Firebrand former war veterans leader Jabulani Sibanda was last year expelled from Zanu PF alongside ex-vice president Joice Mujuru, party cadres like ex-spokesperson Rugare Gumbo, former Presidential Affairs minister Didymus Mutasa, among a host of others.
Daily News Chief Writer Fungi Kwaramba talks to the fiery former war veterans leader about his life, the armed struggle and the post-independence era. Below are excerpts of the interview.
Q: When did you start political activism?
A: Political activism here in Zimbabwe can be traced far back.
No one can say I started activism on this particular day.
Historically, our forefathers were defeated in a war to defend this country and Lobengula disappeared.
The reason why he disappeared being that a king does not surrender but lives on so that other generations are born into that war until the community’s dreams are attained. I was born in Sipepa, Tsholotsho on January 1, 1958 in an unaccomplished war with the task to free our people.
Q: When did you go into the bush?
A: The problem with that is some people are very good at saying I crossed the border on this day but the fact is that I crossed the border when I had grown enough.
It is very good for (Phelekezela) Mphoko to say that he had a radar that followed me and saw that I joined the struggle when I was 11. But I was born in a very politically active family. I was detained several times by the Smith regime. In our family, the struggle was in us.
I first attempted to cross the Zambezi but got captured. I was still very young and then for the second time, I crossed with other guerrillas into Botswana.
From there we went to Zambia and then finally to Angola where we were given assignments, I became an instructor, from being an ordinary soldier to platoon commander, then I became a company commander.
The struggle was done in many phases. There was a stage of recruiting then that of training. Some became logistics people while some were sent to the front. The struggle developed that way.
Q: What is your level of education?
A: I was educated in the struggle and acquired qualifications of a revolutionary. This is what concerns me most not academics.
The task and what I was trained in to undertake was the armed struggle and the building of this nation after independence and to unite this country.
Q: Where did you go after the war?
A: In 1980, I was in Gwayi then I moved from Gwayi to the Zimbabwe Military Academy in Gweru and then there was a dispute between us and Bmatt (British Military Advisory Training Team). They looked down upon former Zipra officers because I was a company commander and was joining at a senior level.
I was sent back to Brady Barracks and then to Llewellyn and from there, I was sent back to Gwayi. It then happened that (the late Father Zimbabwe Joshua) Nkomo was removed from the ministry of Home Affairs and I joined him as a security aide in charge of intelligence.
Q: When did this happen?
A: That was around 81, 82.
Q: As a personal aide, what do you remember about that time?
A: There were a lot of difficulties, most of which were political and you can only trace it from what happened at Lancaster.
At some stage, it was agreed that we come as the Patriotic Front and Nkomo came back here believing that and President Robert Mugabe changed goal posts.
Soon after that there was a meeting between president Mugabe and the South African government. It was a private meeting that took place in Mozambique.
After that private meeting, you should understand what happened in the struggle.
Armed wings from different countries had alliances. Zapu was aligned to the ANC.
Pac was closer to Zanu PF. As countries became independent, the fear of the South African Boer regime was that if Zapu took leadership of this country, then the ANC would have bases closer to the South African border. That explains why the South African intelligence worked with the Central Intelligence Organisation.
Q: Do you have examples?
A: If you look at Operation Chinyavada, which was basically to destroy Zipra guerrillas, it was targeting comrades to kill them while they were sleeping. It was the same operation that jailed me.
I was jailed so many times. They were using the State of Emergency that gave the CIO power to detain people without charge. It was during that time that there were night courts, one of which tried Sydney Malunga in Gweru.
The night courts were a part of Operation Chinyavada. That led to the creation of organisations like Super Zapu which was created by the South Africans and the CIO.
Its purpose was to get disgruntled Zipra guerrillas who had run away to other countries and turn them against the government.
Like what they did to Matsanga in Mozambique and with Savimbi after the liberation of Angola.
That operation was meant to destroy Zapu. The destruction of Zapu was the destruction of ANC.
These were the issues that led to the disappearance of some Europeans. Look at how the matter went to court and the accused were tried.
Anana (people like) Ngwenya, were they war veterans? They were fast-tracked to the gallows simply because there was something these people were hiding. This is where the problem is with Zapu. It wanted things to be clear but it was forces of intelligence who created these things just to discredit Zapu in the eyes of the Europeans.
Q: Was there any connivance between Zanu and the British?
A: I cannot say much now but I can tell you the same British today who are mad about the goings-on now are the same British who knighted Mugabe in 1985 and 1986 and don’t tell me that they were blind.
Their Bmatt forces were infested with the MI intelligence and the British intelligence. They went as far as Mbalabala in the heart of Matabeleland, so they saw it with their own eyes. Why didn’t they act? All these things happened because they regarded Mugabe as a radical and Nkomo as a communist.
Then there was a war against Nkomo, an attack on Nkomo. We took bullets in Masvingo.
His bullet-proof car was attacked and as his bodyguards, we tried to provide the bullet-proof car with cover using a non-bullet-proof vehicle and as a result, our vehicle lost all the windows and Nkomo’s car was left with all those dents.
Q: What time did this take place?
A: During the day and I can tell you I survived many assassination attempts. I cannot talk about all of them but the time will come because at times we speak louder when we are dead.
Q: What did Nkomo say about this?
A: Nkomo believed that Mugabe was being misled. He believed that some people around Mugabe were misleading him but every time he sought to see Mugabe, he was always blocked as is happening now.
The 5th Brigade came and killed people; there were some we rescued and some we could not.
Q: Do you have examples?
A: Take Jimmy Thutha and then Major Ndlovu who was killed along Force Road. Thutha was secretary for defence for Zapu and we worked closely to investigate the matter.
The State claimed it was an ambush by dissidents but our investigations showed that the person who killed him was very close to the car.
Those 5th Brigade soldiers; when they went to court they were given free bail. Later, they were sentenced to death but they never lost their salaries even when they were in Chikurubi. They were freed soon after the Unity Accord and we know them. Even when this had happened, Nkomo believed that the best solution was unity.
He was against hitting back even though he had soldiers. They then accused us of stashing arms and our commander Lookout Masuku and Dumiso Dabengwa were arrested.
They went to court and were acquitted but were arrested again. Dabengwa survived but Masuku died.
We remained with one armed struggle commander — Rex Nhongo — and we are told that light from a candle caused a fire in his house and he was burnt to death when his bed is close to a window.
Curiously, he couldn’t walk out. A general! A guerrilla! Let us say he was strangled, I don’t know.
We go to the Heroes Acre and we have big posters saying commander par excellence and the politburo declares him a hero but a few years later we are told he worked with the enemy. He wanted to kill president Mugabe and his wife is also accused of that.
We are asking whether it is the same politburo that made him a hero that is now saying he is a villain. It’s either they were lying at that time or they are lying now. The most interesting thing is the similarities of charges laid against the two generals. The other was allowed to live and then died mysteriously but even in death he is being accused of plotting against Mugabe.
Q: So was there a systematic elimination of the commanders?
A: The fact is that both the commanders of the armed struggle are no more. Those who fought for this country are not wanted.
And this is counter-revolutionary and we now believe that these people have deployed themselves so close to the president and now he is a captive.
He is no longer the same Mugabe that we knew. The wife is suffering because we have chosen to be ruled by opinion and not by law.
Q: Are you bitter about your dismissal?
A: Not at all. But the law should be followed. When I was dismissed they took disgruntled war veterans who had lost elections previously.
Some were not even party members. They know the truth. The people who were at that congress know it was fraudulent.
For example, president Mugabe again and again before that congress repeated that the congress was going to be elective and that the usual custom of choosing the top four would be done at the same time during congress.
When people were working towards that, there was a sharp turn and they said there was a new development and people were now going to be selected by the president and he would not do that during the congress but a week after.
So, a confused situation led to a confused outcome. You ask people who attended that congress, they were not happy but they were shouting slogans that were not Zanu PF slogans.
They were talking about gamatox and weevils. Those are not Zanu PF slogans. Congress used the Zanu PF name and venue to get into power.
In any organisation, the amendment of the constitution is done soon after the congress and not before. Congress is the supreme body of the party and the only body that can change the constitution after the resolutions passed in a congress but there was a shifting of goalposts and that is not acceptable in a civilised world.