In June 2009, Dumiso Dabengwa, the then ZAPU interim national chairman, visited Johannesburg for his first public address of the re-launched party’s membership in Booysens. At the time, the former ZIPRA Intelligence Supremo was being accused by his critics of forcing the revival of ZAPU only to find himself a new political home, after the failure of the Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn project, launched by Simba Makoni in February 2008.
Makoni, who garnered eight per cent of the vote when he contested the first round of Presidential elections, had promised a mass exodus of top officials from within Mugabe’s party, but Dabengwa, then a member of the ZANU (PF) politburo, became the only notable defector.
Africanvoice Global editor, Mxolisi Ncube had a three-hour-long interview with Dabengwa, who sat shoulder-to-shoulder with the then ZAPU interim national spokesperson, Smile Dube during the interview, held at Booysens Hotel, on June 3.
In memory of the iconic Dabengwa, we republish the article, which appeared in an issue of The Zimbabwean on Sunday;
Ncube’s questions are in bold and Dabengwa’s answers in normal font.
Your critics are saying that you have revived ZAPU to find a political home, after your failed bid to have Simba Makoni elected the country’s President last year (2008). Is that true?
That is not true. When I resigned from ZANU (PF), I had made a decision that I would retire from active politics and only remain a member of ZAPU, and that is what I did, because I had become fed up with the happenings in ZANU (PF). I did not intend to take up any active role or office in any party.
What is it that you had become fed up with in ZANU (PF) that led you to quit?
There had been resistance to calls for leadership change within the party, yet it had become obvious that Robert Mugabe had lost all popularity among the people and within the party itself.
You were a respected member of the party’s supreme decision-making body – the Politburo, and you could have tried to address this issue with your fellow party members, why did you choose the easy way out?
I had tried, together with other politburo members who included Solomon Mujuru and others to push for this leadership change. We shared the same belief that Mugabe was too old and had become a liability to the party. It was during those discussions that we came up with the name of Simba Makoni as the best candidate to take over from Mugabe and we even agreed that we would endorse him at the party’s congress.
Were those discussions done above board, within the party’s constitution and with Mugabe himself knowing about them, or they were done clandestinely?
No, they were not clandestine as such. They were consultations among the Politburo and other party members, as people with a like mind and who shared the same vision for the party. Mugabe did not know because we did not go to tell him. We however, once asked Joseph Msika (then Vice President) to arrange a meeting where we would tell Mugabe of our views, but after he (Mugabe) resisted the meeting, we agreed on Makoni among ourselves and decided to push for him at the congress.
And then what happened that led you to defect instead of pushing for that?
We were not given a chance at the congress because Mugabe’s name was pushed forward by some people who still supported him. Makoni himself also made things difficult when he made a premature announcement that he wanted to stand as the ZANU (PF) candidate, leading to his immediate expulsion from the party.
When you launched Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn with Makoni, you kept saying that some ZANU (PF) bigwigs would join you, but no-one ever turned up. Why?
I do not know why some of those people suddenly developed cold feet because they had all pledged to join us.
And who are those people?
I cannot mention names because maybe they have decided to give it another chance in ZANU (PF) and it is not my duty to spoil that for them.
After Makoni’s failure to either become the country’s President, or to form a notable political party, you have been behind the revival of ZAPU, which you currently lead, why?
I think people need to understand one thing here; I did not form ZAPU. The decision came from the ZANU (PF) Bulawayo Province, the majority of which are former ZAPU members, who said that the unity accord was not helping in any way because a lot of agreements in the accord were not being adhered to by Mugabe and other members of his party.
These people then pushed for the pulling out of the Unity Accord and the revival of the party, not me. I was also approached like other former ZAPU leaders after the decision was made. I was not even expecting to be given any leadership position within the party because I had resolved to remain an ordinary member.
And how then, have you suddenly become the party’s interim Chairman?
I was asked by the party’s Council of Elders, which is chaired by Cyril Ndebele, to lead and I only accepted the position after I had been convinced that it would be on an interim basis. I am not entertaining any hopes of becoming the party’s President. I am only here to steer the amendment of the party’s constitution, its electoral manifesto and the setting up of its structures, which will lead to the election of a substantive leadership.
Are you saying that you will not accept even if you were to be voted in as party President?
Well, if that happens then I will have to consider it at that stage, but for now my position is that I am not hoping for it to happen.
You have held your special congress and made official your decision to leave ZANU (PF). Are we going to see any major defections from ZANU to your party within the coming months?
I cannot promise that at the moment because it is up to individuals to choose where they want to be. What I can say is that the bull is now out of the ZANU (PF) kraal and there is no way ever that it will go back there.
Most senior former ZAPU leaders have remained in ZANU (PF) and agree with Mugabe that the Unity Accord is still standing, what is your response to that?
We have made a decision as a party to pull out and we are doing so with our resources, some of which we have already taken over. So those who remain there need to re-consider their position.
Some of them have already vowed that they will not do so and that you cannot recall them. What are you going to do?
We have pulled out with our resources and the majority of our supporters, so those that claim to be representing ZAPU in ZANU (PF) are not saying it in good faith. The truth is that all those remaining in ZANU (PF) are now doing so in their individual capacity, not as ZAPU. We have clearly said that Mugabe has not followed the Unity Accord to its letter and spirit and we are therefore, pulling out.
You raise a lot of issues that you accuse Mugabe of either doing or not doing, but only after two decades, why did you not raise them while you were still in ZANU (PF)?
We made these issues known many times but Mugabe never gave us a chance. He never listened to us.
The question is; why did it take you more than 20 years to pull out. Why did you not take the first chance out?
Politics is a game that needs tolerance, calculations and patience. I was against this Unity Accord from the beginning myself, but Nkomo (former ZAPU leader) said, “Let us go in there and change the way this country is being governed.”
And, is your pulling out now an admission of failure to do that?
We did change some of the things. But our biggest effort was in 1999, when we came up with a draft constitution that would have completely brought in a new Zimbabwe, but people dismissed it without even reading it because it had been initiated by an under-fire ZANU (PF).
The next chance came when Mugabe said that when his time was up, he would not seek re-election as President and that gave us the courage to come up with a new leader, but that effort was once again frustrated.
When, just before last year’s elections, he (Mugabe) was pushed to become the ZANU (PF) Presidential candidate despite all the indications that he was not wanted by the people, it then became the final nail and I decided to resign from the party.
Some people accuse you of pushing a tribal agenda with ZAPU. Is that true?
That thinking is only being propagated by ZANU (PF) because it created a situation whereby some provinces are being developed at the expense of others, and people are being discriminated against in terms of their tribes. ZAPU has never been a party that subscribes to such thinking. People know it and our membership even shows that. We even have unlimited support in Mashonaland because we are pushing a national agenda.
There are reports that you are courting Sibangilizwe, Joshua Nkomo’s son, to lead the party. True or false?
I have never discussed politics with Sibangilizwe in my entire life. The ZAPU leadership is not imposed but will come from the people, after making the representations from cell and branch level up to national level.
There are also accusations that you are re-launching ZAPU because you want to incapacitate the MDC in Matabeleland, what is your response?
We are a party that has a national look. We will only sell our manifesto to the people and they will choose who they want. It is not our duty to determine who should win where because we are not there to baby-sit other parties. They should sell their manifesto as well. Why should we fight to keep them alive if they cannot do it for themselves? Our aim is to re-build Zimbabwe, not to target any one political party or another.
Do you foresee ZAPU getting the support it used to enjoy before the Unity Accord?
It will because we have already begun to sell it to the people. The support shown us so far has been encouraging and we want to build on that. The people of Zimbabwe have seen so much suffering that they now deserve a break.
What is your position on the government of national unity?
We supported this from the start because it has always been our agenda that if Mugabe cannot go out, he should not rule alone. However, I think that Thabo Mbeki (mediator and former South African President) spoiled everything when he left out minority parties, churches, civic organizations and war veterans to address the deadlock and they would have come up with a better way forward. However, this did not happen and we had the same failures being called to address the deadlock.
Do you think that Mugabe is sincere in his role in the unity government?
When I spoke to Tsvangirai the other day, he told me he believed that Mugabe was sincere and that he had told him not to expect a smooth sailing of this formation because there was some resistance within ZANU (PF).
And do you believe that yourself? Is Mugabe being overpowered by some people within his party, judging by recent violence in the farms, arrests of opposition supporters and some outstanding issues of the GNU failing to be addressed?
I do not think this might be the case. Mugabe might either be double-dealing Tsvangirai, or following wrong advice to give orders because his word cannot be overpowered within ZANU (PF).
Lastly, do you foresee Mugabe standing for the Zimbabwean Presidency after the GNU?
I cannot say because I have been out of ZANU (PF) for long. What I know though is that if he does stand, then ZANU (PF) will lose the elections dismally.