By Lloyd Msipa
A giant has fallen. Zimbabwe mourns. Dr Dumiso Dabengwa personified the war of liberation. Affectionately known as ‘the Black Russian’, in reference to the fact he was one of the few liberation war stalwarts that trained in Russia when it was not fashionable to do so. He was the intelligence supremo of the military unity of ZAPU (Zimbabwe African Peoples Union), ZIPRA (Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army).
ZAPU, a Socialist party formed during the 1960s by Dr Joshua Nkomo, Nationalist Jason Ziyapapa Moyo, Leopold Takawira, Samuel Parirenyatwa among others, was his vehicle of political expression.
ZIPRA, its military wing was led by Lieutenant-General Lookout Masuku with Dr Dumiso Dabengwa as the intelligence commander. ZAPU was aligned to the Soviet Union in line with its Socialist aspirations.
In 1980, Dr Dumiso Dabengwa became the home affairs minister under a Robert Mugabe government and later accused of treason together with four others including Lieutenant General Lookout Masuku former deputy commander of the Zimbabwe armed forces for trying to overthrow the government of Robert Mugabe.
They were both detained without trial for four years. The basis for the treason charge was that Dr Dumiso Dabengwa, who was a member of the High Command of the Zimbabwe Army after independence, had a letter he acknowledges signing to the K.G.B, the Soviet secret service, seeking to continue the close intelligence links that had existed between his party ZAPU led by Dr Joshua Nkomo and the Russians before the cease-fire that ended the war in what was then Rhodesia.
The arrest and detention of Dr Dumiso Dabengwa and Lieutenant -General Lookout Masuku provoked the desertion of over 4 000 former ZIPRA fighters from the national army. They operated in rural Midlands and Matebeleland were they kidnapped white farmers who they used to demand the release of Dr Dumiso Dabengwa, Lieutenant General Lookout Masuku and four others detained with them. These soldiers were later referred to by the government of Robert Mugabe as ‘dissidents’
A crack team trained by the North Koreans generally referred to as the ‘fifth brigade’ was deployed into rural Midlands and Matebeleland to deal with the ‘dissident problem’. The soldiers were not part of the national army, but a crack unit and only answerable to the Prime Minister Robert Mugabe. They were responsible for the massacres of civilians in rural Midlands and Matebeleland which later became known as ‘Gukurahundi’ loosely translated as “the early rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains”. It is instructive to note that during training of this crack unit, it was also composed of former ZIPRA fighters who later deserted living mainly ‘Shona’ speaking soldiers from ZANLA the military wing of ZANU and elements of foreigners from Tanzania.
Fifth Brigade targets were mainly unarmed civilians to who Mugabe referred to ‘as supporters of dissidents’
Following the atrocities committed and international condemnation, Mugabe agreed to talks with ZAPU leader Dr Joshua Nkomo culminating in what became known as the Unity accord signed on the 22nd of December 1987 effectively ‘merging’ the two political parties into one calling it the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (Zanu PF).
Dr Dumiso Dabengwa was to later refer to this agreement as the ‘Surrender Accord’ as it effectively swallowed ZAPU as a political party.
In 2008, Dr Dumiso Dabengwa left ZANU PF and immediately pushed for the revival of ZAPU together with other former ZAPU bigwigs that included at the time Welshman Mabhena (former ZAPU secretary general), former war veterans’ leader Andrew Ndlovu and former government minister Thenjiwe Lesabe.
At the time of his death Dr Dumiso Dabengwa was the leader of ZAPU and his death brings to the fore the issue of Gukurahundi. To date the victims of the atrocities, remain unaccounted for and perhaps this is an opportunity for Zimbabweans to have this conversation and bring it to finality.
Dr Dumiso Dabengwa ran his race. Through the Dumiso Dabengwa foundation he worked to bring the Gukurahundi issue to finality. A revolutionary per-excellence, they will never be another like him. Affectionately known as the ‘black Russian’ or as some would call him ‘DD’, he is a hero to all of us. May his soul rest in peace.