Margret Dongo (MD) helped in the formation of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association. The former Zanu PF MP for Sunningdale’s liberation war name was Tichaona Muhondo (the battle will decide).
She left Zanu PF and formed her own party Zimbabwe Union of Democrats, in the 90s but the party failed to get traction and remained on the fringes.
She nonetheless remained vocal and challenged President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF on many occasions. She is now the interim leader for the women’s league in former Vice-President Joice Mujuru’s Zimbabwe People First.
After some war veterans went to the press recently demonising Mujuru and making all sorts of allegations against her, including that she did nothing in the liberation struggle, The Standard chief reporter Everson Mushava (EM) caught up with Dongo to get her views on the allegations and on how female combatants were treated during the war, as well as on other issues relating to Zimbabwean politics.
Below are excerpts of the interview.
EM: As a prominent female ex-combatant, what did you make of the stories published in the media recently claiming that Joice Mujuru owes her rise during and after the liberation struggle to her romantic liaisons with influential men?
MD: With the story coming from the source that it came from, there was no surprise to it. In fact, knowing Zanu PF as well as I do, I can confidently say that they are not even through yet with tarnishing Mai Mujuru’s image in their calculated efforts to scuttle her imminent takeover of the State presidency after the coming elections. I, however, do not wish to dignify the nonsense with any further comment.
EM: How much do you know of Mujuru’s war record and does it tally with what some ex-Zanla commanders are now saying about her?
MD: I think I have responded to that already. Mai Mujuru remains this country’s wonderful heroine.
EM: You have written about the abuse of women during the liberation struggle. Do George Rutanhire’s claims on Mujuru’s alleged liaisons with commanders buttress your arguments in the book?
MD: Of course, in most war situations generally it is unfortunate that both sexual abuses and sexual liaisons occur; such that those unhappy today with Mai Mujuru’s current political successes, which of course they didn’t expect, exploit that phenomenon to build up false stories against those they want to tarnish. I knew Mai Mujuru as a responsible leader during the struggle.
EM: Certain sections of the media have been at the forefront trashing war records of those that have been kicked out of Zanu PF and trying to embellish President Robert Mugabe’s own record. What is your reaction to such an observation?
MD: Again, it doesn’t come as a surprise. It is typical of the dead-wood in Zanu PF to machinate against people’s histories in their desperate, but futile, efforts to survive their political implosion. Mugabe and all war veterans participated in the liberation struggle and no one can be taking that away from anyone. History cannot and should not be denied. In any case, it has its own way of correcting itself, so any lies and embellishment by Zanu PF in the manner you have stated will come to nought.
Any attempted falsities, as I have already stated, will come to nought. Zimbabweans know the truth of our history because we were in the liberation struggle together. In any case, events during the war are not and can never be the preserve of either Mugabe or Zanu PF alone. We are all part of the history and its narrative.
EM: What are your views on the relationship between Mugabe and war veterans?
MD: It is a matter of public record that Mugabe’s relationship with the war veterans association, with particular reference to its leadership, is currently strained. However, I cannot speak for each and every individual war veteran. But as for me, it was long-severed.
EM: In your view, can Zimbabweans trust war veterans that now say they believe they were used by Mugabe and Zanu PF to fight the people?
MD: We should in a way appreciate that it is possible. The views of the association and that of individual war veterans may not always be the same. After all, war veterans live in society. However, it is my strong impression that the generality of the war veterans are genuinely no longer happy with Mugabe. It is also natural that as our elder, there is always that feeling in most of us that he did some great things for us and this country in the past, such that were he to change course today and give an ear to what the veterans are advising him, perhaps we could witness a thawing of relations, if not actually a re-birth of their relationships. It is still a bit too early, however, to state with any certainty that the good relationship is gone forever.
EM: Do you think the war veterans have really seen the light and are now interested in democracy or they are just throwing tantrums over lost privileges?
MD: War veterans saw the light earlier than most citizens and went to war to free this country and its people. They were fighting for democracy, and by democracy I do not mean textbook democracy but real democracy which has been an illusion so far in this country. And let me tell you that I do not see what you describe as “tantrums” because we have not enjoyed any privileges in this country. Actually, as compared to how other countries treat their war veterans, especially in Namibia, America and Britain, we are not yet even near their first rung of the ladder!
EM: Do you think opposition parties have a chance of dislodging Mugabe and Zanu PF in the 2018 elections?
MD: I agree that the opposition side of the politics in this country, if left to go into an election separately, may not stand the obvious chance of winning against Zanu PF. I am happy, however, to note that there are currently very positive developments towards coming out with an umbrella body that will face Zanu PF and effectively go a long way in diluting Zanu PF’s rigging. If opposition parties unite, they will without doubt, defeat Zanu PF by very high margins.
EM: What is your role in Zimbabwe People First and why did you choose to join that party instead of the other opposition parties?
MD: I am there to work, as has always been my passion, for the good of this country, its people and without mention, my family also. I could equally have worked for this country’s best interests from any opposition grouping but my colleagues in People First approached me and I saw no reason to refuse. That is why I remain for the creation of a common front of the opposition in the next general election. I believe that every opposition grouping in this country has a role to play towards the freedom and liberty of our people.
EM: Do you believe the many former Zanu PF officials accused of human rights violations such as Didymus Mutasa have truly reformed?
MD: It is not a question of believing. It remains very important to always ensure that all of us Zimbabweans remain dedicated and focused towards the common goal of restoring and living the values and ideals of the liberation struggle. I have no problem working genuinely with anybody whose past may raise questions among other people, as long as we are on the same track, the popular and deserved track for Zimbabwe.
EM: As a former Zanu PF legislator and war veteran, where do you think Mugabe went wrong?
MD: We are all mortals and a time comes when in whatever endeavours we may have been good at, as we grow older and wiser we should pass on the active baton to the next generation while we remain perhaps in an advisory role. This surprising refusal to relinquish office does the country and its people no good. No one person could ever be indispensible in this world. When you naturally tire, you should retire.
EM: How come you never protested at the height of gukurahundi when there were gross human rights violations on Zanu PF opponents and genocide?
MD: This I did, but remember I was a lone voice during my term of office in Parliament. I was already viewed as a rebel and that alone undermined my contributions. Do not forget the role that I played in the politics of this country since 1995 has not be recognised in other sections of the opposition politics though noted and used for their benefit without mention. The gukurahundi issue is an issue that did not receive the expected response from the international world during that time. I have noticed political opportunists abuse the gukurahundi episode very often for their selfish interests and never for the good and peace of the victims of that genocide. Let me clarify also that in an abusive situation, often both the abused and the abuser could be victims of the circumstances and may both need remedy, though of a different nature.
EM: Would you have left Zanu PF if the party had not tried to block your election into Parliament?
MD: There is reason to everything, and therefore a reaction to every development. I left Zanu PF for reasons now public, but it is not that I was not expressing my opinion through the Zanu PF party channels during my long stay there. You know party discourses usually remain confidential within the parties. And as the elders say: kamoto kamberevere kanopisa matanda mberi [what starts as a small fire can grow into a raging inferno]. The explosion over Sunningdale was evidence of a long-simmering dissatisfaction with certain approaches and behaviours then in Zanu PF.
EM: Do you think people like Mujuru would have joined the opposition ranks had they not been expelled from Zanu PF?
MD: I cannot speak for my interim President Mujuru but can only risk equating her situation to mine. The mere fact that as then vice-president of both Zanu PF and the country, she was humiliated in the manner she was, is an obvious indication that she must have fundamentally differed with Mugabe and her cronies, and this over a very long period. They took their revenge in the way they did but it looks like citizens have since seen through Zanu PF’s lies.
EM: Why do you think Zimbabweans should trust people that were forced out of Zanu PF and only started speaking out about its shortcomings when they were out in the cold?
MD: Like I have just said, party differences are often always handled confidentially and, as we often say, in a mature manner. The fact that the differences led to my colleagues’ dismissals means they were fundamental. And it goes without question that the bottom line of the differences was Mugabe’s dictatorship.
EM: What changes would you want to see in Zimbabwe and what would it take to achieve them?
MD: Given the extent of destruction Zanu PF has occasioned on all fronts in this country, social, economic, political, you name it, I could write a whole bible on that, the country requires massive attention. However, suffice to say that people of Zimbabwe know the nature of the changes they want effected and that is why everybody is anti-Zanu PF today, except those few enjoying the looting with Mugabe.