New Zimbabwe (London)

30 May 2014

Zimbabwe: Declare Mhanda National Hero, MDC Renewal

WAR hero Wilfred Mhanda, who succumbed to colon cancer in midweek, was expected to be laid to rest at Glen Forest cemetery in Harare on Saturday with his former liberation struggle colleagues in Zanu PF and government barely wasting a tear.

In fact, it was the opposition parties which paid glowing tributes to a man who left the country in 1971 to fight a ruthless settler colonial regime and rose through the ranks to become part of the High Command of the war effort.

The Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC-T described Mhanda, 64, as "a true, dedicated comrade who has an impeccable record."

The rival MDC Team demanded national hero status for him, failing which "we strongly condemn the partisan and narrow mindedness that is implemented by Zanu PF in awarding national hero status".

But fellow veterans of the struggle said the former Zanla commander would not have wanted to be declared a national hero by Zanu PF or be laid to rest at the national shrine in the capital.

Mhanda was part of a group which, with the Rhodesian security services on their tails, skipped the border into Botswana and joined ZANLA in 1971.

Using the war name Dzinashe Machingura, he was sent for training in China and later 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.

Tribute to an independence war hero ... MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai

However, Mugabe and the Zanu PF leadership had precious little to say over his passing on.

Said Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo: "He made his contribution. He was a member of the High Command. He had his challenges after independence, but that does not take away his contributions as a fighter and commander."

Jacob Mafume of the MDC Team helpfully explained what Gumbo chose to describe as Mhanda's post-independence "challenges".

Opposition to Mugabe

"The people of Zimbabwe will remember Mhanda who fiercely opposed the continued dictatorship of Robert Mugabe and the betrayal by some in Zanu PF of the principles and ideals of the liberation struggle," Mafume said in a statement.

"After independence, Mhanda could not tolerate and spoke strongly against the massive corruption in government, the looting of the country's natural resources by a few well connected Zanu PF officials; and the harassment, persecution and murder of political opponents by State and non-State actors.

"He found this deplorable and an affront to our national values, esteem and the dignity of the people of Zimbabwe."

But Mhanda's fallout with Mugabe and the Zanu PF hierarchy started well before independence in 1980 when he was part of a frustrated group that rose against the political leadership of the struggle.

They paid dearly for the mischief.

UK-based war veteran and journalist, Killian Ducas Mwanaka, who was part of the group arrested with Mhanda for the "rebellion" explained: "They (Zanu leadership) wanted to put us before a firing squad.

"We were only saved by the Mozambican government which said they did not want any killings on their soil.

"We were jailed in 1976 or thereabouts and remained incarcerated until 1979 when we were released following appeals to Lord Soames who was dispatched by the British government to preside over the transition to majority rule."

Mwanaka, whose war name was Ducas Fambai, said their so-called Vashandi group - largely comprising field officers - rebelled against the political leadership for a number of reasons, including the death of Herbert Chitepo.

"It's a long and complicated story. But, in short we wanted, among other things, the unification of the Zanla and Zipra fighting forces, something the leadership did not agree with," said Mwanaka.

"We were also not convinced about the leadership's commitment to radical Marxism because many of them ran businesses in countries such as Zambia.

"You could call it infantile disorder; we were certainly too hard-line and needed to tone it down a bit. But you have to understand that Cuba was, at the time, utopia for many of us."

Asked what they intended to do with the leaders, Mwanaka said: "The idea was to force ideological re-education to ensure a new commitment to Marxism.

Mozambique arrest

"Failing that we would remove them completely; which we could have done because the fighting force was behind us. But the leaders were smarter, and they beat us to it.

"We were called to a supposed meeting in Beira only to find ourselves being thrown into jail with the connivance of the Frelimo government."

Even so, the MDC Team said Mhanda deserved "due recognition (for) his contribution as a gallant liberator of the people of Zimbabwe both before and after independence".

"We call for him to be awarded a national liberation hero status, failure of which we strongly condemn the partisan and narrow mindedness that is implemented by Zanu PF in awarding national hero status," he said.

"The former guerrilla war commander will always be remembered as a selfless cadre and revolutionary whose contribution to the fight for freedom and democracy in Zimbabwe both before and after independence is unquestionable and will be cherished by all who want to see their country ... prospering."

The Mavambo Kusile opposition party, led by former finance minister Simba Makoni, also paid tribute to Mhanda.

"Mhanda was one of the fearless war veterans who fought gallantly for the liberation of this country and remained resolute to seeing a just Zimbabwe where everyone lives without fear that characterise our society today," the party said.

"His revolutionary spirit will continue to inspire us to ensure that Zimbabweans' truly benefit from the tree of freedom that the blood of other gallant sons and other heroes and heroines of our struggle continue to nourish.

"Together we will get Zimbabwe working again to ensure that the ideals Wilfred Mhanda, cherished, fought, lived and died for, will never die."

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