‘is this the freedom we fought for?’ … it was there that I made up my mind that I would never again participate in elections where people were openly threatened and intimidated into voting for any political party,” Msipa said.