Whatever a man is worth can only become worthwhile when his good deeds outlive him, instead of them being buried with him, as William Shakespeare construes when he writes: “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.”
The same can be said of the late national hero and ZANU-PF Secretary of Defence and Commander of the ZANLA forces, General Josiah Magama Tongogara, who died on December 26, 1979 in the Inhambane Province of Mozambique in a road accident on the main highway north of Maxixe. He was on his way to Chimoio military headquarters to inform ZANLA commanders about arrangements for the ceasefire.
He was reburied in Zimbabwe at the National Heroes Acre on August 11, 1981.
Born near Selukwe (Shurugwi) on February 4, 1940 and named Josiah Magama after his father, Cde Tongo was extraordinarily gifted.
In Cde Tongo’s view freedom was colour and ethnicity blind. He somehow prophetically knew that he would not make it to the new Zimbabwe; the milk and honey country he envisaged for his people, but he was not deterred in his relentless fight against the oppressive Ian Smith regime.
He said: “What some of us are fighting for is to see that this oppressive system is crushed. We don’t care whether; I don’t even care whether I will be part of the top echelon in the ruling (class). I’m not worried, but I’m dying to see a change in the system. That’s all, that’s all.
“I would like to see the young people enjoying together, black, white, enjoying together in a new Zimbabwe.”
Such selfless sacrifice for the common good; such powerful words are the hallmark of heroism and the crux of nationhood. It is the belief in freedom that goes beyond the self as the alpha and omega of struggle.
Cde Tongo was that kind of bird which could not be caged, but remained conscious of the way caging scuttles collective struggle. He so much cherished freedom, but was aware that freedom outlives individuals. Nonetheless, as a freedom fighter, he wanted to be free, if only freedom could translate to shared sovereignty.
True, it is said he that is chained cherishes the gift of freedom, but he who is free fantasises of the thrill of being fettered. The concept of freedom usually finds base in the hearts of those whose progenies lost arms and limbs in an attempt to wade away from the sinking ships of their dreams, yet remaining ensconced in the same aspirations that shape their destiny.
One may scream for all the other freedoms, real or imagined; but the ultimate freedom is that which gives one access to a humane existence; the freedom to claim ownership of the means of production and all that makes it possible to live without merely existing.
It is this that Cde Tongo was privy to.
Ideas are stubborn, for they remain alive in legacies, and are forever celebrated even after the departure of those who conceptualised them, who, in all essence, are mortals. Revolutionaries are mortals, but their ideas can never be killed, as the late Burkinabe revolutionary, Thomas Sankara once said.
Cde Tongo so loved humanity that he believed unity should go beyond ethnicity and other bars.
Appealing for continued unity between the two wings of the Patriotic Front; PF-ZAPU and ZANU-PF, the late revolutionary and president of Mozambique, Samora Machel, emotionally gave a touching eulogy at the funeral of the self-sacrificing icon in January 1980, in which he underscored his selfless love for humanity.
“The lesson of Tongogara was that he acquired a feeling of unity. The Mozambican people don’t want to hear about ZANU and ZAPU. They want only one thing–for the Patriotic Front to continue,” said Cde Machel.
He told multitudes of mourners that Cde Tongo’s greatest contribution to the liberation cause was the unity he brought “to the fighting forces of Zimbabwe”.
As “a devoted commander”, Cde Machel said of the son of the soil, Cde Tongo was the conduit between Frelimo and ZANU-PF; between PF-ZAPU in Zambia and ZANU-PF in Mozambique and “between Zambia and Zimbabwe.”
A pan-Africanist, Cde Tongo believed that freedom wore more than one’s national flag, because for African peoples it transcended geographical boundaries.
Said the Mozambican freedom fighter: “The Mozambique People’s Liberation Forces admired Tongogara . . . the people of Mozambique respected Tongogara. The youth of the People’s Republic of Mozambique loved Tongogara.”
Such was the man, whom the chairperson of the Josiah Magama Tongogara Legacy Foundation, Dr Simbi Mubako describes as “not just a legend, but a country boy, who rose to greatness through sheer determination and self-sacrifice; virtues that young men and women can emulate in their own walks of life”.
“Cde Tongogara always advocated working with people and he gave credit to the people for the success of the liberation war that brought Independence and democracy to Zimbabwe,” he said (The Herald July 28, 2020).
“He was prophetic and whatever he said would come true, happen and come to pass. I don’t understand even up to now what kind of intelligence he was given,” said the then Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces General Constantino Chiwenga (now Vice President) on December 26, 2016 at Cde Tongo’s remembrance at the National Heroes Acre.
He added: “He was prophetic and he predicted that on the day Zimbabwe becomes independent, he will not be able to go home, he will remain.
“Some of you remember that when we launched the Tongogara Trust, I said these words that it was on December 4, 1979 as I was coming from Gaza going to Manica, because he had called me and he said: ‘Before you go I want to speak with you.”
“We spoke for over an hour over the telephone. After discussing everything, he said: these are my last words with you, and I said: what? And he said: ‘Well, Muzorewa is giving us a lot of problems here. He is not a person to be trusted. But remember what I have said to you.'”
Cde Tongo believed in unity, which he predicted would prevail.
Speaking at the same occasion on December 26, 2016, then Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, said Cde Tongo was a remarkable political and military leader with “a rare combination of a man with a vision and a strategist of the highest order”.
“He was a man of strength. He was big in every respect. His principal characteristic as a leader, as a commander was that he was firm and fair.
“Once decisions were made he always insisted that they be respected, and therefore, his untimely departure was a great loss not only to the party, liberation forces, but to the entire country,” he said.
At the side-lines of Lancaster House Conference in 1979 he told historian David Martin in an interview that taking up arms was one thing and achieving all the desired outcomes was another thing.
Said Cde Tongo: “You see, when you enter a revolution, when you take up arms, you do so in order to achieve everything you want, but when you resort to discussing around a table, you cannot envisage to achieve everything.
“They have demonstrated to the whole world that they are a force to reckon with, and they have brought about Lancaster. As I have always said, Lancaster is our second front, brought about by the freedom fighters.
“And so far what I see has been achieved by the liberation forces of Zimbabwe is that they have brought about the birth of a new Zimbabwe. That is one. Two, they have buried the so-called racial supremacy” (Phyllis Johnson, The Herald, December 25, 2015).
Cde Tongo’s vision, as he intimated to Martin, was to see his people sharing their pride in a new Zimbabwe, secure under the wing of “a new Zimbabwe army; the army for the people; the army which has the interests of the people at heart; the army which has the interests of the country at heart.”
To the self-sacrificing revolutionary icon, that was what freedom meant: a shared vision in which the common good is the ultimate winner.