Tongogara: A general victorious in war and peace


KGVI Barracks was last week renamed after the late National Hero Josiah Magama Tongogara. We take a look at what made him the great leader he became?

Where did he grow up?
Entering the world on 4 February 1940 in Shurugwi district, Josiah Tongogara was the fourth of eight children born to Magama (“Va Chivi”) and Sekayi Tongogara. Educated mainly by Anglican missionaries, he went to school at Peak Mine before going to Rockford School in the Shurugwi district and completing his primary education at Jobolinko. According to various stories, he was a gifted pupil, who sang in the school choir and earned the nickname “Nyenganyenga” for his speed and dexterity on the soccer field. He had plans to attend Inyati Secondary School and study hard to achieve his aim of becoming an accountant.
Didn’t he work for Ian Smith?
The Tongogara family lived and worked on the same farm as Ian Smith – allegedly Josiah sometimes acted as ball boy at tennis matches to earn extra money for the family. This connection may have helped bring peace to Zimbabwe but their one reported interaction at Lancaster House in 1979 is surreal; Tonogogara fondly remembered Ian Smith’s mother and made the first move to chat to his old foe. “How is the old lady?” he asked Smith. “Very well, thank you, although she is much older now,” Smith replied. Tongogara smiled: “Please send her my warm wishes… I’ve often thought of the old lady. She used to give me sweets, you know.” Smith would never talk about that conversation. However Tongogara liked to, and he later said it was the moment when he realised for the first time there could be a negotiated peace. “In itself the few words we exchanged weren’t important. What was important was the realisation for me that the war was not about personalities, it wasn’t Mugabe and Tongogara versus Smith and Walls, it wasn’t about black versus white, but the system, the system of oppression. I didn’t want to destroy Smith or the old lady. I did want to destroy the system he had built,” said Tongogara.
Why did he go to Zambia?
Tongogara said he left Zimbabwe for Zambia in 1960 to pursue his higher education. In a biography edited by Nathan Shamuyarira and published in 1984, Tongogara said he was “shocked to discover that the white minority regime’s Ministry of Education had blacklisted me to enter any secondary school in the country. The reasons for this were my pronounced political views against the regime.” Regrettably, he was unable to find a place in any school and took up employment at the Royal Air Force Bar in Lusaka and later became secretary at Chainama Hills Golf Club.
How did he become involved in nationalist politics?
The 1977 Who’s Who: African Nationalist Leaders in Rhodesia, by Robert Cary and Diana Mitchell claims that the death of his brother, Percy by drowning in the Kafue River was a major contributing factor. Tongogara suspected that the death had been politically motivated and decided to more actively join the fight against minority rule. He joined Kenneth Kaunda’s United National Independence Party (UNIP) in 1961. Wanting to work more closely with others at home, he became chairman of the Zapu Lusaka district branch in 1962.
Where did he stand with the 1963 split?
The Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu) had been formed on 17 December 1961, due to the repeated banning of African Nationalist parties such as the Southern Rhodesia African National Congress (SRANC) and National Democratic Party (NDP) in the then-Southern Rhodesia. The Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu) emerged from the smouldering ashes of the intra-party violence that followed its break away from in 1963 and the clampdown by Rhodesian authorities formed on 8 August 1963. Speaking to Nathan Shamuyarira in 1978, Tongogara made his support for Zanu clear from the start: “The Zanu youth in Zambia were pleased with the decision of the leadership to break away from Joshua Nkomo. We disagreed with his one-man-show politics … we were dissatisfied with Zapu’s strategy to pursue the struggle through constitutional means. This had on numerous occasions, produced negative results.” Tongogara attended the first Zanu Congress in Gweru in 1963 and, while being elected chairman on the first Lusaka branch of the party, was delighted and inspired with the decision of the Congress to organise and mobilise the people for the armed struggle.
“We are our own liberators.”

When Zanu was banned by the Rhodesian government in August 1964, Tongogara volunteered for military training, instead of going to Indonesia for training in journalism. In an interview published in 2012, President Mnangagwa stated his belief that Tongogara joined the military, partially because of his admiration for the first five Zanla fighters to train in China (who were led by President Mnangagwa), who had stayed with him in Zambia upon their return. Joining the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (Zanla) in March 1965, he went for training at Itumbi Camp at Chunya in Tanzania. In early 1966 Tongogara lead a group of 11 cadres, including William Ndangana (leader of the Crocodile Gang), to Nanking Academy in China. There they had training in guerrilla war strategy, gathering mil
itary intelligence, mass mobilisation techniques and related topics. It is perhaps no exaggeration to say that the lessons that Tongogara and others learned at Nanking became the foundation of the sustained armed struggle in the 1970s. When he returned from China in November 1966, Tongogara was assigned by the Revolutionary Council to the department of security and intelligence whose main task was reconnaissance. In the years between 1966 and 1971, several attacks were planned but were often foiled by Rhodesian government intelligence and military sources while diplomacy seemed to be stalling completely.

The war path.
Tongogara organised and equipped Zanu infiltration units and began to establish small forward bases across the Zambezi River. Routes were created through Mozambique into Mount Darwin area, while much time was spent meeting the people to garner their support, stashing supply caches and planning a sustained guerrilla campaign. According to Martin and Johnson’s The Struggle for Zimbabwe, “Tongogara was to observe of some of the military plans and instructions from the Dare re Chimurenga [war council], in that period that they were notable for their foolishness.

The politicians would often demand a dramatic, and possibly suicidal, action for short-term political gain… at a time when the military preoccupation was to lay the groundwork for continuous and protracted struggle.” Tongogara was elected to the Dare at the 1973 biennial review conference, after which he chaired the high command and no civilians sat on it.
Some wartime events and political processes.
In November 1971, Tongogara and others went to Tanzania to collect the first 45 liberation fighters who had been specially trained for the new north-eastern offensive and deploy them, weapons, explosives and ammunition into the country by various means. This marked a new phase of the war whereby fighting became continuous and bloody. Tongogara was an essential force in dealing with all military matters, expanding war efforts, ending destabilisation efforts in 1974, 1975 and 1976.
Tongogara showed his ruthless side in the way that he dealt with the two famous take-over attempts by intellectuals within the movement in the 1970s – the young officers’ revolt led by Thomas Nhari in 1974-75 and the more leftist vashandi mobilisation of 1976. More than a dozen leaders in the Nhari case were all executed on Tongogara’s orders, while the vashandi were incarcerated in Mozambique on instructions of Cde Mugabe and Cde Muzenda until Independence in 1980.

What was his role in the Chitepo assassination?
A significant event that highlighted Tongogara’s leadership qualities was his handling of Herbert Chitepo’s assassination in March 1975. As Fay Chung relates in Reliving the Second Chimurenga, Tongogara felt that Chitepo had been too lenient on the Nhari rebels, given that they had disrupted the liberation struggle and had killed some 70 guerrillas who had refused to join their rebellion. Tongogara’s dispute with Chitepo over the handling of the affair was well known and raised flags for some after the bombing.

The Report of the Special International Commission on the Assassination of Herbert Wiltshire Chitepo, commissioned by Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda in 1976, accused Tongogara of overseeing with the tragedy for personal and political gain. As Luise White recounts in The Assassination of Herbert Chitepo, upon meeting Sr Janice McLaughlin, Tongogara assures her, “You know, the Rhodesians accused me of killing Chitepo and so did the Zambians … I could never have killed Chitepo … he was like a father to me”.
Former CIO boss, Ken Flower in his memoir Serving Secretly claims that he knew Tongogara was innocent and after hearing of how he was allegedly being tortured by the Zambian authorities, even went to the “unusual” extent of personally informing the Zambian authorities of this “fact”. In Financial Gazette interviews in 1997, Edgar Tekere exonerated Tongogara, as did Fay Chung in her 2006 book.

Did Tongogara help to secure the peace?
Arguably it was in large part due to Tongogara’s leadership and the way he had popularised the war throughout Zimbabwe that the Rhodesian government agreed to go to the negotiating table at the 1979 Lancaster House Conference. The Rhodesian government was compelled to seek a settlement but was not prepared to consider majority rule. Several peace talks had already been held ending with the Internal Settlement Agreement of 1978 which established the short lived government of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia.
This was not recognised internationally and there was a need to create a new compromise constitution that would satisfy all stakeholders and bring the war to an end. As Tongogara said in an interview, “Lancaster is our second front, brought about by the liberation fighters.” He played a great part in military negotiations which involved the ceasefire between the Rhodesian forces and the Zanla/Zipra and Josiah Tongogara and Lookout Masuku for the PF, all recognised that the war had reached stalemate and publicly recommended a political solution as infinitely preferable to continued bloodshed.
Tongogara was a crucial “moderating” force, according to Lord Carrington, the then British Foreign Secretary, who chaired the peace talks.

How did Tongogara die?
Six days after the Lancaster House Agreement was signed, Cde Robert Mugabe, on the Voice of Zimbabwe radio station, conveyed “an extremely sad message”: Tongogara was dead, killed in a car accident in Mozambique on 26 December 1979. Josiah Tungamirai, then the ZANLA High Command’s political commissar relates that on the night of the fatality, he and Tongogara had been travelling with others in two vehicles from Maputo to Chimoio.

Tungamirai said he was in the front vehicle. It was dark and the roads were bad and he remembered passing a military vehicle that had been carelessly abandoned, with no warning signs at the side of the road. After that, he could no longer see the headlights of the following car in his rear view mirror. Eventually he turned back, and, as he had feared, they found Tongogara’s car had struck the abandoned vehicle.

Cde Tongogara was sitting in the front passenger seat and Tungamirai said that he had struggled to lift Tongogara out of the wrecked car. He said that as he was doing so, Tongogara heaved a huge sigh and died in his arms. Josiah Tongogara was declared a National Hero – and was reinterred in Zimbabwe on 11 August 1980.

Was he murdered?
Zanu released an undertaker’s statement saying his injuries were consistent with a road accident, but no autopsy results or pictures have been released. Ken Stokes, of Mashford & Son, who performed the autopsy, stated in the 2012 book Tongogara that “There is no doubt in my mind that there was no foul play, and all these stories about him being assassinated, with bullet holes in the body and everything, it was absolutely untrue.”
This statement is backed up by Henrik Ellert in his 1989 book, The Rhodesian Front War where he discusses the release of a falsified letter by the Rhodesian CIO which alleged that an assassination had taken place, initiated by Zanu operatives for political reasons.
This was mischief of the highest order and indeed may be the source of many of these later suspicions. According to Fay Chung, one of the passengers in the vehicle was Oppah Muchinguri, now Minister of Environment, Water and Climate but at the time a member of the general staff in charge of funds for the battlefront. “A close confidante and follower of Tongogara, she believed his death to be a total but bizarre accident.”

Final thoughts?
Josiah Tongogara was a tough, clear-thinking man with positive ideas on political development in Zimbabwe. For most liberation fighters and Zimbabweans, the name Tongogara is synonymous with Zanla’s successful prosecution of the liberation war. In 2006, Fay Chung said, “Josiah Tongogara commanded both fear and love … no one could be indifferent to him.”

Speaking at his memorial service in January 1980, Mozambican president Samora Machel, a close friend of Tongogara, said, “He died without betraying, he died without selling himself, he died without being corrupted, fighting always for the good of his people.”
Tongogara revealed his dream for Zimbabwe in an interview given in Britain in late 1979: “What some of us are fighting for is to see that this oppressive system is crushed. I do not even care whether I will part of the top echelon, I am not worried. But I am dying to see a change in the system that is all. I would like to see the young people enjoying together. Black and white enjoying together in a new Zimbabwe.”


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