By Fungi Kwaramba
An emotional Rugare Gumbo has opened up on how he and the late revered freedom fighter, General Solomon Mujuru, moved mountains to persuade fellow guerrillas and frontline states to accept President Robert Mugabe as the party’s leader after the death of Herbert Chitepo in the 1970s.
Pouring his heart out and narrating his struggle history in a touching interview with the Daily News on Tuesday, Gumbo also said if Chitepo, Leopold Takawira, Josiah Magama Tongogara and Solomon Mujuru were all still alive, “mafikezolos” would not have caused the current mayhem and disunity in Zanu PF.
The outspoken war veteran and former Zanu PF spokesperson added that given the history of the struggle that he shared with Mugabe, he was surprised that the party had been hijacked by what he called the Gang of Four — Oppah Muchinguri, Jonathan Moyo, Saviour Kasukuwere and Patrick Zhuwao.
“When we are in such a crisis, this is when you wish heroes like Tongogara, Chitepo, Takawira, general Mujuru and many others were alive.
“They would be giving direction to the party and would never allow the Gang of Four to take over party affairs like this. They would be helping the President to run the party, they would have stopped the Gang of Four.
“I knew Tongogara in particular would never have allowed this to happen. He was a principled man who despite being a member of Zanla, still wanted the freedom fighters to enter into elections (in 1980) as a united front with Zapu. He wanted unity and would have stopped this gang which is misleading the country’s leadership.
“General Mujuru was one of those who would never have allowed the Gang of Four to hijack the party. Even before he died, Mujuru had warned of people who had joined the party to destroy it from within. These (the late heroes) are people who knew and respected the values of the liberation struggle and they must be turning in their graves,” Gumbo charged.
Asked if he was not scared of being arrested or even being killed by his enemies, particularly given the brutal nature of Zanu PF’s infighting and the grave allegations that he was plotting to assassinate Mugabe, Gumbo said his conscience was clear and he was not scared.
Analysts and many Zanu PF members believe that Gumbo was cut loose from the party for his perceived closeness to embattled Vice President Joice Mujuru, at the instigation of First Lady Grace Mugabe who is working closely with a faction aligned to Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The anti-Mujuru faction has in the past few months used crude, sometimes even comical propaganda against Mujuru who until now had been a front runner to take over the country’s leadership from Mugabe.
Reliving the final years of the liberation struggle, Gumbo said freedom fighters were shattered to the core when the then Zanu leader Chitepo died in a bomb blast in Lusaka, resulting in the arrest of several nationalists including him and Tongogara.
“When Cde Chitepo died, I went out of my way to push President Mugabe to be the President because he was holding the most senior position in the movement as he was secretary-general, and he deserved it but it was not easy.
“I really pushed for president Mugabe to take over and he or any other comrades who were there at the time can testify to this.
“I was secretary for information and publicity and I wrote letters to frontline state leaders who were hosting freedom fighters, namely Samora Machel of Mozambique, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania.
“Also, Solomon Mujuru risked his career and life to prop up president Mugabe. He persuaded especially Machel, who was openly questioning president Mugabe’s fast rise to the presidency.
“The likes of Tongogara, who was highly respected and feared and was extra-ordinarily intelligent, were also sceptical of president Mugabe’s rise but I, together with Mujuru, persuaded them.
“Tongogara had been under immense pressure from Machel and it was myself and Mujuru who spent days and nights convincing them that president Mugabe was the right man to lead us through the remaining years of the struggle. And indeed he was the right man.
“To be honest, General Mujuru worked so hard for President Mugabe, more than anyone, more than all of us. Yes, I wrote letters to the frontline states but Mujuru spent time meeting the likes of Machel to have them accept president Mugabe and he achieved that,” Gumbo said.
After being arrested in Zambia following Chitepo’s assassination, Kaunda — the then Zambian leader — approached the liberation fighters detained in Lusaka on behalf of frontline states to ask them who in Zanu they wanted to lead the struggle between Mugabe and Ndabaningi Sithole, who was far more senior to Mugabe in the struggle then.
“The answer was simply Mugabe and we were immediately released and I was one of those who pushed for him even when I was in detention. President Mugabe took over on an interim basis in 1976 and was confirmed by congress the following year and I vigorously campaigned for him together with other comrades like General Mujuru,” Gumbo said.
But the suspended Zanu PF spokesperson was to later clash with Mugabe over the direction of the liberation struggle, leading to his barbaric detention in Mozambique, together with Henry Hamadziripi and Mukudzei Mudzi.
“We were treated like dogs. We spent at least three months detained in holes dug in an open place which were closed from the top at about 5pm and only to be reopened the following morning.
“The holes were six metres deep and I think four metres wide. It was hell on earth and we all thought we were going to die.
“At one point the holes were filled with soil and only our heads were left protruding out, but we all survived the ordeal,” the emotional Gumbo said.
He said it was this history of the struggle that he shared with Mugabe that was the reason why he was surprised that the party had now been hijacked by the Gang of Four — Muchinguri, Moyo, Kasukuwere and Zhuwawo.
Asked if he was not afraid of his party enemies, Gumbo said, “My son, I have played my part, I have lived my life to the fullest and I’m not afraid of dying. In the struggle, you reach a stage where you are not afraid of dying. I’m over 70 years and why should I be scared?
“A lot of members of the high command like Tongogara and Mujuru died, thousands of comrades died right in front of me. I have been fortunate to have survived this long, we saw a lot during the struggle and some people are still dying in mysterious circumstances.
“I know all that transpired in the struggle and ceased being afraid of dying way back then when I joined the struggle. I’m now busy documenting my life and very soon I will publish a book. It’s almost done as I’m working on my final touches.
“And you say I could be arrested, for what? What crime have I committed? These accusations that I want to topple the president are trash. How and why would I kill him now? I respect him as my leader, I campaigned for him all my life, and I will still campaign for him. Why should I fight him now?
“My son, I have been arrested many times in my life including by my own fellow comrades who detained us for nothing in holes like rats, but here I am.
“Only the guilty are afraid and tell you what, my conscience is very clear”.
In another part of the interview that was published in yesterday’s edition of the Daily News, Gumbo said the ruling party had been hijacked by “political vultures” who were running rings around the party’s leadership in what amounted to an effective internal coup.
Gumbo offered this stark warning to Mugabe in which he also criticised the ongoing purges of war veterans and senior party officials ahead of next week’s “elective” congress.