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Obituary: the real Edgar Tekere
07/06/2011 00:00:00
by Staff Reporters
War hero ... Edgar Tekere
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Edgar Tekere: April 1, 1937, to June 7, 2011

EDGAR Tekere was a key figure in the struggle for independence from white minority rule, starting as secretary for the Salisbury District in the National Democratic Party (NDP) which was formed in 1960 under Michael Mawema’s leadership.

“The NDP demanded majority rule, universal adult suffrage, and independence from Britain. For the first time, we had a clear programme,” Tekere wrote in his 2008 biography, A Lifetime of Struggle.

But the NDP was banned by the white settler regime a year later, and ZAPU was formed.

Tekere wrote in his book: “The formation of the new party took place thus: We sat in Joshua Nkomo’s house and discussed the new name for the party.

“We proposed the name ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union), and Mugabe countered this with ZAPU (Zimbabwe African People’s Union), as he thought ZAPU had a better ring to it. The meeting agreed on ZANU, but at a press conference called to announce the new party, Robert Mugabe unilaterally changed the name to ZAPU.”

Tekere, then working for Mobil Oil, was transferred to Bulawayo where he worked for three months before being moved again to Gweru.

In 1962, according to his book, Joshua Nkomo returned from Tanzania and announced he was “banning” his internal opponents who included Mugabe, Ndabaningi Sithole and Enos Nkala.

“When the three (Mugabe, Sithole and Nkala) arrived back from Tanzania, consultations began for the formation of ZANU. Thus it was that Nkomo was instrumental in the formation of ZANU – ironic indeed,” he said.

“On 8 August 1963, the formation of ZANU was formally announced – from Enos Nkala’s house in Highfield Township. The constitution of ZANU announced that Zimbabwe was, ‘an African country in the context of the African continent in various stages of the relentless process of overthrowing the yoke of colonialism, imperialism and settlerism’.”

Tekere became vice chairman of the party in Gweru, whose executive included the late Kenneth Manyonda and William Takaravasha.

Tekere was elected deputy secretary for youth at the party’s first congress held in Gweru from 21-23 May in 1964. Ndabaningi Sithole was elected president, Leopold Takawira vice president, Mugabe secretary general and Herbert Chitepo chairman.


“For the first time, the party reflected what we wanted to do – take over the government of the country. This had never been clearly articulated until that Congress. We also resolved not to rely on foreign troops. We would fight our own battles and ‘no foreign blood shall be spilled on Zimbabwean soil in the process of liberating Zimbabwean soil’,” he said in his book.

“The Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole was a great teacher, who was able to use his abilities as a preacher to articulate the precepts of ZANU. It was he who first determined that ZANU should fight, openly confront the colonial power, and no other person could have done this better than he.

“In accordance with this resolution, then, we had received orders to go on and form an army in the name of ZANU. Sithole assumed an additional role -- that of commander of the new armed forces. This decision was upheld by both the leadership and the delegates at the Congress. Now we had to find out how to form an army.”

But ZANU would be banned just a year later, in 1964, and the senior leadership was arrested.

Tekere was locked up at the Gwelo (Gweru) Prison, where he joined Joshua Nkomo, Josiah Chinamano, Daniel Madzimbamuto and other ZAPU leaders who had also been rounded-up.

He remembered: “Daniel Madzimbamuto wanted to kill us, accusing us of the murder of his brother, who had been killed during the in-fighting between ZANU and ZAPU.

“When he was killed, I and my group had been descending on other towns from Gweru to fight with ZAPU members. Nkomo took us into his cell for our protection.”

Later that year, Nkomo challenged their detention but the Rhodesian authorities simply issued new detention orders for the group. ZANU leaders were to be detained at Gonakudzingwa and the ZAPU group at Hwa Hwa.

Tekere in his own words: “Ian Smith declared a State of Emergency on 5 November 1965. This meant that the Rhodesians could detain people under emergency regulations.

“My detention order was Number 1, so I was the first person to be detained under these powers. ‘Stated Reason for Detention: belief that … is likely to disrupt essential services and endanger public safety …’

“On 8 November 1965, eight of us were rounded up and transferred to Salisbury Maximum Security Prison: Robert Mugabe, Moton Malianga, Eddison Zvobgo, George Mudukuti, Matthew Malowa, Edison Shirihuru, Fibion Shonhiwa and I. We were the people that the security forces considered most likely to cause trouble when UDI was declared.

“Three days later, at 1PM on 11 November 1965, Ian Smith proclaimed a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI).”

Armed resistance to colonial rule began in 1966 with the famous Battle of Sinoia (Chinhoyi) when seven men on a mission to perform acts of sabotage were detected by Rhodesian Forces, and thrown into a battle situation. All were killed, but they themselves shot down an enemy aircraft and killed 25.

Tekere remembered: “News of the battle was smuggled to us in prison, and we went wild with joy. Sithole composed a song, praising the brave men who fought at Chinhoyi.”

Leopold Takawira, who was diabetic, would die in prison. Mugabe also lost his son, Nhamodzenyika, in Ghana but Rhodesian authorities would not release him to attend the funeral.

In 1973, Tekere and the rest of the ZANU leadership were moved to Connemara Prison in the eastern Highlands while Kwekwe Prison was being made ready to receive them.

In Kwekwe, a plan was hatched to depose Sithole from the leadership after he allegedly agreed to disengage the armed struggle – an offer floated to him by the Rhodesian Special Branch who had captured his sister-in-law with smuggled messages to freedom fighters.

Tekere recalls in A Lifetime of Struggle: “There were three of us in our cell -- Enos Nkala, Maurice Nyagumbo and I. Sithole was with Robert Mugabe and Moton Malianga in another. Eventually our cell decided that we would move a motion to remove Sithole from the presidency. But Mugabe and Malianga were against this.

“Malianga was appointed to chair the proposed meeting, thus removing him from a voting position. We approached Mugabe but he rejected the proposal. We told him, ‘Malianga is chairing the meeting and cannot vote. So if you vote for Sithole, you will be in the line of fire when we make our denunciation, and we are three votes to your two, and we will win the vote in any case. So the best thing you can do is to abstain from voting.’

“Eventually, Mugabe reluctantly agreed to do this. It is, therefore, not true, as many have said, that Mugabe actively campaigned for the sacking of Sithole.”

With Takawira, the vice president of ZANU dead, Mugabe became the reluctant new leader as the third in line.

That same year, in 1974, the Frontline States -- Tanzania (Julius Nyerere), Botswana (Sir Seretse Khama), Mozambique (Samora Machel, as the leader of the liberation movement, FRELIMO), and Angola (Agostinho Neto was in a similar position to Machel) – were pressing for the various parties to unite.

They were concerned about the violence within ZANU and between ZAPU and ZANU. They wanted ZANU and ZAPU to unite under the United African National Council, to be led by Bishop Abel Muzorewa.

Ian Smith, under pressure from the apartheid regime in South Africa, agreed to participate in talks in Lusaka, Zambia, and to the release of the ZANU and ZAPU leadership from prison to attend the discussions.

Muzorewa wanted an end to the armed insurrection, but he found himself isolated. The ZAPU and ZANU leaders went along with his plan while privately urging their external wings to “intensify the war effort”.

Tekere remembers: “Those absorbed into the UANC were Mugabe, Nkala, and the top ZAPU leadership. The Agreement signed, we were returned to New Sarum airbase (now Manyame) near Salisbury, in a Rhodesian military aircraft. On landing at the airport, we were served with a release order. This was on 13 December 1974.

“The idea was that we ex-detainees would go out into society and do ‘normal’ political work towards a new Constitutional arrangement, while those outside the country would arrange for the ceasefire.

“Instead, we intended the exact opposite. Immediately, we started recruiting intensively for the war effort, by now almost at a standstill because of the infighting that had been going on in Zambia. We obtained a tremendous response from schools, particularly on the eastern border with Mozambique. Schools such as my own, Saint Augustine, and Mutambara, were almost emptied of pupils.

“Although we did not communicate with ZAPU, we were aware that they were also recruiting in the west of Zimbabwe. Nkomo is on record as saying, ‘I am not going to work under that little Bishop’.”

But ZANU’s war effort suffered a jolt when chairman Herbert Chitepo was killed in a car bomb on March 18, 1975, while reversing in his Volkswagen Beetle out of his house in Lusaka, Zambia. A car bomb had been placed under the car the night before, and he and his bodyguard Silas Shamiso were killed instantly.

Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda commissioned an inquiry into Chitepo’s death. The report of the 'Special International Commission on the Assassination of Herbert Wiltshire Chitepo' lists as having been responsible for the killing: former ZANLA commander Josiah Tongogara; Rugare Gumbo, who was then the secretary for information and publicity; Henry Hamadziripi, who was then secretary for finance; as well as the then secretary for public and social welfare, Kumbirai Kangai; and secretary for administration Mukudzei Mudzi. Kaunda had them all arrested.

Tekere recounted in his book: “This meant that there was no-one left to co-ordinate the war effort. We held a meeting at the Mushandira Pamwe Hotel in Highfield, and conducted a ‘round robin’, to select who would go to Mozambique to re-organise the war effort from there.

“I had always been committed to the armed struggle, and moreover, as the leader of the Youth, I was the obvious choice. But I was a junior member in terms of the party structures, a younger man, and a deputy secretary only. Julius Nyerere had once said, ‘Who is this Tekere boy who dares unseat a president in prison?’

“From Mozambique, we would have to relate to the Organisation of African Unity, as well as national leaders of the likes of Nyerere and Machel. Thus it was that Mugabe went with me into exile. Our long years of exile and real struggle and hardship were soon to begin.”

In late March 1975, Tekere and Mugabe were driven to the eastern border town of Mutare by the late Moven Mahachi, who would become Defence Minister in independent Zimbabwe.

With the help of Chief Tangwena and his wife, Mugabe and Tekere made it across the border on the night of 4-5 April 1975, after spending several days in the bush.

“My first disagreement with Mugabe took place then,” Tekere said in his book. “We were discussing what we would do when we met the other recruits, and Mugabe was adamant that we should tell them that we were in the UANC, according to the Lusaka Accords.

“This made me extremely angry, and I said, ‘What a treacherous mind you have! We are here by decision of ZANU. I am not part of the UANC. You are a betrayer. I’m going to report back to those who sent us here about your betrayal.’ Tangwena was with us at the time, and he managed to make peace between us, and Mugabe insisted no further.

“But after that, I made sure that he did not meet any of the recruits when I was not there too, in case he began to talk about UANC. As we proceeded, I made all the arrangements and took the lead, ensuring that Mugabe complied with the ZANU line.”

They finally arrived in Chimoio, where 4,000 recruits were gathered – including Opah Muchinguri, Irene Zindi and Eunice Chadoka.

A medical camp in Chimoio was run by Dr Felix Muchemwa, a qualified surgeon, while Dzingai Mutumbuka and Fay Chung were responsible for the education camp.

Tekere’s military training began when Teurai Ropa (current Vice President Joice Mujuru) arrived in Chimoio after participating in battles in the Dande area.

Teurai was the first woman fighter I had encountered, and I was very impressed as she was extremely accomplished. I submitted with pleasure to her orders to crawl and roll on the ground! She was my first instructor, and we practised with wooden toy guns. There was a high level of discipline, and the women commanders were highly respected,” he wrote.

“My second instructor was Joshua Misihairabwi, whose real name was Mark Dube. He taught me basic handling of explosives. Besides the individual coaching, I joined the recruits in various training camps, such as Nachingwea. I went to Yugoslavia to learn the techniques of surface to air warfare. In Romania, I learned infantry manoeuvres.”

Tekere was in Maputo with other senior commanders, including Tongogara, when Rhodesian forces launched an attack on Chimoio – killing 1,200 women, men and children.

“Ruvimbo, my wife, survived by hiding in a pit latrine. The attack lasted for three days, and three nights, and afterwards it took some time before Tongogara’s team heard her cries and were able to pull her out.”

He went on: “I went to Maputo and commanded all our medical people to come to Chimoio. Didymus Mutasa at first refused to let his wife go, saying, ‘muzukuru unoda kuti ndifire futi ndirimugota here? Handidi muzukuru’ (My nephew, you want me to lose another wife? I’ve had enough! I don’t want!).

“Mutasa had been widowed once, and he was afraid to lose this, his second wife, but she eventually came. While in Maputo, I gave a report on the massacre to President Mugabe. Two thirds of our dead were women.

“He said to me, ‘You know what, I am beginning to wonder whether this is worthwhile, with all these people dying.’ But I replied that we must go on to the end. His remark aroused in me a mixture of anger and disgust.

“After reporting to Mugabe, I had the difficult task of informing Simon Muzenda [former Vice President] about the death of one of his daughters, Teresa. He did not take it badly.

“We bided our time, waiting for the enemy to relax into thinking that they had destroyed us at Chimoio. When we eventually began the offensive it was very successful. While Tongogara was responsible for coordinating the attack, in the middle portion of my border, my responsibility was for the northern part, operating from Tete.

“Our forces pushed ahead fast, eventually reaching as far as Musana Communal Lands and Mazowe Valley, which was very close to Harare. This caused Ian Smith to say that his people could not win the war. When he was accused of weakness, he tried to retract the statement by saying he had not said they would lose – just would not win!”

The intensification of the war would eventually force the Rhodesian regime into peace talks at Lancaster House, England, in 1979. Tekere attended as a member of the ZANU delegation.

After independence in 1980, he was elected secretary general of ZANU, and personally invited Bob Marley to perform in Zimbabwe on Independence Day.

When ZANU won the 1980 elections, Tekere was appointed Minister of Manpower Planning in Mugabe's cabinet. He followed his appointment by making a series of outspoken speeches that went far beyond government policy.

Shortly after his appointment, on August 4, 1980, he greeted then-Prime Minister Mugabe and visiting President of Mozambique Samora Machel in combat fatigues, announcing that he was going "to fight a battle." Tekere and his bodyguards went looking for supporters of Joshua Nkomo's ZAPU outside Harare but, failing to find them, went onto a neighbouring farm and shot white farm manager Gerald Adams.

Tekere retained his government post when he went on trial together with seven bodyguards who were all former guerilla fighters in the independence war. On December 8, the High Court, on a majority decision, found him not guilty of murder.

Both assessors, overruling the judge, held that while Tekere had killed Adams, he was acting in terms of an utter conviction that State Security was at risk. Due to an indemnification under a law that Ian Smith, the previous Rhodesian Prime Minister, had ironically enacted despite widespread opposition to protect his security forces during the war, any member of the country's security forces was exempt from conviction in respect of any crime committed if, at the time of commission, such member was acting in "good faith", acting in terms of a genuinely held conviction that the State's security interests were being served.

Tekere was dismissed from the government on January 11, 1981, a decision he was reported to be happy with. He remained secretary general of ZANU.

In April 1981 he was detained by Kenyan security forces to prevent him from speaking to students after giving a newspaper interview in which he said he was proud of the killing of Adams.

In July, Tekere referred to some ZANU representatives as having "inherited the colonial mentality," which was straining relations between them and the party's supporters. Mugabe hit back by saying "those who are complaining that the revolution is not continuing... are the most immoral and laziest in the party.”

Tekere was increasingly seen as a leader of a rival faction to Mugabe, and was dismissed as secretary general on 9 August with Mugabe taking the post himself.

After criticising corruption in the party, in August 1984 Tekere was elected to the central committee of ZANU and carried shoulder-high from the congress. He was also being supported by the whites after opposing the farm squats by ZANU supporters which he described as "donga watonga" (chaotic government). He was provincial chairman of ZANU in Mutare.

Tekere supported Mugabe at the 1985 elections but by October 1988 his consistent criticism of corruption resulted in his expulsion from the party. When Mugabe voiced his belief that Zimbabwe would be better governed as a one party state, Tekere strongly disagreed, saying "a one-party state was never one of the founding principles of ZANU and experience in Africa has shown that it brought the evils of nepotism, corruption and inefficiency.”

He ran against Robert Mugabe in the 1990 presidential race as the candidate of the Zimbabwe Unity Movement, offering a broadly free market platform against Mugabe's communist-style economic planning.

Tekere received unprecedented support for his opposition to Mugabe, but it did not translate into electoral victory. Mugabe won the election with 2,026,976 votes while Tekere only got 413,840 (16% of the vote).

At the simultaneous parliamentary elections, ZUM won 20% of the vote but only two seats in the House of Assembly.

Tekere dropped out of sight after the election, fuelling rumours that he was planted as an opposition figure. In 2005, he voiced his wish to stand as a ZANU PF candidate for the Senate of Zimbabwe but was rebuffed.

In 2006 it was reported that he had rejoined ZANU PF. A letter sent to him by ZANU PF national chairman John Nkomo dated April 7, 2006, said: "You will not exercise your right to be elected to any office in the party for a period of five years. You will be required to uphold all the duties of a member listed in Article 3, Section 18 of the amended ZANU PF constitution.”

At a rally on March 2, 2008, in Highfield, a suburb of Harare, Tekere endorsed Simba Makoni, an independent candidate who was running against Mugabe in the March 2008 presidential election. Tekere said that he was appointing himself “principal campaigner for Mugabe's downfall."

On Sunday, August 16, 2009, at Sakubva Stadium in Mutare, Tekere was the guest of honour for the MDC in front of a crowd of 40,000 people who had gathered to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the founding and formation of the party led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

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