- Published: 30 November 2014
- Written by Sundaymail
Alleged coup plotter Rugare Gumbo, who falsely claimed last week that he elevated President Mugabe to the helm of Zanu, had a tempestuous relationship with leading lights of the liberation struggle and nearly derailed the quest for independence through his well-documented attempts to subvert authority.
Gumbo was booted out of Zanu-PF a fortnight ago for plotting to assassinate President Mugabe if he did not step aside for Vice-President Joice Mujuru.
In interviews with the pro-Mujuru private media, Gumbo has claimed he was personally responsible for President Mugabe's elevation after Cde Herbert Chitepo's murder in 1975.
However, documented historical facts say otherwise, and veteran nationalists have referred to the sacked ruling party spokesperson as a "murderous, pathological liar".
Various source documents from the time — including the Mgagao Declaration; a letter from detainees (who included Gumbo himself); and a transcript of an interview President Mugabe had with BBC — all show that Gumbo is rewriting history.
The October 1975 Mgagao Declaration in which Zanla officers at the Tanzanian camp expressed no confidence in the leadership of Bishop Abel Muzorewa, Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole and Cde James Chikerema, settled on President Mugabe as the preferred leader.
The declaration was made while Gumbo and others were in a Zambian jail.
The Mgagao signatories said: "An executive member who has been outstanding is Robert Mugabe. He has demonstrated this by defying the rigours of guerilla life in the jungles of Mozambique. Since we respect him most in all our dealings with the ANC . . . We can only talk through Robert Mugabe . . ."
The declaration criticised Sithole for not standing up for prisoners like Gumbo, who had been arrested after the Chitepo assassination and had also been implicated in the Nhari rebellion — the first of three coup attempts he has been linked with.
Then on January 21, 1976 President Mugabe demonstrated why he was the natural leader in a BBC interview.
A transcript of that interview goes: "Well, I think President (Kenneth) Kaunda (of Zambia) has been the principal factor in slowing down our revolution.
He has arrested our men, locked them up, and within his prisons and restriction areas there have been cases of poisoning and (there have) also been murders . . . "Yes, 13 of our people were shot dead, cold-bloodedly. And one cannot regard this as an act of conforming to principles of humanism."
It was this bold statement in defence of the likes of Gumbo — at serious risk of straining relations with the Frontline States that were supporting the Second Chimurenga — that encouraged detainees to openly speak out in President Mugabe's support.
Further, President Mugabe conferred with Presidents Samora Machel (Mozambique) and Julius Nyerere (Tanzania) to prevail on President Kaunda to release Gumbo and others or else Zanu would not participate in the October 1976 Geneva Conference.
President Mugabe told them: "We need them (the detainees) as part of our delegation to Geneva. We cannot do without them."
However, just two years later Gumbo plotted to topple President Mugabe in a coup attempt that would have seen Cdes Edgar Tekere and Herbert Ushewokunze (whose skull was fractured by the conspirators) thrown down a ravine and others in the leadership also eliminated.
Three days after President Mugabe's BBC interview, on January 24 1976, Gumbo released a letter penned by General Josiah Tongogara and Cde Kumbirai Kangai — with whom he was incarcerated — backing President Mugabe's elevation.
"Because of lack of communication with you it was difficult for us to make a formal statement to the world of our decision until we got to know your stand. Now that we know your position we are in a position to make a formal declaration calling upon you to immediately take over the party leadership . . . The burden and responsibility of leading our party now rests with you. Should we be released by our captors we shall be glad to join you in the field."
On that same day, Dare reChimurenga endorsed the Mgagao Declaration.
Gumbo and the other detainees were to be released before the Geneva Conference, though Gen Tongogora was set free after a court trial in Zambia cleared him and another cadre of murder charges.
A veteran nationalist who knows the disgraced ex-Politburo member for decades said he was not surprised by Gumbo's latest claims.
"Rugare Gumbo is a grumpy, unrepentant, murderous pathological liar," he said.
Another veteran, Cde George Rutanhire — who signed the Mgagao Declaration — on Friday told this publication: "To elevate President Mugabe from Secretary-General to First Secretary of the party, it was done by all organs of the party, and the entire leadership of Zanla. It was not done by an individual, Rugare Gumbo.
"We were in Mgagao … we endorsed President Mugabe . . . It was a collective decision that was supported by the people who were on the ground. It was in 1975. We actually went with a document to President Nyerere. We also went with the same document to Colonel (Hashim) Mbita to show our support for President Mugabe to lead the party."
And in an interview with The Sunday Mail in January 2007, Cde Rutanhire said President Mugabe's leadership was affirmed by the 1976 party conference in Chimoio, Mozambique.
Prior to that, the internal party leadership met at a hotel in Machipisa, Harare, to deliberate on the way forward seeing as Sithole had been rejected, Cde Chitepo was dead and the external leadership was locked up in Zambian jails.
They agreed that the Secretary-General, Cde Mugabe, must go take over the external leadership in Mozambique so as to continue prosecuting the struggle. Cde Mugabe had become the party's second-in-command back in 1964 at the Gweru Congress, 11 years before Gumbo released the detainees' letter of support for his leadership.
In President Mugabe's own words: "They said Chitepo ashaya and someone must go and take over. They said the Secretary-General must go. And the Secretary-General said ‘handingaende ndega'."
Cde Mugabe opted to cross into Mozambique with Cde Simon Muzenda, but the man who was to later be VP of independent Zimbabwe was ill-disposed at the time. In the end, Cde Edgar Tekere volunteered to accompany Cde Mugabe, which is what happened.
At no point was Gumbo involved in this decision as he was a prisoner abroad. By that time, Cde Mugabe already had won the confidence of President Machel, who in turn convinced President Nyerere to also recognise his leadership qualities.
Cde Mugabe was well acquainted with President Kaunda from his days at Chalimbana College before he went to Ghana. This was because Cde Mugabe sourced crucial UNIP documents on liberation politics in Southern Africa from the then Zambian ruling party for use by his relative Cde Chikerema back in Zimbabwe.
"These events clearly show that Gumbo was not personally responsible for the elevation of Cde Mugabe as he claims in the newspapers," said a historian with the University of Zimbabwe.
"It also shows that Gumbo is taking advantage of journalists who do not know their history to peddle fabrications about the liberation struggle and his role in it."
Such revisionism, the historian said, could not go unchallenged.
In other statements to the pro-Mujuru media, Gumbo claimed that he pined for the leadership of the likes of Gen Tongogara and Gen Solomon Mujuru.
However, Gumbo had serious fall-outs with both generals.
After Cde Mugabe had pushed for his release from prison, Gumbo repeatedly undermined Gen Tongogara, calling him uneducated.
Again in the President's own words: "He (Gumbo) hated Tongogara like anything, achiti kuna Tongo ‘you are ignorant, hauna kufunda'."
Cde Mugabe said, after the 1976 Chimoio Conference had reaffirmed his leadership post and the party was gearing for the "Year of the Storm" to escalate the onslaught on Rhodesian forces, Gen Tongogara approached him and said: "Ndingaendewo kuchikoro here? Ndanyanya kushorwa naGumbo achinditi handina kufunda'.
"I replied to him, ‘No no no, Tongo. You can't go to school now, leaving the struggle. You will go to school after the war'."
Cde Mugabe on at least one occasion had to stop the two from coming to blows.
"How then does Gumbo today claim he respected General Tongogara's leadership? And when Gumbo and others attempted to assassinate senior liberation war leaders at the height of the struggle in 1978, it was General Mujuru who stopped him and arrested him.
"Is this the same Gen Mujuru he is today claiming is his kind of leader? And through it all, Gumbo still tries to project himself as a kingmaker through the ahistorical media that swallows anything these guys say without verifying facts," a war veteran told The Sunday Mail.
This was in reference to Friday's article in The Independent that had Gumbo saying "nothing" could stop VP Mujuru from seizing power.
"Mujuru is going to survive. She is strong and she has a very strong support base. She is well-groomed and mature. There is nothing to stop her from taking over in future."