HARARE - President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF has flatly refused to confer national hero status on Wilfred Mhanda, the commander of the party’s armed wing Zanla during the 70s liberation war against white minority rule.
Mhanda, a genuine national hero who fought tenaciously to free this country, died on Wednesday night at the State-run Parirenyatwa Hospital of colon cancer.
The ruling party flatly refused to entertain recognition of the distinguished former Zanla commander, whose nom de guerre was Dzinashe Machingura, with the party’s top brass ruling out the honour for the ex-war commander who turned into a staunch critic of the ruling Zanu PF.
Diydmus Mutasa, Zanu PF secretary for administration, told the Daily News yesterday that he was unaware of Mhanda’s death.
“Who is Wilfred Mhanda? I have not been given that request,” Mutasa said.
Mhanda organised protests as part of a Zanu support group and in 1971, with the Special Branch in hot pursuit, skipped the border into Botswana.
Mhanda joined Zanu’s military wing Zanla and assumed the war name Dzinashe Machingura. Like a number of recruits who were to form the Zimbabwe People’s Army (Zipa) — which was a joint military wing for Zanu and Zapu — he was sent for military training in China.
He rapidly rose through the ranks to become a military instructor, political commissar, commander of the Mgagao Camp in Tanzania and then member of the High Command.
Mhanda was one of the architects and signatories of the 1976 Mgagao Declaration, which spearheaded the resumption of the liberation struggle after a truce ushered in by the 1975 Lusaka Declaration.
His war exploits, as he narrates them in his memoir, Dzino — Memories of Freedom Fighter, placed him second-in-command to the late war commander Solomon Mujuru whose remains were found at his Beatrice farmhouse on August 16 in 2011 after a fire.
In his book, Machingura casts President Robert Mugabe as an opportunist who rose to power through the backdoor. Mhanda said in his book commanders during the war made a mistake of convincing Samora Machel that Mugabe be regarded as their leader and yet he had not been properly nominated at a congress to lead Zanu.
He stalked controversy in 2011 by saying Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa did not play a prominent role in the liberation struggle as he was merely Mugabe’s personal body-guard and secretary.
Rugare Gumbo, Zanu PF spokesperson, who served with the late ex-combatant during the liberation war, said it was highly unlikely that Mhanda would be accorded hero status.
“I don’t think there will be anything for him, I don’t know,” Gumbo, the only Zanu PF official who attended his funeral yesterday, told the Daily News.
But Mhanda’s comrades think otherwise.
Wilson William Nharingo, a member of the Machingura-led Zimbabwe Liberators Platform founded in 2000 to dissuade criticism on the lawlessness spearheaded by veterans during the chaotic and often-violent land reform programme, said “the liberation struggle narrative was incomplete without mentioning Dzino, who was elbowed from the struggle in 1977 on trumped up charges of rebellion.”
Machingura was accused of treason within Zanu PF as far back as 1978. Had it not been for the late Mozambican president’s intervention, Zanla reportedly intended to keep him in detention in military camps where he was confined from 1978 until 1980 when they were freed.
Nharingo described Machingura as one of the illustrious freedom fighters to wrest freedom of Zimbabwe from the yoke of British colonialism. He said “Cde Dzino” showed valour and prowess.
What is even more galling for Mhanda’s comrades-in-arms was that despite his glittering war credentials, Zanu PF, which unilaterally determines heroes and heroines, never even convened a meeting to consider his illustrious contribution to the prosecution of the liberation struggle.
“We are not bothered at all whether Cde Dzino will be declared a national hero or not through the shameless process used by Zanu PF and its compromised politburo,” Nharingo fumed.
“What we know is that Dzino is a man who earned his national hero status through his immense contribution that cannot be undone by a few men and women sitting in the politburo. Even an instruction issued from State House or some place in Honolulu will not wipe off his history that is solidly engraved on our hearts,” added the war veteran.
Selby Hwacha, a leading Harare lawyer, said anyone who went to the liberation struggle or who understands what its values and objectives were will know that Machingura was one of Zimbabwe’s truest national heroes.
“I do not know if those whose duty it is to honour national heroes by conferring national hero status officially will do so but I believe that it would be a sad omission, distortion and denial of our history if they do not do so in this instance,” Hwacha said.
“The late Dzinashe’s record speaks for itself. The new Constitution of Zimbabwe confers rights of recognition for all war veterans. Dzinashe’s death is another test of our adherence to the letter and spirit of constitutionalism.
“The war of liberation was always also about democracy and human rights. Up to his last breath, Dzinashe lived boldly and objectively by these values.
“In his many discussions with me and with others, he kept asking the questions ‘where did we go wrong and where are we going?’ This is a question which Zimbabwe and all its people and leaders still need to answer today to honour the sacrifices of Dzinashe Machingura and many other true heroes.”
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) expressed its “deep sorrow” following the untimely death of Machingura.
“Cde Dzino refused to corrupt the liberation war ethos through a selfish and parochial narrative of the liberation struggle, favouring inclusivity, as he believed that independence and its fruits belonged to all,” the rights lawyers said in a statement.
“It is unfortunate that some have elected not to unite with other Zimbabweans in appropriately remembering this liberation fighter, and that he was not formally recognised during his lifetime for his historic role in the liberation of this country.
“Nevertheless, we are grateful to Cde Dzino for his memoirs on events that shaped the destiny of Zimbabwe. This written record will keep alive memories of the liberation war and provide lessons for future generations – not only about our history, but also about what remains to be done.
“His selfless contribution during the struggle and thereafter, in an independent yet still captured Zimbabwe, will forever be remembered and deeply cherished.”
Mhanda will be buried today at Glen Forest cemetery.