HARARE - More questions have emerged about Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko’s self-touted liberation struggle credentials, amid stunning new claims that he went “AWOL” (absent without official leave) at the height of the war while in exile in Mozambique.
In an interview with the Daily News yesterday, former War Veterans minister Christopher Mutsvangwa said Mphoko, 75, had allegedly ditched his regiment in Mozambique to enjoy life with his then wife-to-be, Laurinda, who later became his wife in 1977. In June last year, firebrand former war veterans’ leader Jabulani Sibanda claimed that Mphoko had “sold out” during the liberation struggle when he had allegedly diverted weapons meant for the late Joshua Nkomo’s Zapu to President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu — a move that Sibanda said could have led to the needless deaths of thousands of people.
Mutsvangwa said Mphoko “went AWOL” from Zapu’s military wing, Zipra, after he apparently fell in love with Laurinda — who is said to be related to the late Mozambican president Samora Machel — allegedly only re-surfacing after Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980.
Embattled South African President Jacob Zuma was the best man at Mphoko and Laurinda’s wedding in Maputo in 1977.
The couple have three children — Sikhumbuzo, Siduduzo and Siqokoqela.
Repeated efforts by the Daily News yesterday to get Mphoko to comment on the claims bore no fruit, as he did not respond to questions sent to him.
His aide, only identified as Ndlovu, requested for emailed questions and promised to respond by 2pm yesterday. The responses had not been sent to the Daily News at the time of going to print yesterday evening.
But Mutsvangwa was adamant that Mphoko had gone AWOL, apparently after being traumatised by what he had witnessed on the war front, after first enlisting in Zipra in a combat role.
“Mphoko came to Mozambique as part of Zipa (the Zimbabwe People’s Army, which was a combined military structure of Zipra and Zanla) in 1975 and was head of logistics.
“Zipa collapsed a couple of months down the line, (and one of the pioneers of the armed struggle, Rogers Alfred) Mangena and others went back to Zambia to resume operations as Zipra.
“He (Mphoko) didn’t go back with them. He remained in Maputo, and somehow got lost completely. That’s why nobody knows him in Zipra. Ask all the big numbers of Zipra cadres, they don’t know him because he was no longer part of the army.
“He was in Mozambique and eventually married a Mozambican woman. So for the crucial five years of that war (1975 until independence in 1980), he was absent. He is neither Zipra nor Zanla,” Mutsvangwa said.
“He got married to a family that was close to . . . Machel. The wife is Shangaan, you can check, a Chironga woman from the Maputo region. How can you have an absentee commander? He was not there for five years.
“The war is being fought from Zambia and he is in Mozambique. We in Zanla we don’t know him . . . ask (Zipra intelligence supremo Dumiso) Dabengwa. He was the man in charge of the Zapu forces. I can’t speak any better than Dabengwa,” he added.
Asked what then had resulted in Mphoko being catapulted to the vice presidency in 2014, Mutsvangwa said he was not sure, acknowledging that the president could appoint anyone he wished to, into his team.
“He definitely was on the sidelines of that war. He went AWOL. He AWOLed himself, got married and that’s okay? But you know, you don’t have those luxuries in the war, you run a normal life in a family during the heat of war?
“Dumiso was right that we don’t know where he came from,” he said.
Mutsvangwa also said he regretted chiding Dabengwa when he had initially questioned Mphoko’s struggle credentials when he was made VP.
“You know, I had to apologise in Entumbane (at the war veterans meeting that was held there last week) to Dabengwa, who is my commander from the Zipra side.
“He made some critical remarks against Mphoko when he was made VP. I said then, ‘why are we talking dirty linen about the war to people who were not in the war. There must be certain deference to him, why are we exposing each other?’
“It turns out I was wrong. He (Mphoko) owes allegiance to nobody . . . because he is being told by G40 (Zanu PF Young Turks opposed to embattled Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa succeeding President Robert Mugabe) we can make you king, which is unfortunate.
“Even where he is now, he shouldn’t really be there. The last five years of that big war, the storm of the war, comes from 1975 to 1980, when the big numbers came in,” Mutsvangwa said.
He added that in his considered view, Dabengwa was supposed to be VP not Mphoko.
“Dumiso was senior. It’s unfortunate that he decided to follow (Solomon) Mujuru. If he had not gone, he could have occupied that place, and I think that was a bad and ill-advised decision,” Mutsvangwa said.
Asked what he thought of Mphoko’s time in office as VP, Mutsvangwa made it clear that he had little regard for Mugabe’s deputy.
“Look at his actions, where he doesn’t even appear to understand the dictates of the Constitution . . . where he wants to subject himself to the authority of an unelected person because that person has got a marriage certificate . . . ,” he said derisively, apparent reference to Mphoko’s deference towards powerful First Lady Grace Mugabe.
In controversial comments that he made late last year, Mphoko said he was happy to be subordinate to Grace as she was Mugabe’s wife, and thus represented the president wherever she went.
“He respects the marriage certificate more than he respects the Constitution. We are an elected constitutional republic,” Mutsvangwa thundered.
Former war veterans’ leader Jabulani Sibanda has previously claimed that Mphoko sold out during the liberation struggle when he allegedly diverted weapons meant for the late Joshua Nkomo’s Zapu to Zanu — a move that Sibanda said could have led to the needless deaths of thousands of people.
A number of Zapu bigwigs who spoke to the Daily News then — including Dabengwa and Thomas Ngwenya (a former deputy to Mphoko) — appeared to buttress Sibanda’s claims.
And Mphoko himself had previously admitted diverting the weapons meant for Zapu’s military wing, Zipra, to Zanu’s Zanla.
Mphoko has since filed a staggering $50 million lawsuit against the Daily News for carrying the Sibanda interview.
Curiously, he has to date not formally moved to either challenge Sibanda on his claims, or take him to court — choosing instead to take on the Daily News.
The Daily News is defending the matter.