I first met President Mugabe when he visited Bulawayo soon after his return from Ghana. We received him at Stanley Square.
He was well-received, with everybody carrying him on their shoulders. He was described as one of the most educated persons who had come to join the armed struggle and party.
That, in actual fact, indicated that the revolution was not for poor, uneducated people.
Even the most educated were joining and that really encouraged almost everybody across the board.
I was very young at the time, working under SK Moyo – not the ambassador, but Sikwili. We were President Mugabe’s youths; quite a number of us including the likes of Kenneth Ndlovu, Akim Ndlovu, Bernard Muduma, Dumiso Dabengwa and Adam Ndlovu.
We were the youth and combined what was a paramilitary set-up.
We called ourselves Gendarmerie (a branch of the French armed forces responsible for public safety).
Gendarmerie were then bodyguards of our leaders, providing security to them. We used the slogan: “Follow leader if you are a bodyguard.”
A human being has a shadow, and that shadow follows the person throughout.
There was also a saying which was mainly emphasised by one of our colleagues, Abraham, who was from Harare, Salisbury then.
He called it: “Follow-leader-laka-shadow.”
That’s why we always call ourselves President Mugabe’s youths and also under the leadership of Joshua Nkomo then because the party was united.
Non-aligned Movement conference in Maputo in 1978. From left Willie Musarurwa (Zapu secretary for publicity), Phelekezela Mphoko (Zapu representative in Mozambique), Tarcissuis George Silundika (Zapu secretary for foreign affairs) and an unidentified Mozambican government official.
That was the time of the National Democratic Party.
As bodyguards, we had a hero whom we admired a lot. Remember there were several attempts on Kwame Nkrumah. One of his bodyguards kicked a hand grenade which had been thrown.
The bodyguard lost a leg. That was our hero.
Power-sharing in the midst of war
In 1963 – before we went for military training – there was a split between Zapu and Zanu.
President Mugabe was on the other side while we remained in Zapu. We trained under the Zapu flag.
In 1972, we started a joint military command, marking the first unity talks between Zapu and Zanu after the split.
That is when we started interacting with Zanu. Zapu and Zanu identified each other as allies against the Rhodesians in the armed struggle.
That was also the time of Herbert Chitepo and JZ Moyo when we formed the Joint Military Command in Mbeya (Tanzania). And I must emphasise here that the Joint Military Command was the first unity between Zanu and Zapu.
Prior to that, we had transformed ourselves into Zipra after having begun as a military planning committee in 1965.
It was the first Zapu military structure.
When we went to Mbeya, we were now Zipra. What is critical here is that the leaders were JZ and Chitepo.
We were very clear at the meeting: We didn’t want anyone having an advantage over the other.
If Chitepo became Chair, then the army commander would be from Zipra. If JZ Moyo became Chair, then the army commander would be from Zanla. So, Chitepo became Chair and Nikita Mangena became Chief of Staff.
Josiah Tongogara became Chief of Operations; I became Chief of Logistics; Robson Manyika (Commissar); John Mataure (Personnel and Training) and Gordon Munyanyi (Military Intelligence Chief).
From there, we went on to form the Zimbabwe People’s Army (Zipa) in Mozambique, and the entire (external) leadership of Zanu had been arrested by the Zambian government following the death of Chitepo.
President Mugabe and others were the only Zanu leaders inside Rhodesia.
At the time, Mozambique had become independent and a transitional government was operating there.
And because the gates were open in Mozambique, there was an influx of people going there to join the armed struggle.
When rescue party retreats into prison
Now, Muzorewa, James Chikerema and Ndabaningi Sithole saw an opportunity to raise their military profile —army — by going to Mozambique to take advantage of those whose leaders were in jail.
But the people rejected them.
Muzorewa and others then requested the Organisation of African Unity’s Liberation Committee not to give those in Mozambique any form of assistance: medical, training, food — nothing.
So, everything was completely cut off, and that is when a lot of sicknesses were reported in the camps. A number of people died.
And then Samora Machel was handing over a number of properties — which they had been holding in Tanzania and in Zambia — to the leaders of Tanzania and Zambia. They requested to be accompanied on a tour by the leaders of the liberation movements; that was Zapu, Muzorewa, Chikerema and Sithole. JZ Moyo went. While touring the camps, Moyo discovered there were sicknesses. People were dying like flies in the camps.
He got worried.
When he got back, he told the Revolutionary Council about the problems affecting our people in Mozambique — Zanla, Zanu people. Moyo insisted on rescuing that situation since we had identified each other as Zapu and Zanu as allies. We had to protect the revolution and prevent reactionaries from taking over. We then came up with a plan.
Sithole and others had put a condition that the Zanla (cadres) would only get assistance if they joined Muzorewa, Chikerema or Ndabaningi.
They were also told to join Zapu if they wanted.
The people who had been deployed by Zanu in Rhodesia before the crisis were locked inside and ran the risk of being captured by the enemy.
In fact, some were captured because there were no supplies, no reinforcements at the back.
We had to come up with a limited strategy to rescue Zanu from this crisis because there was nobody else.
This strategy was to form Zipa on the same lines as we did with the Joint Military Command of 1972.
Hashim Mbita promised JZ Moyo that: “If you do that we can rescue the situation. That’s the only way we can do it. If you don’t do it now, we can assure you that Zanu and Zapu are likely to be de-recognised while Frolizi and Muzorewa will be recognised at the next Liberation Committee meeting in Addis Ababa.”
The most important thing here is that the formation of Zipa was mainly to rescue Zanu from collapse.
Any other interpretation is not correct.
We agreed on our own that a team should go and talk to the incarcerated Zanu leaders.
The Revolutionary Council resolved that JZ Moyo, Lookout Masuku and I should take up the task.
When we got there, we met all of them: Henry Hamadziripi, Cletus Chigove, Kumbirai Kangai, Rugare Gumbo, William Ndangana, Robson Manyika and Josiah Tongogara.
JZ explained our mission and intention.
It was agreed that if we wanted to establish this Joint Military Command, we should go and look for Rex Nhongo — only him as he knew what the leadership wanted.
We looked for him and formed that military command in September 1975.
Nobody knew the strategy except Rex. All the others – the Dzinos, Elias Hondos and Gwauya – did not know what was planned.
When we formed the command, the Liberation Committee was taken by surprise. I was Chief of Logistics.
Weapons were now allowed in. I went to Dar es Salaam, brought them to Mozambique and took them to the front.
We had a few skirmishes with the Rhodesians and that argument by Muzorewa and others fell away.
The ban on Zanu and Zanla was lifted.
Zanla in Mozambique became alive again.
Unfortunately – because of so many infiltrations – we had skirmishes with Zanla because of a number of things.
When our mission was accomplished, Zipra withdrew because we had finished our mission.
Not that we were going to fight in Mozambique, no. Our mission was to rescue Zanu from collapse and this is what we did.
The commanders who frowned upon the crown
When we were planning these things, other people had their own views. They wanted a third force. They wanted to control and so forth.
Now this is very critical.
What happened was when these people wanted a third force, we refused. We came with a mission to rescue Zanu. The people who knew about that were the Zipra Command and Rex Nhongo; not the rest.
The Mozambicans had their own plans. They were looking at us.
I remember a very critical conference chaired by the President (Samora Machel) who said: “I came from the ranks. There is a president amongst you.”
Mangena said: “No. We are a military wing of Zapu as Zipra. These ones are a military wing. If they want to denounce their leaders as they were (the Dzinos and others) they can go ahead, not us.”
Samora was a Head of State.
Though we were one-time commanders together, he was a Head of State.
Nikita said: “No. That we cannot do.”
When it came to a stalemate, I asked Rex – since I was sitting next to him: “Why are you keeping quiet? Do you agree with them?”
He said, “No, I don’t.”
“Why are you keeping quiet?”
“I will have problems when I go back to the camps.”
Which was very clear. The attitude that side was totally different. It was hostilely against the leadership.
When it came to a stalemate, Samora gave in, and then said: “Zipra guys are refusing to take the leadership.”
And he said a lot of things.
The Zanla guys – anaGwauya nanaDzino – were now saying Nkomo was negotiating with Ian Smith.
We said, “No. Those are political issues.”
So, after President Samora had given in, he said: “Okay, Zanla, these people are refusing. Ko imi ndiyani? Who can do that?” Then Gwauya says Mugabe can be our spokesman.
That was very critical.
But some people had pushed. Had we accepted, we would have accepted undermining and overthrowing our leaders.
We did not and it comes from what I mentioned earlier.
When you are a bodyguard, you instil a relationship between yourself and your leader.
So you can never, never betray your leaders. It came from there.
That’s when President Mugabe came in. He was kept away by the Mozambicans in Kilimani.
Joshua Nkomo was not allowed to come to the camps, neither was JZ Moyo all because of a pending plan that we should take over the leadership, which we refused.
And that credit has never been highlighted, that important part of our history is not talked about.
That was the position and President Mugabe assumed authority.
From there we went to Dar es Salaam to finalise all that had been discussed. In Dar es Salaam, the former Zipa commanders, especially from Zanla, went and discussed with the Frontline State leaders.
They were so rude in front them; said a lot of things; that we didn’t want to hand over power.
“Power in Zimbabwe cannot be a monopoly of Mugabe or Joshua Nkomo.”
That’s what Dzino was saying; that’s what these boys were saying.
“We are there, please. . .” and they were saying to the leaders, “You are wasting our time; we have a war to fight.”
That, in actual fact, was very good.
It showed that these were very immature people who had no regard for leadership. The Heads of State had been told that. President Mugabe was there, so were the old men, Muzorewa, Sithole and Chikerema.
The old man said, “Julius”, referring to Nyerere, “If this is the leadership of Zimbabwe you want, go ahead. I am going.”
And then there were remarks of: “Umdhala, umdhala, hlala phansi.”
That’s how those boys lost.
From that day, Nyerere and Samora Machel told them to toe the line and the Frontline Heads of State recognised Zapu and Zanu.
But those young fellows refused to toe the line.
They wanted to exist as a separate entity. They couldn’t and ended up having problems with the Mozambican government.
We returned to Maputo and formed the Patriotic Front on October 30, 1976. We did this because the feeling was we should go to Geneva as one.
Immediately afterwards, the PF’s co-leaders created a Commission of Inquiry to find out what had led to Zipa’s collapse. What was highlighted were the fights that took place in the camps.
The commission comprised (from Zanla) Muzenda, Mutumbuka, Rex Nhongo, Josiah Tungamirai and Mark Dube.
The Zapu side was led by George Silundika, Dumiso, Gordon Nyanyi, Ambrose Mutinhiri and I.
That Commission went to Tanzania, Zambia and the camps in Mozambique collecting evidence.
We, however, knew what was there. Well, we knew about our mission which was limited. But there was another element where there were clashes in the camps.
That element was foreign, which reveals heavy infiltration, the anti-unity element within the liberation struggle.
It was the Rhodesians, obviously.
I want to emphasise that Zapu and Zanu identified each other as allies in 1972. So, we did not look at a Zanu man as a sell-out because this was our ally. We had just formed a Patriotic Front. I remained in Mozambique as Zapu’s representative after Zipra’s withdrawal.
I remained there on the instruction of our command because we wanted to be in Mozambique.
When Mozambique became independent, the six liberation movements regarded as authentic were Zapu, Frelimo of Mozambique, ANC of South Africa, Swapo of Namibia, MPLA of Angola, PAIGC of Cape Verde.
PAIGC was in Guinea, but the other five were all based in Tanzania and Zambia.
When Mozambique became independent, we wanted a presence as Zipra.
In 1974, we sent a man called Tom Ndebele to be our man there. He disappeared. Therefore, one of my tasks was to establish what had happened to him.
He had been arrested.
The Rhodesians were so many on the ground in Mozambique. So, he was thrown into a prison called Mashava and died there. They killed him.
That was an interest we had.
Frelimo was a partner and military ally. I had worked with Frelimo before. When they opened their Tete front in 1968, I personally delivered weapons there at the front.
I had worked with them personally from a logistical point of view. Now I had been told by the old man to go back and represent Zapu.
I said to him: “Umdhala, I have a problem being there. The relationship between Zanu and Frelimo is very close. I am squashed there, sandwiched.”
The old man responded: “You must go back and make sure that that situation also favours you.”
I went back.
How President Mugabe survived Chimoio attack
After the PF’s formation, I co-ordinated the two leaders. That was my biggest responsibility in Mozambique.
I was co-ordinating President Mugabe and his co-leader; and then President Samora Machel with Nkomo.
That is when we had a lot of interactions with President Mugabe. When he had something to say to Nkomo, he would call me.
When there were Frontline State meetings, I would also go because Samora would say Nkomo’s representative must come with me.
It was not my first time to interact with President Mugabe. In the early days, we were bodyguards to our leaders.
At that time in Mozambique, he was a leader of Zanu.
We worked together in that context of my co-ordinating the two leaders.
Each time I went to see him, he would give you instructions and I would talk to his colleague and so forth.
But the most important point was that we were supposed to meet, that was in 1978, in Maputo.
We were advancing a unity accord.
What we used to do is: we started earlier, discussing the constitution and many other things in preparation for fusion of the two parties.
Mugabe summoned me to his residence and said: “Go and inform the old man that he should not come this week (the meeting had been slated for Maputo). He should not come because we have an urgent Central Committee meeting in Chimoio. Please go and communicate this information to the old man.”
I belonged to a communist organisation of former Soviet Union ambassadors in Maputo and the ANC.
We used to meet daily, assessing the situation in Rhodesia and South Africa.
In one of our morning briefings, the German (GDR) Ambassador came with intelligence — it was earlier in fact —that the Rhodesian aircraft had been detected.
The rays for aerial photographs had been picked by the GDR in areas that included Chimoio.
All the other camps had been attacked except Chimoio and that information had been given to President Samora Machel.
Our meetings, used to attract a lot of foreign journalists and these journalists knew about the next meeting and where it would take place.
Therefore, the cancellation of that meeting (for Chomoio) became public knowledge and the enemy picked it as well.
From President Mugabe’s residence, I did not go to the old man. I went straight to the President of Mozambique.
I said: “Your Excellency, I have just been called by President Mugabe to tell me that the meeting which is scheduled for this week should be postponed because he is going to Chimoio.
“You know Chimoio has not been attacked and there is intelligence that it could be attacked any time and once the leadership of Zanu is allowed to go there, they will all perish.”
Then President Samora Machel said: “Go and tell Nkomo to come here. The leadership of Zanu won’t go to Chimoio. Call him here.”
I phoned the old man and told him that President Mugabe had proposed that there should be no meeting, but Samora is saying come here.
As we sat there meeting, Chimoio was on fire.
The President and Scriptures
The working relationship today goes without saying. The President and I have come a long way.
President Mugabe is unique. I have worked with him and the old man, Joshua Nkomo, and I have really enjoyed working with these two people.
People don’t know the relationship between Mugabe and Nkomo.
Very few people do know that, that they were very close and President Mugabe will never ever disappoint the old man – dead as he is.
He will want to make sure that what he agreed with Dr Nkomo — not as his Vice President — but as his co-leader (stands).
He has always looked at things from that perspective. President Mugabe is a highly cultured man.
He is a Christian, mind you. A Roman Catholic. He carries three rosaries. (As an aside: I am SDA).
He is devoted to that and there is no way one can accommodate Christianity to that note – seriously – and at the same time accommodate evil.
You have to be something else.
I have always enjoyed working with him.
If I have any view, I express it. He asserts it and he will ask questions. You cannot just go to President Mugabe and say, “Ah, Mdhala, one, two three.”
He will ask you until you drip. He doesn’t take things at face value; no.
He is a professional. He has very high intellect and is a committed man, father, husband, and all those are qualities of a good man.
He is turning 91.
He was born on February 21. In Psalm 21 – and probably that is his prophecy – the Bible says I will give you a golden crown and long life.This scripture is relevant: He is a leader and has long life.
VP Mphoko – Taken from interview by Mabasa Sasa and Morris Mkwate in Harare on February 12, 2015. Transcription by Morris Mkwate.