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Remembering Dr Mzee: Soul of the nation

22 Sep 2019 at 09:29hrs | Views
CDE SIMON Muzenda, who had his last breath on September 20, 2003 at Parirenyatwa Hospital, was declared a national hero and buried at the National Heroes Acre in Harare. On Friday, the nation commemorated 16 years since his passing on.

The death of the then Vice-President was hard to stomach, such that when announcing the sad news that the gallant freedom fighter was no more, former President Robert Mugabe, also now late, informed the stunned nation that the country had been robbed of a "true great son of the soil". He left a mark in the lives of most Zimbabweans across the political divide and is still remembered almost nine years after his death.

Early life

Born on October 28, 1922 in Gutu District in the then Fort Victoria, and now Masvingo Province, Muzenda was raised by his grandmother. Like most African children during his time, the late Vice-President started his primary education late. He went to Nyamande Primary School at the age of 14 and then proceeded to Gokomere Mission and afterwards to Domboshawa in 1944 where he trained as a teacher.

As early as 1945, Muzenda demonstrated a high degree of political consciousness when he turned down a farming scholarship to train as an agricultural demonstrator arguing that the career would require him to supervise the killing of cattle belonging to his African people under the colonial government's countrywide de-stocking programme.

At Empandeni Mission he met a young schoolteacher, former president Mugabe, and started a friendship that though set to blossom years later, would at first be nothing more than a fleeting encounter. Muzenda enrolled at Marianhill College for a three-year Diploma in Carpentry.

After completing the course in 1948, he taught at Mazenod Catholic School, Mayville, Durban until 1950, when he returned home where he was soon to marry his childhood sweetheart, Maud Matsikidze, before settling down in Bulawayo.

Political career

In South Africa, Muzenda was inspired politically by the activities of one Reverend Michael Scott, who was then fighting the Group Areas Act in the then apartheid Republic.

Then, he was in the congenial company of several fellow Zimbabweans, notably George Silundika, James Dambaza Chikerema and Mutero, all of whom were later to play vital roles in the fight and subsequent overthrow of the unjust, racial and colonial white rule.

Armed with the political experience earned from his sojourn in South Africa, Muzenda got involved in burgeoning trade unionism in Bulawayo. In 1953, Muzenda came to national prominence when he was elected Secretary-General of the British African National Voice Association, better known as the "African Voice", as it was popularly known. From those early days of the struggle until his ascension to one of the highest offices in the land at independence, Muzenda has been an integral part of the Liberation Movement. As put succinctly by former President Mugabe, Muzenda is "the man" and the "legend" of our liberation.

Muzenda later moved to the Midlands town of Mvuma in 1955, where he started carpentry business. In 1957, the late Vice-President was involved in the Southern Rhodesia African National Council (SRANC) as it opened its branches in then Southern Province (Fort Victoria). While in Mvuma, Dr Muzenda was one of the guiding personalities who were instrumental in the formation of the National Democratic Party (NDP) in 1960.

He became chairman of the Umvuma Branch of the National Democratic Party (NDP) in 1961 and was subsequently elected its Organising Secretary of the Victoria Province at its congress held in Bulawayo the same year.

When the NDP was banned on December 9, 1961 by the Edgar Whitehead settler regime, it was succeeded by the Zimbabwe African People's Union (Zapu).

In 1962 Muzenda was banned from entering the African Tribal Trust Lands after he had recited the African prayer "Nehanda Nyakasikana."

In true fighting spirit that was to be the hallmark of his political life, Muzenda challenged the ban in the High Court in Masvingo where he was defended by another great son of Zimbabwe, the late Herbert Chitepo. He was found guilty on two counts, but was cautioned and discharged. Yet history had been made; an African nationalist had deployed art in the service of struggle, in the process showing that colonialism feared creative words.

Political detention

That same year 1962, Muzenda was arrested at Zvishavane, then Shabani, for what the colonial authorities alleged had been a seditious speech, blamed for igniting riots in the small mining town. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison but served two years at Salisbury Prison, a time he used productively. He was to reflect later, "It became a place of study. We started GCE and after 20 years, I had to start from scratch. Then, even though we were in prison, we started Zanu."

During the same period, Muzenda also experienced the horrendous side of the white regime when his chest was pierced through by a needle by the Rhodesian police. However, such life-threatening experiences did not stop Muzenda from pursuing his quest for freedom. After his release he attended Zanu's first congress in Gwelo in 1964, where he was elected Deputy Organising Secretary.

The colonial regime's law and order minions arrested him for possessing a small starter pistol soon after his election. He was convicted of the alleged offence and served his term at Wha Wha Prison in 1964 and later at Sikombela where he reunited with Robert Mugabe. Around that time, that is mid '60s, Muzenda had started recruiting young Zimbabweans for military training in Ghana, China and other friendly countries.

More spells of detention came and he was taken to Wha Wha in Gweru, Sikombela and Harare, together with other great liberation fighters like Cdes Robert Mugabe, Leopold Takawira and Morton Malianga.

Eager to further his education, the late Vice-President, while in detention, pursued private studies and passed 8 O-levels and Two A-levels. He also took the London Chamber of Commerce Examinations and passed the Intermediate Certificate level in English and the Higher Certificate level in economics.

Muzenda was released in 1971 during the Anglo-Rhodesian negotiations, which culminated in the infamous Pearce Commission. Once out of detention, he again engaged in the struggle, mobilising the nation against accepting the Pearce Commission proposals. The British sponsored constitution was resoundingly rejected by the people. Muzenda was to comment that the proposals were "tantamount to asking our nation to commit political suicide".

The same year, he was elected as the Secretary for Law and Order for the African National Council (ANC). He was to be posted to Zambia in 1972 as Deputy Administrative Secretary of the ANC on a mission to unify the Liberation forces under the Zimbabwe liberation Council (ZLC). In 1974, he organised young recruits in the camps in Zambia and Tanzania, and then visited other camps to co-ordinate guerrilla activities. But the years of the ANC were to show him the ugly spectre of infiltration, betrayal and collaboration with the enemy. He emerged unsoiled.

Armed struggle

Muzenda moved to Zambia in 1975 and maintained contact with Mugabe. He later moved to Mozambique where the two reunited to form a formidable force that prosecuted the armed struggle with utmost rigour. At the same time he also played a crucial role in resolving the untenable situation that emerged following the assassination of Herbert Chitepo by enemies of the struggle and subsequent arrest of leading comrades by the Zambian authorities.

In 1977 Muzenda was elected Vice-President of Zanu-PF at its Congress held in Chimoio.

The talks were preceded by the formation of a political pact between the two main liberation forces confronting the white minority government, Zanu and Zapu. The pact which was called the Patriotic Front became the force that consolidated the struggle effectively, bringing the white colonial regime to its knees.

With the struggle intensifying and the Patriotic Front on the verge of overrunning the regime, the Lancaster House talks were convened in 1979 and once again Muzenda played his part.

In the exasperating pendulum of the Lancaster House negotiations, Muzenda hit out at the British kith and kin bias saying, "the British are again trying to assist the (UDI) rebels by robbing the freedom fighters of their gains at the conference table. They want to appear as if the current negotiations have not been brought about by the people's war".

Public service

In recognition of his selfless and unparalleled contribution to the liberation struggle, Muzenda was appointed Zimbabwe's first Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1980.  In 1988 he was appointed Vice-President of the Republic of Zimbabwe. The late Vice-President continued to serve the country in various capacities. He wore many hats that covered a wide spectrum of national activities, including the search of the indigenisation of the economy and stabilisation of loss-making parastatals.

He was instrumental in preparations for Zimbabwe's hosting of international conferences including the Non-Aligned Movement of 1986. He was central to the national effort against drought and other natural disasters. Muzenda was an avid and capable traditional dancer. The late Vice-President was the driving force for the establishment of the Great Zimbabwe University in Masvingo. A man of the arts, Muzenda was also the patron of the Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa).

Third Chimurenga Hero

In an interview with The Sunday Mail in early 2003, the late Vice-President told the weekly, "the land is in the hands of foreigners and we should get it back. We will only be happy after achieving this."

Like many of his political colleagues in the struggle, Muzenda understood the need to free the land in order to deliver economic independence to the masses.

After all, land was the raison d'etre for the execution of the armed struggle.

The rich legacy he left behind continues to be cherished. Zimbabwe will be defended against all forms of exploitation, whether direct or indirect. Indeed, Zimbabwe will never be a colony again.

Source: Zanu-PF Department of Information and Publicity

Source - Zanu-PF
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