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A speech by Dabengwa to ZPRA Veterans

by Dr Dumiso Dabengwa
05 June 2016 | 6296 Views
04 June 2016, Jotsholo, Matebeleland North, Zimbabwe
Greetings and slogan(s)
Salutation - All protocol observed
Comrades and Friends
It is a rare opportunity that we have a public meeting these days organized by veterans of the armed struggle for liberation and national independence. I therefore want to start my remarks by thanking those who decided to have today's function and to give me a chance to address fellow freedom fighters.

The people took up arms
  When we negotiated for independence in 1979 the people of Zimbabwe had shifted the balance of power against the white racist regime within a period of less than twenty years. This remarkable story of self-empowerment by Zimbabweans cannot be told without recounting the role of the Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army (ZPRA). This formidable force was of course built by the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU), the fountain from which has sprung the modern nationalist parties in our country.

In turn, ZAPU was the successor of earlier movements (ANC, NDP etc.) that grew from trade unions, cultural and social movements that fought for human rights and against discrimination of people by their color, particularly the black people. I am deliberately starting with the sources of our struggle because quite often the deserved glorification of our valiant armed fighters is taken out of context. There is a tendency to forget that we resorted to the armed struggle only after we exhausted other avenues towards getting our rights and a just society. Furthermore, areas like Jotsholo in Matebeleland North witnessed and took part in many phases of the struggle. These areas supplied a steady stream of recruits who later came back as seasoned fighters and martyrs for freedom. The areas also became a theatre of war in which ordinary people of all ages were brutalized by the enemy for providing our forces key intelligence, food and other support. It is therefore not an exaggeration that "the people" took up arms, and that ZPRA represents the population in arms, literally.

Evolution of the struggle and the burden of geography for Matebeleland North

When you look back at the struggle against occupation of this country by colonial forces, the areas near here have a remarkable history. This includes the landmark battle of Pupu near Shangane River in 1893 in which the forces accompanying King Lobhengula kaMzilikazi kaMatshobana turned back on the enemy that was pursuing him after he abandoned his capital, Bulawayo. The Allan Wilson contingent was completely annihilated by the King's forces and one soldier escaped or was left to report their devastation.

Today's event is a suitable time to remember and honour the contribution of so many people who made this country free from colonial rule and racial oppression of black people. We are not glorifying war because it was imposed on us, and it cost the lives of numerous young people in camps and in combat operations. In many areas in Matebeleland North (as happened in Mashonaland West), because of proximity to borders of friendly countries like Zambia, the escalation of the struggle involving our forces was felt more directly.

ZPRA veterans who are in this event today were in some cases very young people when they got pulled into the armed struggle the in the 1970s. There are even some who were with some of us in the 1960s when the nucleus of an army was started from the party's offices based in Lusaka. The ZAPU Department of Special Affairs under James Chikerema assisted by the likes of Jason Ziyapapa Moyo built up an armed wing on the instructions of far-sighted Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo. This move was a continuation and part of the progression of the freedom struggle. Old people and those following our history will recall the sequence: mass mobilization for political agitation and peaceful change, growing militancy and sabotage activities, smuggling in of arms, then the phase of enhanced training in friendly countries and direct confrontation of enemy forces in combat. This sequence of events is important to recount at today's event because Matebeleland North is the province in which the famous Wankie battles of 1967 took place. These battles involved the alliance of ZAPU forces and those of South Africa's African National Congress (ANC) – Umkhonto WeSizwe (MK). The alliance forces repeated this onslaught on Rhodesians and their South African backers in Sipolilo in Mashonaland in 1968.

The momentum generated from the Wankie battles was an important driver because it came with experience and demonstration that well-trained and well-equipped fighters could effectively turn the tide against colonial forces. This is the background to the formation of ZPRA, an army designed to give ZAPU the means to take on the colonial war machine beyond guerrilla operations. Our commander Dr. Joshua Nkomo presided over the "Turning Point" in 1977, a strategic move in which ZPRA prepared to go head-to-head with the Rhodesian army in a sustained assault to overrun the regime. ZPRA forces already repelled regime air and ground attacks on camps and supply lines in Angola and Zambia. The formidable force was going to be irresistible in the alliance with the other part of the Patriotic Front: the ZANLA forces of ZANU operating from the North East and Eastern areas in incursions from Mozambique. This is what compelled Britain to convene peace talks that culminated in the 1979 Lancaster House agreement that preceded independence in 1980.   

Benefits yet to come: marginalization and underdevelopment instead

In spite of being second to none in contributing to and supporting the independence struggle, Matebeleland North is lagging behind in development. Last week a professional from this province reminded us that Nkayi is the poorest district in Zimbabwe. Other districts in the province are not much better than this in spite of their potential and what should be a "peace dividend" in recognition of their sterling support for the liberation struggle. In fact, like other Ndebele speaking areas in the country, this province was subjected to the politically and ethnically inspired "Gukurahundi" killings of the early 1980s in which over 20,000 unarmed civilians were killed by soldiers. The cover for these killings was that there were "dissidents" who needed to be flushed out from the population and who were alleged to be connected to Joshua Nkomo and ZAPU. You all know that this climate of terror was only lifted when Nkomo agreed to a lop-sided "Unity Accord" of 1987 in which ZAPU was swallowed into ZANU-PF and lost its independent existence until we revived it in 2010.

Before we leave the subject, the ruling circles and their apologists are unhappy each time the subject of "Gukurahundi" massacres is brought up, yet at the same time they talk of the need for reconciliation. This ambivalence is really queer because even racist South Africa found it necessary to atone for "Apartheid" and to start a peace and reconciliation process that built on admission of culpability before forgiveness could be expected. What makes our situation difficult is that when the transition to genuine democracy was supposed to start, parts of the country were subjected to a punitive and brutal campaign whose consequences will take long to be overcome, let alone forgotten. Many comrades from here and young people too had to flee the country for safety, and this was later compounded by economic decline (due to bad governance) that forced unemployed youth to seek employment in neighboring countries.   

Zimbabwe continues to experience economic problems that show no sign of ending soon. Meanwhile, areas of Matebeleland North serve as sources of unprocessed raw materials (like timber, minerals and wildlife products) which are extracted and transported elsewhere in the country and abroad. This unbalanced development can be reduced if meaningful devolution is implemented'. Such devolution would ensure that the priorities of the province are set by its people and a substantial proportion of the resources is used for local development. Indeed, all provinces in the country need devolution in order to reduce outflow of resources before host communities have a meaningful share for their development. It is encouraging in this regard that political patronage and arbitrary allocation of land is being resisted by communities and local leadership, including traditional chiefs.  

Respecting fallen fighters

The ZPRA Veterans Association will no doubt make reference to the unmarked graves of many fighters who lost their lives in the war and in the post-war atrocities after independence. Today we can only give moral support to initiatives that are required to identify, wherever possible, the victims and to construct appropriate memorials.   

Today Zimbabwe is experiencing racial, tribal and class polarization that would have been surprising to those who assumed that the independence they fought for would be the beginning of a new world not just in the complexion of rulers but in the empowerment of all citizens without distinction. I would like to end by saluting on behalf of ZAPU, the sacrifice of young people, both women and men, who did not shy away from injury and death in order to achieve national independence. The guerilla forces and ZPRA forces fought for our vision of a free society, but in this case this invincible force won the war and lost the peace because politics started the war and apportioned the spoils.

I want to conclude by throwing a challenge to the young and not-so-young. Those that were beginning school when we gained independence in 1980 or are really the "born free" generation born during our independence year, are much older than what many veterans who are here today were when the ceasefire, integration of the armies and the demobilization of many freedom fighters took place. It has been said quite often that the youth are leaders of tomorrow, but every passing day is a "tomorrow" gone by. In a relay you are supposed to hand the baton to someone who is beginning to sprint, not waiting and losing valuable momentum. We too were young when we made our mark on our country's history, but we did not wait to be invited to step into the shoes of our leaders. The fight for the future of today's youth is not going to start tomorrow. During the independence struggle, young people sometimes even too young to fight heard the clarion of history and decided they were relevant to the fight. I am appealing to those who are much younger than us to take their future into their own hands, not only by running away from the economic and political crisis but by joining the new struggle.

Zipra Dabengwa

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Source: Dr Dumiso Dabengwa


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