Dabengwa, Nkala: The untold story

“We need to be a united front so that everybody has space and we are able to give opportunities of being represented,”

ZAPU president Dumiso Dabengwa has revealed for the first time how the late former Defence minister Enos Nkala offered him a Zanu PF card while he was incarcerated at the height of Gukurahundi, saying if he did not accept the card, he would rot in prison.

Nduduzo Tshuma

Dabengwa said Nkala, the late Edison Zvobgo and Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa visited him in Chikurubi Maximum Prison in 1986 after the death of Zipra commander Lookout Masuku offering him freedom on condition he joined Zanu PF.

In an wide-ranging interview, Dabengwa also revealed how Nkala had been at the forefront of ensuring that the Patriotic Front was divided, resulting in Zanu and PF Zapu going to the 1980 elections as competing parties.

“I met him (Nkala) at the formation of the National Democratic Party (NDP), but we were not close,” he said.

“I got to know him after our arrest where NDP demonstrated in Bulawayo and we spent almost four months at Grey (Street) Prison (Bulawayo) and shared a cell.”

Dabengwa said after his release and after Zapu had been banned, Nkala went on to form Zanu along with President Robert Mugabe, Ndabaningi Sithole and others.

“At the Lancaster House Conference in 1979, Nkala was one of the most vocal people against PF Zapu and Zanu going into the 1980 elections as a united front,” he continued.

“We understand Nkala was strongly against participating in elections as the Patriotic Front, hence Zanu went it alone to the elections.”

The former Zipra intelligence supremo said he did not have much contact with Nkala after the elections, as he was preoccupied in the army.

“When I retired from the army, we went to see Nkala who was then Finance minister. I was with (the late) Ackim Ndlovu after registering a transport company, where we would import vehicles from the United States,” Dabengwa said.

“He liked our idea and gave advice on a few issues. However, the project never took off as we were arrested afterwards.”

The Zapu leader said Nkala visited him at Chikurubi Maximum Prison with Zvobgo and Mnangagwa.

“It was in 1986 after the death of Lookout Masuku we spoke and they said if I agreed to join Zanu PF and accepted the party card that they had brought for me, on that very day I would be released out of Chikurubi Prison and be a free man,” Dabengwa said.
“I said to them that could only happen over my dead body.
“I made it clear that I would not betray Zapu. I would not turn my back on the people that were being killed by them.

“Nkala said to me, ‘it’s your fault, we will take the key to your cell and throw it away and you will rot in prison’.”

After his release, the Zapu leader said he was surprised to receive an invite to Nkala’s wedding in 1987.

“We discussed this with friends and I did not know what he wanted from me because of the way he had treated me in prison, I did not want to talk to him,” he said.
“My friends advised that I attend his wedding.”
Dabengwa said he did not see Nkala until 2008 and was surprised to hear him criticise Zanu PF, a party he helped form.

“I would ask him why he was criticising Zanu PF yet he helped form the party and blocked the Patriotic Front, as well as his involvement in Gukurahundi and the statements he made at the time,” he said.

“He denied everything, even statements that were recorded in the media.
“He said Nkomo had succeeded in skipping the country because he was the one who warned him that there were people who wanted to take his life.”

Dabengwa said he visited Nkala when he fell sick and was admitted at Mater Dei Hospital in Bulawayo adding that he was not surprised by Mugabe’s stance on his hero status.

“He was the mastermind in forming Zanu, mainly because of his personal dislike of Nkomo,” he said.

“It was because of a domestic matter that I do not know up to now.
“I knew at the time of my incarceration that Nkala was not happy with Nkomo’s leadership.

“There was a domestic issue that did not have anything to do with the party, that is why he provided his house where Zanu was formed.”

Dabengwa said besides his flaws, Nkala was a seasoned nationalist, “and not founding nationalist as some papers have reported”.

“He was outspoken and spoke his mind.
“He had an independent mind and contributed to the independence of the country.
“To an extent he deserves to be given good points, but after independence there is nothing, all is wiped out by Gukurahundi and the Willowvale (Car) scandal,” he said.

“I have bundled them into one, Nkala, Mugabe and Mnangagwa and all those that caused my suffering and forgiven them. But like I always say, I will never forget what they did to me.

“Each time we spoke, I would remind Nkala of the things they put me through and tell him that at times I regretted talking to him.”

Dabengwa and Masuku were arrested and charged with high treason at the height of the Gukurahundi genocide.

Despite being acquitted by the courts, they remained incarcerated.
Masuku was released to hospital in 1986 and died shortly afterwards. Dabengwa was freed after the signing of the Unity Accord in 1987.


  1. He was a demagogue. A man who believed extreme was revolutionary. He single handedly destroyed Bulawayo by organising the sieges we experienced in the eighties. Remember the “Seligonjolezwele ” weekends. Good riddance to bad rubbish..

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