By Tichaona Sibanda
SW Radio Africa
30 May 2014
Former guerrilla commander Wilfred Mhanda, who died in Harare on Wednesday, is an unsung hero who played a large part in the liberation of Zimbabwe.
This was said on Friday by Happyson Nenji, a close friend of Mhanda and a Zimbabwe Liberation Platform board member. The two first met in Tanzania in 1970.
Mhanda, 64, died at Parirenyatwa hospital after a long battle with cancer. He will be buried at the Glen Forest cemetery in the capital on Saturday. At one point during the liberation war, Mhanda was second-in-command to the late General Solomon Mujuru.
Nenji said despite being demonised by President Robert Mugabe and his close aides Mhanda, the man known as Dzinashe Machingura during the liberation war, performed great, heroic and noble deeds.
Mhanda and Mugabe fell out in 1975 when he resisted him taking over the ZANU PF leadership. The two never reconciled to a point and Mhanda couldn’t even find a decent job, as the CIO would threaten his would-be employers if they dared recruit him.
‘We like to think that when our men and women go the extra mile for their country, they’ll get all the medals and accolades they deserve. Unfortunately,for Mhanda, due to petty politics or just good old-fashioned hatred, this was not the case.
‘We know they won’t declare him a hero but to the millions of Zimbabweans enjoying their freedom from the white colonial rule, they owe that to Mhanda,’ said Nenji.
Nenji challenged all those who claim Mhanda did nothing during the war to consult Joachim Chissano (Former President of Mozambique) or the current President Armando Guebuza about the role he played in the bush war.
When Herbert Chitepo (the ZANU PF national chairman and head of its external wing) was killed by a car bomb at his Lusaka home on the morning of 18th March 1975, the war effort went into paralysis following the incarceration of several top members of ZAPU, ZANLA and ZIPRA.
ZANLA forces were expelled from Zambia and regrouped in Mozambique. At the instigation of Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, representing the frontline states, Mhanda, Mujuru and Soul Sadza, who was ZANU PF’s deputy chief representative in Dar es Salaam, went to see the late Mozambican President Samora Machel.
‘The three of them persuaded Machel to allow ZANLA forces to use Mozambique as their rear base to launch attacks into Rhodesia. This is how the war was reignited through his efforts,’ Nenji said.
He added: ‘If anyone has forgotten this part of our history, then I can only advise them to consult Chissano and Guebuza and not anyone else. These two, including the late Machel, are very familiar with what transpired in 1975.’
Nenji said the current crop of service chiefs and senior, army, police and CIO officers are quite aware of the pivotal role Mhanda played, because he trained them.
‘He was the chief instructor at Mgagao camp in Tanzania and trained the likes of Perence Shiri (Airforce commander), Paradzai Zimondi (Prisons commissioner) and Augustine Chihuri (Police commissioner). I beg to differ if other people downplay the role he played,’ explained Nenji.
After independence Mhanda lived in exile for more than 10 years, furthering his studies in different European countries. When he returned he was involved in numerous human rights activities. In 2000, along with other ex-combatants, Mhanda helped form the Zimbabwe Liberators’ Platform to organise and fight for the rights of the country’s genuine war veterans.
He was also a co-founder of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition and the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) and served on their oversight boards.
One commentator said: “I’m deeply saddened by the news that Wilf Mhanda has passed away. He was a remarkable man of immense courage and integrity, with a wonderful sense of humour. I was privileged to meet him on a number of occasions, and to hear him speak at various universities. He wanted the best for his country and was not only prepared to speak out against injustice – irrespective of the perpetrator – but was dedicated to rebuilding the country he loved deeply, and for which he had given up so much. We have lost a man with immense leadership and reconciliation skills – his passing is a tragedy for Zimbabwe. My sincere condolences to Wilf’s family; may his soul rest in peace.”