By Takura Zhangazha
My first encounter with the late Cde Wilfred Mhanda or Cde Dzino as he was and will always be affectionately known by many, was a brief, personal but thorough impromptu lecture in the early 2000s.
We had been debating the legacy of Marxism in the liberation struggle and its placement in the struggle for further democratization of the country.
At that time he had helped to establish an organization called the Zimbabwe Liberator’s Platform (ZLP) for war veterans who were not comfortable with being members of the then radical Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA). And as always, where it came to explaining political concepts and issues, the great deputy National Political Commissar of the Zimbabwe People’s Army (ZIPA) would re-emerge.
To be sure, that late Masvingo afternoon , I got my fill of ‘dialectical materialism’ and how socialism as an ideology assisted in formulating not only strategy but also part of the visionary import of the liberation struggle. And I knew I was lucky to be in the presence of a legendary freedom fighter.
Not that he expected you to hero worship him. Not at all. He was more interested in discussing the contemporary and future state of affairs than his past as a revolutionary guerrilla. It was a past that those who have read his memoir ‘Dzino, Memories of a FreedomFighter’ are by now well aware of.
But he never boasted of it. He rarely mentioned the fact that he was a key player in the writing of the Mgagao Declaration (after the assassination of Herbert Chitepo) that led to the formation of the united Zimbabwe People’s Army (ZIPA) in 1976 wherein he became the Deputy Political Commissar.
The divisions that emerged with the escalation of the war including his 1977 imprisonment in Mozambique until independence were as sad as they were part of the vicissitudes of the struggle.
These events and their end effects do not however take away the important leadership roles that Cde Dzino played in decisive phases of the liberation struggle.
Instead they should make us realize that in his leadership roles he never averred from what he considered his political principles. Even if it led to his continual imprisonment until independence.
In the aftermath of independence Cde Dzino was one of the few legendary leaders of the struggle that uniquely sought to interact with younger generations of Zimbabweans (myself included) on contemporary political matters as they occurred.
He had no sense of entitlement that we have seen with some of our liberation war veterans. Instead he had an unwavering commitment to the values of human dignity, democracy, human rights and socio-economic justice. This he made evidently clear at a Committee of the Peoples Charter 2011 annual Samora Machel Lecture where he stated,
“The best tribute that we can make to Machel… is to re-dedicate and re-commit ourselves to the ideals for which he fought and died; is to position ourselves on the side of championing the people’s interest by standing up and speaking out in defence of the people’s rights. As another gallant son of Africa, Amilcar Cabral had stated before his assassination, “not a day without the struggle, not an hour without the movement and not a minute without the people”.”
Cde Dzino was also never willing to be a pawn in anyone’s or any party’s unclear political game. Hence he never had any direct leadership role in any opposition political party. He however had great sympathies with the mainstream opposition but regularly expressed his frustration at their inability to be better organized electorally and internally.
His involvement with the Zimbabwean civic movement resided largely with ensuring the Zimbabwe Liberators Platform participated in broader democratization processes such as constitutional reform, electoral reforms and observation of human rights. And again, without any sense of entitlement.
In all of this, Cde Dzino’s diminutive form would always rise up in meetings to make salient points about he state of democracy and in somewhat socialist fashion always end his submissions with a clear articulation of what needed to be done. Sometimes with exasperation, most times with a magnanimity so rare for a man who was once at the front-lines of the liberation struggle.
What he taught me, and hopefully others, is that to be a national hero, one needs not be loud or consistently re-living the events of the liberation struggle. Yes, one must remember the struggle, its pain and its eventual success but not in order to cloud its values and principles.
Cde Dzino lived the values and principles of the liberation struggle by being like the rest of us.
There were no sirens in his wake, nor were there uniformed soldiers always clearing the way for him. There was just us, the ordinary people, sometimes knowing, sometimes not knowing, that amongst us walks a legend of the liberation struggle.
Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blgospot.com)