Obituary of the late national hero, Dr Dumiso Dabengwa

Compiled by Mafela Trust and CITE

Dr Dabengwa was born in Umguza district in Matabeleland North in 1939. He wrote his Junior Certificate at Kutama Mission in Mashonaland West Province and completed secondary education at Thekwane Mission, now Thekwane High School in Bulilima District, about 12km out of Plumtree Town.

He taught at Cyrene Mission for a year before joining the Rhodesia Railway company and later worked with local bank in Bulawayo. Dabengwa started his political activism in the late 1950s when he was still in secondary school where his father used to work.

He engaged in political activism together with the late former Vice President Joseph Msika who was the youth leader in the African National Congress (ANC). In that period he also became active in the Zhanda political group with the likes of Jason Ziyapapa Moyo.

Dr Dabengwa became one of the young youth militant group leaders in political activism in Zhanda Youth League that swept across the country in the campaign and agitation for freedom of the black majority against colonial rule.

Sabotage operations along defiance to Rhodesia impunity law enforcement had continued in the derailment and threat to Rhodesia entertainment, loot on resources, racial discrimination and labour exploitation that signalled a pending war.

A number of sabotage missions were carried out during this period including the bombing of the railway lines as well as the Tredgold building in Bulawayo and other installations in farming areas.

In the height of repressive activities of Rhodesian racial segregation and wanton arrest, killings of innocent civilians, it became necessary that ZAPU convened series of meetings to decide the fate of people’s destiny culminating the declaration to engage in the armed struggle in 1962.

The hunt for his arrest with key activists listed by Rhodesia security operatives made them leave the country to go to Zambia to prepare the launch of the armed struggle.

In February 1964 ZAPU decided to send out part of its national executive, consisting of James Chikerema, George Bodzo Nyandoro, the national secretary, Jason Ziyapapa Moyo, the national treasurer, George Silundika, the national secretary for publicity, and Edward Ndlovu, the deputy national secretary to Zambia to organise the struggle, as part of the External Liason Committee (ELC).

In 1963 Dabengwa became of the first cadres to be sent to the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republic in 1963 -64 with Akim Ndlovu, Ethan Dube, Edward Bhebhe, Gideon Ngoshi, Joseph Nyandoro, Ambrose Mutinhiri, Jabulani Ncube and Robson Manyika, for military training.

Dr Dabengwa Soviet Union military training earned him the nickname, “The Black Russian”, due to his military intelligence astuteness. In the Soviet Union he had specialised in intelligence.

Some of those who were the first to leave were Jack Ngwenya, Jason Ziyapapa Moyo, T.G. Silundika   Jane Ngwenya James Chikerema and Edward Mbahwa Ndlovu who set up the Administration and represented ZAPU externally (ELC).

 When he returned to Zambia after his military training in 1965, Dabengwa was in the forefront of setting up ZAPU’s military wing, the Department of Special Affairs. Some Zimbabweans who were based in Zambia at the time were voluntarily recruited to join the liberation struggle. During the early 1950s a lot of Zimbabwean had settled in Zambia under the permitting federation rules.

Some of the prominent cadres who were recruited at that time were current president Emerson Mnangagwa and former ZPRA member of the High Command, the late Retired Lieutenant-Colonel Eddie “Sigoge” Mlotshwa many in hundreds.  Dabengwa became a key figure in the formation of an alliance between the Department of Special Affairs and the ANC`s military wing, Umkhonto WeSizwe (MK) in drawing up the grand impeccable Alliance Pact.

He was one of the strategists in the successful execution of the joint operation of the famous 1967 Wankie Campaigns operations against   Apartheid South Africa and Rhodesian forces. Dabengwa was directly involved in assisting Umkhonto WeSizwe cadres to cross into the country enroute to South Africa after Zimbabwe independence up to 1994.

In 1968 Dabengwa he entered Rhodesia escorting the Luthuli detachment unit with ZPRA for the 1968 Sipolilo Campaigns with Joe Modise commander of Umkhonto we Sizwe(MK).He also carried out secret reconnaissance and intelligence gathering in Botswana strategic installations .Information gathered included also from military bases, airports and established a strong intelligence gathering  network in the operations  he undertook with  Ethan Dube that opened more flow of undercover operations shared in MK and ZPRA military operations command.

Dabengwa was also instrumental in the setting up of recruitment centres in Botswana which were disguised as refugee centres. The alliance between ZAPU and MK would remain intact until the end of Zimbabwe liberation struggle and beyond up to 1994.  During this period, Dabengwa was deputy to ZAPU`s Chief Intelligence Officer Ethan Dube and took over as intelligence chief when the former was captured in 1974.

Due to the growing demand for more fighters, a lot of cadres were recruited in communities in Zimbabwe through Dabengwa unparalled zeal and distinguished intellect to join the armed struggle The Joint Military Command was formed in Mbeya, Tanzania in 1974, an initiative with intent to engage Rhodesia forces as ZPRA and ZANLA for a win – situation forces for the mother land.

One of the major outcomes from the JMC gave birth to the formation of ZIPA in 1976 in Mozambique. It will be recalled that extensive reconnaissance had been undertaken in the Tete Mozambique border area with Zimbabwe where   FRELIMO allowed ZPRA to penetrate inland Rhodesia through Tete. ZPRA cadres Rex Nhongo, was named the ZIPA commander and was deputised by Alfred ‘Nikita’ Mangena.

The Supreme Council of elders of ZAPU had to exercise its oversight role for the interest of Zimbabwe in the escalating freedom war. The War Council was formed immediately after the rebranding of the Department of Special Affairs to ZPRA in 1972. Dabengwa was appointed secretary of the War Council which was headed by J.Z Moyo. The National Security and Order (NSO) was an Intelligence Department    set up through Dabengwa as Chief Director-Secretary for Security in ZAPU in 1978.

The Department had oversight responsibilities for the entire ZAPU/ZPRA movement in terms of programs, projects publicity and strategic training needs to include specialization. NSO as a strategic department selected people for training in border control, customs, and intelligence (military and civilian) and various structures that would transform the peoplehood of Zimbabwe in meaning of freedom.

ZAPU had set up a succession plan in anticipation of government in waiting after attaining independence. Due to his special skill in war strategies and intelligence, Dabengwa soon became the most sought-after leader by the Rhodesian undercover forces. A massive manhunt was launched to locate and capture him.

The Rhodesian forces bombed the NSO operations headquarters offices in Roma Township, Lusaka, in 1978 where they claimed the lives of 13 cadres and picked up Dabengwa passport. ZPRA will live in liberation war of southern Africa history annals for the role of honour credentials attained through the likes of Dumiso Dabengwa nick-named “Black Russian”.  

They also bombed the ZAPU offices in Lusaka West. The Nkomo residence was also bombed in an attempt to assassinate or capture Dabengwa whom they suspected could be the reward target for Rhodesia insurgency operations on the pursuit.

The Authentic Six liberation movements; MPLA, FRELIMO, SWAPO, ANC, ZAPU and KPG. These liberation movements were identified by the United Nations and the Organisation of African Unity as the authentic liberation movements in Africa. Of all the six movements, ZAPU had the most resilient personnel with regard to liberation war efforts. 

Dabengwa led the delegation for briefing on the armed struggle against Rhodesia through ZPRA combat diary reports and enemy captured weapons as evidence on the war effort. The inspiration from the scenes and encounters summed up to credible determination to the liberation of Zimbabwe.

The Rhodesian Forces were forced to the negotiating table due to the impending attack by the ZPRA forces that had put together massive war machinery. The Colonizing Power, Britain with rebel Ian Smith who declared UDI IN 1965 sensed that if ZPRA were to embark on a conventional war the likelihood for Rhodesia demise had become imminent, hence opted for the Lancaster House talks of 1979.

However, some ZPRA cadres were against the talks as they strongly believed they had an opportunity to defeat the Rhodesian Forces in combat. During the negotiations, Dabengwa was the ZIPRA’s defence representative while the late Josiah Tongogara represented the ZANLA forces.

While he was against the whole idea of agreeing to the talks, Dabengwa still participated in the negotiations that were dominated by Eurocentric undertones that bolted the freedom struggle effort to Lancaster House Constitution fallacy.  Dabengwa and Lookout Masuku as commanders of the ZPRA forces and others started the process of informing the forces on the outcome from the negotiations in London.

The formidable task had to be born out of strategies that would avoid loss of lives and the liberation war effort. The forces from exile had to be moved in under careful arrangements drawn from a consensus framework. The political tide had a tempered feeling and safety guarantees masked .The opportunities fell on trial and error mode and Dabengwa a threat too big to contain. While the ZPRA forces agreed to ceasefire there was no guarantee that they will be safe once they entered the country.

Hence, later some of the soldiers refused to proceed to the assembly points. The DDR engagement was foreign driven and executed out of ownership by the liberation movements as the exercise was marred with uncertainty calm process.

The BIMAT directed and facilitated the DDR process of armed forces colluding with the Rhodesia CIO who were in the front row in marginalizing and fomenting hostility within former freedom fighters. Dabengwa was there in the thick of things .His role as Commander whom from the reaction of other forces to his truth telling temperaments would invite him to the kind of victimization throughout his life time.

Dabengwa was imprisoned in 1982 following the alleged discoveries of arms caches on ZAPU properties alongside colleagues, the late General Lookout Masuku, the late national hero Swazini Ndlovu, another late national hero, Retired Colonel Masala Sibanda, the late Tshaka Moyo who was famously known as “Thodlana” and Nicholas Gilbert Nkomo.

Dabengwa remained detained in prison until 1987 when he was released. He re-joined politics in 1987 following the Unity Accord between PF-ZAPU and ZANU PF.  In 1989, Dabengwa with fellow commanders of ZPRA Formed the Mafela Trust to research and document the liberation armed struggle history. He had been the last living founding Board Member with Dr Jeremy Brickhill to date.    

His civil services as Member of Parliament for Nkulumane Constituency informed the Constituency on development, consensus building and rule of law. After serving two years as Deputy Home Affairs Minister, Dr Dabengwa was elevated to be the Minister in the same portfolio and held the position for two terms.  

He successfully commissioned the Interpol establishment and link for the country. Dr Dabengwa retired from Government in 2000 and became passionate about water supply source need for the region and Bulawayo city; an initiative that is critical for industrial development and access to clean water. 

He also became instrumental in the commissioning of the Matobo World Heritage Area  in 2005 by UNESCO.The commissioned site lies in the  corridors of the Great Dyke and Spacial Development Initiative programs just to mention a few ,it  is here that Dabengwa’ s appreciation for UNESCO recognition  signalled investor confidence that the world knows it is here.

Dr Dabengwa in 2018 launched the Dr Dumiso Dabengwa Foundation whose aim is to promote democratic values in good governess practices and technologies for sustainability for a country experiencing a multiform of geopolitical and economic ills. 

An International figure of fame and polished history credentials full of inspiration; His memoirs will remain immortal.  Dr Dabengwa was a farmer who had passion for cattle ranching and also served as chairman of the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Trust (MZWT) and Matabeleland Development Foundation (MDF). He is survived by his wife Zodwa, five children and five grandchildren.


Related Articles

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button