Harare/Bulawayo — Liberation war icon Dr Dumiso Dabengwa, who was popularly known as the Black Russian, has been described as a commander par excellence who dedicated his life to the freedom and betterment of the lives of ordinary people.
In separate interviews, national leaders who spoke to The Herald said Zimbabwe is poorer without Dr Dabengwa.
Vice President Kembo Mohadi, who served under Dr Dabengwa during the liberation war, said he was in touch with the liberation icon and his family as he was receiving treatment in India.
"Cde Dabengwa was actually my commander.
"We've been communicating and I spoke to him about two days ago while he was still in India. I also spoke to his wife MaKhumalo yesterday and she said he was too weak to talk. The Government facilitated his trip to India for treatment and we were in the process of sending a private plane to pick him up because he was too weak to be flown in a commercial plane," said VP Mohadi.
"We look after our friends as Zanu-PF and it doesn't matter that Cde Dabengwa was Zapu. The fact that we worked together remains and he was a commander to some of us. We recognise each other."
Member of the Zipra high command and the last chief of communications Retired Colonel Tshinga Dube said Dr Dabengwa was one of the forbearers of the revolution.
"He started when he was very young and worked closely with the founders of the revolution like Joshua Nkomo, Robert Mugabe Leopold Takawira among many others. In actual fact, he taught a lot of youths that they can play a vital role in the liberation struggle. Back then, the liberation struggle was for the old and educated but when the youth came in the tempo of the liberation struggle changed," he said.
Rtd Col Dube said Dr Dabengwa was instrumental in the recruitment of combatants to fight in the war of liberation working with the late Jack Ngwenya and Edward Bhebhe.
He said Dr Dabengwa never backed down on what he believed in throughout the liberation struggle and during his time in the Government and after.
"He devoted all his life to the liberation struggle and never gave up in the defence of what he stood for," said Rtd Col Dube.
He said Dr Dabengwa once worked closely with President Mnangagwa.
"The President told us that before Dr Dabengwa travelled to India, they had a three hour meeting at State House with his wife uMaKhumalo. The Government was assisting also in getting him back to the country," said Rtd Col Dube.
Speaker of Parliament Advocate Jacob Mudenda described Dr Dabengwa as an undisputed veteran of the struggle.
"Actually, he was one of the veterans of the struggle. He joined the liberation struggle in the early sixties at a young age. He distinguished himself as an intelligence supremo under Zapu and Zipra.
"He distinguished himself in a manner beyond reproach. We mourn with the family and they should take solace and comfort through the contribution made by the son of the soil.
"He also worked as a distinguished minister of Home Affairs after independence. May his soul rest in internal peace," Adv Mudenda said.
Herbert Chitepo School of Ideology principal Munyaradzi Machacha said Dr Dabengwa's death as a great loss to the nation.
"We worked very well with Cde Dabengwa during the liberation struggle. He was was a commander par excellence and it's a great loss to the nation. We worked very well with Cde Dabengwa, Cde Lookout Masuku and Cde Josiah Tongogara."
Zimbabwe War Veterans Association spokesperson Cde Douglas Mahiya said war veterans had lost a commander.
"We have lost a hero. He is actually a hero. He is an example of a dedicated cadre who spent most of his life in the struggle to free this country.
"I met Dabengwa at the City Sports Centre when we were fighting for the new dispensation and he told me that he can now die because Zipra and Zanla are now united.
"Today we now have opposition parties because of people like Dabengwa. We now have rich people because of the sacrifices made by Dabengwa," Cde Mahiya said.
Veteran of the African National Congress military wing Umkhonto we Sizwe and South African Minister of Public Service and Administration Ayanda Dlodlo took to Twitter to mourn the death of Dr Dabengwa.
"It is a great and deep cutting sadness to learn about the passing of a selfless servant of the people of Zimbabwe ubaba uDumiso Dabengwa. Condolences to the family and also to the ex-combatants of the Zipra forces, Zapu and the people of Zimbabwe. May you find solace in the knowledge that revolutionaries never die. Ulale ngoxolo mchindra, guerilla, thebula, Zipra-Mkhonto," she posted.
The European Union in Zimbabwe also took to Twitter and posted: "We are saddened to learn of the passing of ZAPU leader Dumiso #Dabengwa, who will be remembered for his contributions to #Zimbabwe both before and after Independence. Our sincere condolences to his family and friends. May he rest in peace!"
The deputy British ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr Simon Thomas also posted: "Sad to hear today about the death of Dumiso Dabengwa. I always enjoyed our meetings though we didn't always agree (and that's precisely why they were so valuable). Condolences to his family and friends."
The United Sates embassy also posted a condolence message saying: "We offer condolences to Zimbabwe on the death of liberation hero Dumiso Dabengwa. He dedicated his life to the emancipation of the people of Zimbabwe. His courage & service in politics & government reflects his commitment to a better Zimbabwe. Dabengwa's legacy inspires us all."
A coalition of non-governmental and church organisations under the banner of Matabeleland Collective also posted: "Sad news reaching Matabeleland Collective illustrious liberation war fighter Dumiso Dabengwa has passed away on his way home to Zimbabwe after medical treatment in India. As MC mourns him we renew our commitment to ensuring the ideals he stood for can be achieved."
In a statement, Heal Zimbabwe said: "On the occasion of his departure, Heal Zimbabwe joins the rest of the nation in celebrating the life of Dr Dabengwa particularly his dedication on the need for a wholesome healing and reconciliation on the Gukurahundi atrocities. Dr Dabengwa life was that of dedication and selfless principles anchored on trust, respect for human rights and justice."