Edgar “2boy” Zivanai Tekere: A Lifetime of Struggle, Sapes Books, Harare, 2007, 185pp
AS HIS long-time friend and publisher Ibbo Mandaza says, Edgar Tekere’s autobiography dedicated to his mother, Lydia Maidei, and his son, Zacharia, provides “fascinating details of the struggles-within-the-struggle”.
It is such internal struggles that left him battered, bruised and near homeless.
Born in 1937 to an Anglican missionary who went around the country planting churches, and having received an education at Anglican schools, it is surprising that Tekere ceased attending church in his adult life, and on the rare occasions he did, it was not Anglican.
“... I dislike the Anglican Church. My father suffered persecution by the Church because of my activities.” He was considered a terrorist by the colonialists.
Whilst we may all be familiar with the story of the liberation struggle, Tekere tried to tell the inside story.
He saved President Mugabe’s face when he made it clear, contrary to the rumour mill, that Mugabe did not usurp power from Ndabaningi Sithole during the liberation struggle when he first ascended to the presidency of Zanu PF in 1973. It was Tekere and Maurice Nyagumbo who engineered to vote Sithole out on allegations of treachery and the structures were clear on who would succeed the president under such circumstances.
“So there were no machinations on his (Mugabe’s) part, to ‘wrest the leadership from Sithole as many have claimed.’”
Mugabe is also absolved of any wrongdoing in the death of Josiah Tongogara. There has been speculation over the years that Tongogara’s death was an inside job within Zanu PF as independence became imminent. Tekere disagrees: “There was no plot.”
But far from giving a straightforward account of Tekere’s life during the war and beyond, he portrayed himself as a larger than life figure who was faultless. He was at pains to portray Robert Mugabe as a man who often had poor judgment, was manipulative and cunning.
We are daily bombarded by propagandists who present Mugabe as a virtuous and courageous man without whom there would have been no Zimbabwe. But Tekere told more of his shortcomings as a leader and in his private life. The autobiography, touted by some as a mere Zanu PF succession tool, plays well in the current succession battle by presenting Teurai Ropa (Vice President Joice Mujuru) as an irreplaceable asset of the struggle.
She is said to have joined the struggle when she was in grade seven. “... when she arrived in Mozambique, she was already a fighter. Teurai was the first woman fighter I had encountered, and I was impressed as she was extremely accomplished.”
He also told how Mugabe was not keen to continue with the armed insurgence against the whites when he got the details of the Chimoio massacre. Mugabe wondered “wether this is worthwhile, with all these people dying”.
Mugabe is cast as a ceremonial leader of Zanu PF who did not have the full trust of important partners like Samora Machel, the President of Mozambique. At one time, Machel is said to have told Tekere: “I respect Mugabe but he does not measure up to this scale of military operation and planning. He does not belong as a soldier.” Josiah Tongogara is also said to have had no trust in Mugabe, and is quoted castigating Tekere: “You are the one who brought a sell-out here” when they were in Mozambique.
Tekere gave himself credit for teaching Mugabe how to hold a gun years after they arrived in Mozambique. “I taught him how to handle weapons... There were other examples of his lack of appetite for war... (He) was the Commander-in Chief of ZANLA forces, but he had no uniform... He would sit in his office, waiting to receive military briefings from me, and never took the initiative himself unless pushed. He did not know how to salute.”
At the same time, he boasted of his own military experience: “I had to learn alongside the raw recruits how to roll on the ground, craw up a hill and handle a weapon... I trained alongside the recruits, not only to learn, but sometimes, to set an example.”
Tekere delivered jabs not only at Mugabe, but even the late Simon Muzenda. He rememberered Mugabe once thundering in Mozambique: “Take this man (Muzenda) away from my house! He gets drunk and walks half naked down the corridor, in the presence of my wife.”
We are also told it was Tekere who brought Nathan Shamuyarira into Zanu PF against the advice of Mugabe. “You are going to regret this. Shamuyarira is a bad character. He is going to cause us trouble in the party. He is a very tricky man.” And true to Mugabe’s words, Shamuyarira was found guilty of having written a letter lying about the character of Edson Zvobgo which got the latter very angry. He had to be stopped as he went to Shamuyarira’s house, axe in hand.
Tekere was appointed Minister of Manpower, Planning and Development in the first cabinet after independence only to be sacked barely twelve months later. He was also removed from his position as Secretary-General of ZANU because “Mugabe was working to consolidate his personal control and power over the party, and I was obviously an obstacle to this.”
Tekere thought he fell out of favour with Mugabe because of his late wife, Sally’s influence. “Mugabe’s family ... disliked Sally” and Mugabe himself had told Tekere in Chimoio “that his marriage to Sally was over. In fact it had ended before we left Zimbabwe.” But things worked out for the couple when Sally followed her husband to Mozambique. However, she remained bitter with Tekere because she thought he was instrumental in organising a potential marriage between Mugabe and Abigail Kurangwa. For that, she never forgave him.
In his final days, Tekere was in and out of hospital, physically broken by ill health and with poor vision. He was financially ruined and survived on handouts from friends. He drank and smoked heavily, and left a trail of failed marriages. But in the typical Zanu PF fashion, he refused to take the blame for his state.
Known as a very erratic and volatile character, he saw the enemy in everyone but himself. Either it was Mugabe, who had run the party and country down, or his fellow comrades who either still had scores to settle with him from the armed struggle or because he has been outspoken against corruption in government.
The book itself is a good read, particularly for an insight into the behind-the-scenes escapades of both the liberation struggle and the early post-independence government. It is just one account, Tekere’s account, but it’s a good addition to those who seek to understand our history.