OUR STAFF/PHYLLIS MBANJE
War veterans and other dignitaries yesterday thronged Glen Forest cemetery to witness the burial of former Zanla commander, Wilfred Mhanda who died from cancer of the colon onWednesday.
Mhanda was however denied what many have said was a well- deserved hero status by President Robert Mugabe and the Zanu PF politburo who confer the status.
A somber atmosphere engulfed Glen Forest cemetery as people from all walks of life gathered to inter the former guerrilla commander, popularly known by his liberation war name Dzinashe Machingura.
Notable senior war veterans present included former Attorney General Sobula Gula-Ndebele, and suspended ZBC chief executive Happison Muchechetere, who fought in the trenches with Mhanda and Sekai Holland, the MDC-T Guardians Council chairperson.
Standing at attention and paying their last respects were various members of the diplomatic corps, former Harare mayor Muchadeyi Masunda, EU Ambassador to Zimbabwe Aldo Dell Acriccia and MDC-T organising secretary Nelson Chamisa. MDC-T Renewal Team members Tendai Biti and Elton Mangoma were also present as well as civil society activists.
The crowd listened intently as selected people delivered moving tributes in memory of the man who became known as a fierce critic of President Robert Mugabe since independence in 1980.
In a graveside eulogy, freedom fighter and poet Freedom Nyamubaya said Mhanda was a man of great achievements and his legacy of helping to liberate Zimbabwe would live on.
“What you did was great and that can never be taken away from you.
Many children died in the war and their remains never discovered and buried but here we are today burying you,” she said. “We are forging ahead with the war of liberation, the war of Chimurenga.”
A spokesperson for the Zimbabwe Liberation Platform thanked all people who helped to foot Mhanda’s medical bills and said the noble efforts had to be appreciated.
“Jeremy Brickhill, the only white man we knew of who fought alongside the Zipra forces in our war of liberation, was also very helpful and we would like to thank him,” said the spokesman, amid applause as Brickhill lifted a clenched fist in solidarity.
Mhanda joined the war in 1971, and eventually trained in China before becoming a military instructor.
He was promoted to political commissar and then to Zanla commander.
In 1975 he joined the Zanla high command and was in charge of political and military training, but his disagreement with Mugabe in 1977 saw him being detained and denied any political space until January 1980.
Zapu president Dumiso Dabengwa in a speech read on his behalf, bemoaned the loss of a dedicated cadre who fought for the rights of war veterans and the people of Zimbabwe.
“During the struggle and after the struggle he never betrayed the people. He always stood for leadership that would stand by the people in a way that the people had fought the war for,” Dabengwa said.
“He may be gone but he left a real legacy unlike the fake tales that people are subjected to by individuals with a different agenda. His views represented genuine war veterans of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle.Zimbabwe has lost a dedicated and fearless leader, he fought a good fight to the end,” said Dabengwa.
Mhanda was taken ill in South Africa and was taken care of by one Professor David Moor at Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg.
He had developed a cancerous problem in the stomach before he came back to Zimbabwe for further treatment.
No fitting send-off for ’hero’
The late former Zanla commander, Wilfred Mhanda dodged bullets in trenches alongside other liberation war fighters who are now national heroes or senior government officials.
But when he came back home at Independence in 1980, there was no hero’s welcome for him and even in death, he was denied a spot among other luminaries at the National Heroes Acre.
The reason for his abandonment is apparently that he questioned the suitability of Robert Mugabe as leader of Zanu PF and the country. There was no love lost between the two and in his revealing book of all time Dzino, Memories of a Freedom Fighter Mhanda describes how he fell out of favour with Mugabe with stark clarity.
He accused Mugabe of clandestinely grabbing power through unorthodox means.
Among other war exploits accredited to him, Mhanda was one of the signatories of the 1976 Mgagao Declaration which rekindled the liberation struggle after it had been hushed by the Lusaka Declaration. He had all the qualities of a war hero but the very people he fought alongside shunned him unto death despite his contributions.
In his book, he wrote frankly about how they executed the liberation war during the time when most of the Zanu PF leaders, including Mugabe, were in detention after the assassination of Herbert Chitepo.
The group, determined to carry through their mandate, joined forces with Zipra commanders to form the Zimbabwe People’s Party (Zipa). They managed to stage a massive military invasion into Rhodesia, a move that drove the iron-willed Ian Smith to the negotiating table.
However, threatened by Mhanda, the Mugabe-led camp after their release sought to discredit him and launched an onslaught on Zipa which they accused of having ulterior motives, according to the book.
For questioning Mugabe and refusing to subscribe to a leadership that was in contrast with the founding principles of Zanu PF, he was arrested in Mozambique on January 21 1977 and was only released in January 1980.
Their sour relations were carried over into the new Zimbabwe and Mhanda continued to point out the atrocities that had been carried out in the name of democracy.
He remained an “enemy of the state” until his passing on at Parirenyatwa hospital last Wednesday from cancer of the colon. He was quietly buried at Glen Forest, away from his comrades with whom he fought and won many battles which ultimately released the country from the clutches of the colonialists.
However, the snub has been roundly condemned and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and other groups have described it as a “sad omission”.
Senior ruling party officials were absent from the burial of the icon who contributed immensely to the liberation of Zimbabwe.