IN 1960 two young boys drove into Bulawayo on Selbourne Avenue — now Leopold Takawira Avenue — from Shabane Mine (Zvishavane) in a borrowed car after lying to the owner.
All of sudden they found themselves face to face with the BSA Police at a tight roadblock on the bridge on Matshamhlophe River next to Evelyn High School.
They were transporting dynamite for carrying out industrial terrorist sabotage in Bulawayo and the eversharp Rhodesian special units had got wind that the explosives were on their way into the city and every car underwent a thorough search at all roads leading to the city.
The two boys developed running stomachs as the traffic queue slowly surged towards the police checkpoint.
There was nowhere to run at this point for the two chaps in the car with a bag of explosives in the boot, but drive straight to jail if they could not quickly think of a plan. That year and day the armed liberation war for this country had begun.
The two terrified boys in the car were Dumiso Dabengwa and the late former mayor of Bulawayo Abel Siwela.
One cannot tell the narrative of the armed liberation struggle of this country and leave out Dabengwa as that would be simply distorted history. Period!
When we take heritage and history tourists through the township tour of the city of Bulawayo in Mpopoma we always show them a simple neglected umgelo (water way) on the side of the road where nine young boys from Makokoba, Iminyela — then called Ezinkabini — and Mpopoma held a meeting that gave birth to what we all now know to be the Zipra forces.
Dabengwa was among those nine boys.
Dabengwa is central to the development of the armed struggle narrative of this country as far back as 1959 when he and others where just nothing, but young boys growing up in the Bulawayo townships.
I am very worried of the possibility of Dabengwa not being buried at the national liberation Heroes’ Acre as this would mean the narrative of this region’s role in liberating this country would be effectively lost to all generations to come. It will be incomplete and wrong history.
Think about it that all of us who walk on this soil called Zimbabwe will not be around 1 000 years from today, but that war memorial Heroes’ Acre on that hill would still be around with people giving it all sorts of interpretations like we are all doing now with the Great Zimbabwe monument.
Those people yet to be born must find Dabengwa’s stone there because he represents the narrative of this country’s bush war main characters and represents all of us from this region.
We all know that it is Zanu PF that decides to inter people in that heritage ground called the Heroes’ Acre and if Dabengwa remains in the current political wilderness he will be left out like many other great fighters from our part of the country that have been left out already.
It is already a lost narrative to this part of the country to have our liberation war greats such as Lookout Masuku, Thenjiwe Lesabe, Welshman Mabhena, Swazini Ndlovu, Nikita Mangena, Richard Dube and many others missing at that liberator’s hill.
It will be a permanent loss to this region and the country if Dabengwa would also be found missing out of the Heroe’s Acre.
What seems today a Zanu PF project will one day many years to come be the liberation national shrine and the only memory and authoritative narrative of how a nation called Zimbabwe was born. All of us who today have our opinions and versions of the struggle will not be around to present arguments about the narrative that would be then expressed by those stones at that heroes’ acre.
It is our responsibility as schooled Africans to interpret and understand the meaning of election numbers if we want to remain truthful to democracy.
The July 31 results informed Dabengwa and all that he is not where the people are. Those that are close to Dabengwa should persuade him to go to where the people are.
Currently people are with Zanu PF and MDC-T and it is for him to choose to go to a group that identifies with his past and history in the politics of this country. For obvious reasons it can’t be MDC-T.
It is not wrong that Dabengwa and many others left Zanu PF due to frustration and went to voices that were in the trenches of Zapu that wanted to govern this country through participating in the democratic processes of elections.
Like all of us we thought there were many thousands of people in those trenches, large enough numbers to form a government. It has, however, turned out that it is too few people in the Zapu trenches.
For this reason it is now very clear that liberation luminaries such as Dabengwa have no business to be in opposition politics where there are too few numbers of the population. Dabengwa, and let me add, Simba Makoni should go back to Zanu PF and be where their experience would meet with numbers that can give them a mandate to be useful in the government and the country.
Dabengwa knows it well that one cannot win in a liberation war as much as in business when large numbers of people are not on one’s side. It was only for that reason, to be on the people’s side that made Dabengwa and Siwela make it through in that tight roadblock on Matshamhlophe River and not get nabbed by the Police Special Unit that was desparately hunting for them.
There are no sufficient numbers in Zapu to justify Dabengwa remaining there as its leader. It is also not his responsibility to build those numbers.
The July 31 election results exposed Zapu as a small movement of yesteryear dreamers too scared to face the realities of the new future from new platforms. Selfish jealous people in Matabeleland lied to Dabengwa and enticed him to dump Zanu PF only to not vote for him come election time.
Being the liberation war legend that our children should be proud of, Dabengwa should be spending his old age closer to the centre of national power where he can do more for this region than spending his last years fighting the same wars that he fought when he was a 17-year-old boy mobilising a youth wing for National Democratic Party and a military wing for Zapu.
He should be contributing to fix the economy and helping the young assisting them to create a better future for themselves in many different ways than doing exactly the same things he did before independence.
It is just not right.
Worse still my heart sinks when I hear or read about him arguing or exchanging hash words with people in Zapu who were not even born when he, Siwela, Akim Ndlovu and others where shipping explosives in the late fifties.
Dabengwa should go back now to Zanu PF, mend relations and work hard on advancing the legacy of other liberation legends of the region that are already in the wilderness of the liberation narrative of this country. He should be making sure that those whose stones have not been placed in the national Heroes’ Acre, but qualify should be erected there.
I don’t agree with the alternative of putting our liberation legends from this region at the little white woman’s Lady Stanley Cemetery or some village grave while some lesser characters in the liberation struggle are laid at the National Heroes’ Acre.
He must also be making sure that late Vice-president Joshua Nkomo’s legacy and vision for Zimbabwe is advanced fairly and correctly.
Today young people across the country think that indigenisation and economic empowerment is a Harare invention and a Zanu PF manifesto creation. No it is not.
Dabengwa and a few others know that it was Nkomo’s vision for a new Zimbabwe. It came from Nkomo’s manifesto.
He even put it to practice and influenced the creation of the Nitram Investment platform just a few months after the end of the liberation war and invited the Zipra fighters to put their own dollars to buy (not grab) companies, land, properties and assets as the next war, he told all, would be that of fighting poverty by producing to drive economic growth, create employment, expand human and capital skills and promote social and cultural integration.
Some will remember the training centres that he set up just after the war.
Dabengwa knows where all that went. He should be engaging President Robert Mugabe to revive uMdala Wethu’s dream projects across the country as just mounting his statue on Main Street and renaming it while ignoring the revival of his projects for a new Zimbabwe will mean nothing to the people of this region in terms of employment creation and better lives.
If those Nitram companies where allowed to grow without interruption at the pace they were growing — to this date — we would be talking of global corporations as big as those that have come out of South Africa in recent years owned by our local men and women. Today all of us would not be talking of reviving the dead industry of Bulawayo.
Nkomo being a visionary that he was, saw it coming and mobilised the young to be pro-active and counter it by creating private enterprises for aggressive global growth.
The companies were frozen in court laws then stripped and abused by visionless greedy individuals to this date.
Dabengwa knows it all and he should be sitting right there at the centre of national power negotiating that this be corrected than being president of 5 000, 60% of whom are in the Diaspora unable to vote.
That will not help this region, the nation and the Zipra founders of the Nitram Investment economic empowerment project the first of its kind in this country who today have nowhere to turn to for redress.
This is more serious work for Dabengwa to negotiate for behind the scenes in Harare than be president of a little old fashioned party that has been rejected by the people.
It is now clear that the voices that called for an exodus of Zapu from Zanu PF were not the voice from the majority of the members of Zanu PF, but voices from the pens and paper of those few that have access to these.
It is not that these calls and the eventual departure of Dabengwa and others did not have an impact on Mugabe and his party. They did and this has led to the reinvention of Zanu PF and efforts to embrace the region as part of Zimbabwe on their part.
Legends like Dabengwa need to move into the centre of Zanu PF power to make sure that a lot of work is done in the right direction in the next coming five years to make up for lost time and make sure that the agenda of reviving Bulawayo and the region is not derailed ever again.
Coal and gas in Lupane is being parceled out to Chinese and others as I write, with the locals of the province excluded while our liberation legends such as Dabengwa are nowhere near the centre of power to defend the locals.
Zimbabwe now has a new Constitution unlike in the past 33 years and every one must serve the new constitution to the best of their ability to build a prosperous Zimbabwe for all of us and for future generations.
Let’s not remain living in the era of the old constitution. That is the old Zimbabwe.
If it means I be the only one to celebrate Dabengwa’s return to Zanu PF then let it be so because Dabengwa is not just a liberation war hero, but a liberation war legend.
Hands up those that drove though an enemy roadblock at age 17 with a load of explosives to liberate their country!
OkweZapu lokho akusebenzi mdala Dabengwa for an icon like you, tshiyana lakho, to put it in urban lingua.