‘Josiah Tongogara was murdered by Mugabe circles for “openly” supporting Joshua Nkomo to lead the Patriotic Front (PF);
THE late celebrated Zanla war commander Josiah Tongogara who was Mnangagwa’s brother in law as his sister was married to Mnangagwa, was killed by elements linked to former President Robert Mugabe for “openly” supporting Mugabe’s then PF-Zapu arch-nemesis Joshua Nkomo to lead the Patriotic Front (PF), opposition Zapu leader Dumiso Dabengwa has claimed.
According to Dabengwa, Tongogara’s crime was his decision to openly support Nkomo’s candidature as Patriotic Front leader ahead of Mugabe after the two liberation war movements had principally agreed to contest the 1980 polls as one unit.
“That was one (when asked about murder linked to integration of forces) and secondly because he had almost openly said it during the Lancaster House discussions that as far as he was concerned, Nkomo should be the leader of the PF because Nkomo is a natural leader who has got the experience and who has got the focus whereas as far as he was concerned Mugabe was good only for administration and that that’s the position he should occupy, probably as secretary-general of the PF
“Those were Tongo’s views and unfortunately he said them out during informal discussions with other people at Lancaster House but he was direct, he said it to me. And he was very clear,” Dabengwa said.
Tongogara died in a mysterious car accident in Mozambique on December 26, 1979 while driving back home at the end of the liberation war. Mugabe pulled Zanu out of the PF on the eve of the elections and went on to form the first independence government in Zimbabwe after a slender majority victory.
Dabengwa said Tongogara’s death was not a normal accident.
“We came back in 1980 and unfortunately Tongogara was killed in that so-called accident. I really do not want to believe it was an accident. I think it was deliberate,” he said.
“The whole structure of the PF had been created and what remained was to name the people, the individuals that would fit into the different posts and when they tried to do it during the Lancaster House talks in the United Kingdom, some people like (the late) Enos Nkala were strongly opposed to it and said it must be left, that decision will be taken at home,” Dabengwa said.
Dabengwa added that efforts to bring the two liberation parties together hit a brick-wall with Mugabe’s supporters in the military particularly “dodgy.”
“That already complicated our integration process and we saw it, but we were busy with the ceasefire arrangement and each time we tried to discuss this issue with (the late commander Solomon) Mujuru and (Vitalis) Zvinavashe and so on, they were dodgy.
“When we tried to say to them that this is what we have decided on with Tongogara in London… they dodged the whole issue until after the elections and the results were known,” he said.
Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga in December last year hinted Tongogara may have been murdered, but did not say much.
Besides declaring him a national hero, Mugabe never really honoured Tongogara during his 37-year reign, but his successor, President Emmerson Mnangagwa recently renamed the country’s biggest military garrison, KGV1 after the revered nationalist.
Mujuru, Zvinavashe and Tungamirai, who were leading commanders during the liberation struggle and went on to lead independent Zimbabwe’s military, are all dead.
Muchinguri added to the decades-long intrigue around Tongogara’s death by claiming Mugabe and the then Zanla chief had an altercation before the fateful trip.
“Former President Mugabe and Tongogara had an altercation over travel plans to return to Zimbabwe. Mugabe wanted Tongogara’s staff to be flown to Zimbabwe, but the General stood his ground,” the Defence minister, who served as one of Tongogara’s aides and was in the same car when he died, said.
Tongogara reportedly favoured unity between Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu) and his then rival Joshua Nkomo, who was leading the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu) under the Patriotic Front (PF) banner. Zanu and Zapu were already fighting white minority rule as the Patriotic Front coalition.
There are several versions of events regarding Tongogara’s death, with former Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith claiming he was killed by “his own people”, a reference to Mugabe’s Zanu. Smith, in his memoirs; The Great Betrayal added that briefings from police and the Rhodesian Special Branch concluded Tongogara had been assassinated.
The United States Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) briefing two days after Tongogara’s death also said the then rebel commander “was a potential political rival to Mugabe because of his ambition, popularity and decisive style”.
On the same day, the US embassy in Zambia reported that nobody accepted Mugabe’s version of events that Tongogara had died accidentally, including the then Soviet Union.
Tongogara’s wife has consistently said she was not allowed to view her husband’s body. Rhodesian police also claimed the body had “three wounds, consistent with gunshot wounds, to his upper torso”.
Acting Commander of the Defence Forces, Lieutenant General Edzai Chimonyo, who also attended the memorial and was also in the same car with Tongogara, said the late Zanla general’s gut had been ripped open on impact, adding “time will come for us to put the record straight”.
Apart from his statement after Tongogara’s death, Mugabe seemed to silently push the military supremo’s contributions and demise to the back-burner of Zimbabwean history during his 37-year-rule.
After taking over last year, President Emmerson Mnangagwa re-named the country’s biggest cantonment, KGVI Barracks in Harare, after the late national hero. newsday
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