CDE Robert Gabriel Mugabe’s life epitomises a journey well travelled, with cumulative substance offering new horizons where outspokenness made and indeed earned him the coveted place of being the darling of the African race, with the whites hating him with a passion mixed with open fear and discrete admiration.
The man who led an armed struggle leading to the attainment of Zimbabwe’s independence on April 18, 1980 boasts of many lives as political prisoner, guerrilla leader, head of State and Government, reluctant political observer and political activist.
His full story cannot be shared without input from Cde Robert Gumbo, a war veteran who escorted Cde Mugabe and Cde Edgar Tekere from then Salisbury to Nyanga during their escape to Mozambique.
The Manica Post tracked the largely unsung hero, Cde Gumbo to his Rusenvrede Farm in Odzi to explain Cde Mugabe’s miraculous escape to Mozambique in 1975.
Cde Gumbo was 19 then.
“Zanu had lots of well-to-do people that could take him anywhere, but he chose me to do that. I do not understand why he trusted me to facilitate his escape from Salisbury to Nyafaru. That remains as mystery to me,” said Cde Gumbo.
Cde Gumbo was a young man working at a Cold Comfort facility in Ruwa, whose owner was Mr John Deary.
Cold Comfort farms were a cover for the politicisation and recruitment of cadres.
One day Cde Gumbo was shocked to hear Mr Deary saying that “his brother wanted to see him”. The guest was Cde Mugabe.
They talked all night long, with Cde Mugabe, who had just been released from prison, exhibiting extensive knowledge of current affairs and was impressed by what the youths at Boulders Farm were doing in taking farming as a business.
After days, Cde Gumbo was approached by a Roman Catholic nun Sister Aquinnah, with sad news that Cde Mugabe’s life was in danger.
The Rhodesian security apparatus was looking for him, Cdes Enos Nkala and Edgar Tekere. She pleaded with Gumbo to facilitate their escape from Salisbury to Nyafaru.
Nyafaru then belonged to Chief Rekayi Tangwena who was embroiled in a bitter war with whites, resisting relocation.
“She told me “your brother is in danger”. He risked arrest and her fear was that once arrested, he would disappear the Edison Sithole way. I was at the farm, and I promptly took off my dirty clothes and put on the cook’s khaki gear while she waited outside. I jumped into the back seat of her car as a security measure. Whites then trusted cooks and gardeners, so I wanted it to look as if I was her cook. She took me to a house in Highlands where she had left Cdes Mugabe, Nkala and Tekere.
Cde Nkala was manning the premises, and he tried to engage me in political talk, but I told him we had a serious situation to handle. When I got into the house, Cde Mugabe was lying under the bed. He came out, and we discussed security issues. We agreed to leave for Nyafaru that evening.
“Together with Cde Cephas Muropa, and I called Nyafaru. Cde Moven Mahachi picked the call just after one ring. I told him “we have two rams that were seriously sick and need his attention”. That was a special code to avoid detection and interpretation by the enemy. I meant we had a serious situation involving two leaders that required his attention. He grasped it and drove to Ruwa immediately,” said Cde Gumbo.
Cde Gumbo left to survey the security situation around Salisbury. When Cde Mahachi arrived, they exchanged security notes.
The Salisbury-Umtali Road had no roadblocks.
Cdes Mugabe and Tekere were at Roman Catholic priest Father Ribeiro’s house.
Two cars were organised to bring them from Highlands to Ruwa.
In Ruwa, Cde Gumbo was instructed to drive ahead, while Cde Mahachi’s Renault 12 followed from a distance.
“I was ahead clearing the way for them. The game plan was very simple; if I applied the brakes twice, it spells danger, and the car behind should either go back or use a different route,” explained Cde Gumbo.
They had a stop-over in Rusape where they were given food by the late Cde Basil Nyabadza and proceeded to Nyafaru.
Cde Gumbo drove back to Ruwa to return Mr Deary’s Peugeot Station Wagon that he had used, to avoid suspicion.
Cde Mugabe and Cde Tekere were left in the hands of Cdes Tinaani Muomba and Cde Pearson Kasu, at Nyafaru.
Cde Gumbo sniffed for intelligence, established that the security agents saying Cde Mugabe’s car had been located at Forbes Border Post.
“I called Nyafaru and told Cde Kasu to be alert, and secure the two, as the enemy was up to something. Days later, Rhodesian police visited Nyafaru while Cde Tekere and Cde Mugabe were having breakfast in the dining. Kasu and Muomba panicked. As the truck drew closer only Cde Tekere could escape through the door and went behind the kitchen. Cde Mugabe could not, and Kasu and Muomba had to lift and push him through a hole between the kitchen and dinning into the kitchen, where there was a door leading outside. The truck left upon hearing that the security situation was normal.
“Coincidentally, Chief Tangwena arrived and took the two with him to his hideout in Mt Chiri. After two months under Chief Tangwena’s care, one of his two wives, a spirit medium, while in trance, advised the traditional leader to escort the two politicians into Mozambique.
“They crossed into Mozambique with the help of the young Tangwena people. Cde Mugabe left behind six suitcases full of books. We knew there was no food in Mozambique, and together with Cephas, took six bags of mealie-meal to the Muchena area that had been declared a no-go-zone by the Rhodesians. Those found there would be killed, but we had no option. We had to do it and we arranged with one Mugidho, who came to collect the six bags to feed them in Mozambique.
“Mealie-meal was all over the ground, and as we were about to leave, our tractor developed a fault. It was risky since no one was allowed to go to that area. Once caught, you were going to be executed. We later repaired it, and as fate had it, it started raining washing away all the mealie-meal and cleaning the tractor. We eventually got back to Nyafaru without incident,” he said.
Cde Gumbo said he later received two letters from Cde Mugabe and Cde Tekere.
“Cde Mugabe instructed me to take the six suitcases of books to his sister Sabina Mugabe at Silveira House. Cde Tekere tasked me to go and tell his wife Anne Mujeni, at the University of Rhodesia, to join him in Mozambique. I executed the two assignments, and lost touch with Cde Mugabe until 2011, when he called me to his office in the presence of Cde Didymus Mutasa to thank me for playing a key role in his escape. Cde Mugabe asked me what I wanted, and I gave him a catalogue of farm equipment. He wrote and signed a letter that I took to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ), but the equipment never got to me. “Investigations revealed that the equipment was released but intercepted and diverted in Rusape. I want to thank the Cde Mugabe for honouring his word to me, though his gesture was abused by some politicians,” said Cde Gumbo.
Cde Gumbo described Cde Mugabe’s death as “a sad loss to Zimbabwe and Africa at large. He was a principled man. He had foresight and vision for Zimbabwe. He gave Zimbabweans good education, health, infrastructure and most importantly, the land. He united the country. His death must unite, not divide us. I want to thank President Mnangagwa for keeping Cde Mugabe’s legacy intact. I want to thank him for his unwavering support for Cde Mugabe and his family, and respecting him as an icon and the founding father of Zimbabwe,” he said.
Cde Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years and was ousted by military action in November 2017 which installed his long time right hand man Mnangagwa as president of both Zanu PF and State.
— Manica Post