These words, said more than once by Dumiso Dabengwa (DD), rang in my mind on hearing the sad news about his passing on in Kenya on his way from India where he had gone to seek medical attention. These utterances were made by Dabengwa soon after he had just pulled his Zapu party out of the 1987 Unity Accord with Zanu PF, convinced that the peace agreement only served to entrench Zanu PF hegemony.
DD was one man who loved his country and people. This, I know very well. My exposure to him during my tenure as Zapu’s director of publicity between 2008 and 2011 taught me a lot about Dabengwa the person, Dabengwa the freedom fighter, Dabengwa the commander of intelligence for Zipra and Dabengwa the politician.
Some of his virtues were patience and willingness to listen to anybody and everybody. At the end, he would say a few, but definite words. He never wanted a gulf between him and the people. Six decades of politics and 17 years of war failed to kill Dabengwa the person.
He remained Dumiso or simply Du, even to people young enough to be his grandchildren. That was his hallmark. He was affectionately loved. And he reciprocated. I worked for Zapu for three years, most of the period without pay. It was Dabengwa’s fatherly bearing on me that kept me going. He could motivate dead soldiers. He would take out his lunch box and offer me his home-made sandwich if he thought I had nothing to eat. He would take out his wallet and offload the only note for you when he thought you needed it more than him.
I consider myself privileged to have worked with Dabengwa at a critical moment in his life. He seemed to be a soldier racing against time. He wanted things to go back where they were for Zapu, and Zimbabwe. Sadly, the circumstances, and time, were against him. He has departed without being able to witness the Zimbabwe he wanted.
I had the privilege to interview Dabengwa for excerpts for a book someone was writing about his life.
“Dr D” was very clear about one thing. I quote: “When I die I want to be buried ngakithi, eNtabazinduna, Edibheni line,” he told me.
I asked: “But mdala you are definitely a national hero, and no one can deny you that status and place at the national shrine?”
He answered: “Those are my wishes (to be buried in Ntabazinduna).”
I did as the commander wished, and recorded his statement the way he said it. Hopefully, that book has been, or will be published soon. I also interviewed his brother and sister, who both gave very generous accounts about Dabengwa the person.
As I write this piece, I wonder ukuthi uthini uDabengwa to his fellow liberation icons wherever he is.
Despite the challenges, Dabengwa never regretted the war of liberation. “The war was absolutely necessary,” he would say.
When I asked him about the shooting down by Zipra of Rhodesian aeroplanes that killed civilians, he shot back: “War is war. A lot of unpleasant things happened on both sides during the war. When they bombed (the late Vice-President Joshua) Nkomo’s house in Zambia and almost killed him was it not war? When they bombed children in our camps was it not war? War is war.”
Hamba kuhle mdala wami!