Sunday, February 28, 2016

Chronicles Chimurenga II: Zimbabwe’s Liberation Struggle: A Zambian Perspective

DR VERNON Mwaanga is a veteran Zambian politician who held various posts in government as that country hosted several liberation movements during the liberation struggle. Our Deputy Editor, Munyaradzi Huni flew to Lusaka last week to interview Dr Mwaanga so as to understand how Zambia took the decision to host the liberation movements. During the interview, Dr Mwaanga spoke about the allegations that former Zambian President Dr Kenneth Kaunda supported Zapu and was anti-Zanu during the liberation struggle. For the first time, a top official from the Zambian government during the liberation struggle is giving the Zambian story, putting so many contentious issues into perspective.

MH: Dr Mwaanga, you are known as one of Zambia’s seasoned and celebrated politicians and that you were appointed as a diplomat at the age of 21. That must be some record. Can you briefly tell us who is Dr Vernon Mwaanga?

Dr Mwaanga: Well, thank you very much Munyaradzi. I welcome you here in Lusaka, Zambia. Vernon Mwaanga joined the liberation struggle in Zambia as a youth in 1960 United National Independence Party (UNIP) under the leadership of Dr Kenneth Kaunda at the time. As you probably know, there were two main political parties in Zambia – the African National Congress and the young Turks who wanted more militancy against colonialism broke away from the African National Congress in 1958 to form the party which was then known as ANIP which later became UNIP.

During the struggle, I dealt with issues to do with international affairs. I used to go out and attend meetings on behalf of UNIP. Just before our independence in 1964, I was sent to Oxford University to go and do a diploma course in International Relations. When I finished, I was posted to the British Embassy as a Second Secretary. I got back to Zambia just before independence in September 1964. Then I was appointed Deputy High Commissioner to the United Kingdom where I served for a year.

After that, I was posted to Moscow as Ambassador to the Soviet Union. I came back and became director of the national intelligence. This was in 1966. I headed the intelligence until 1968 and then I was appointed Ambassador to the United Nations from 1968 to 1972. I came back to Zambia and became Editor-in-Chief of the Times of Zambia. From the Times of Zambia I went straight to become Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1973. I served as Minister of Foreign Affairs for four years. Thereafter I went into the central committee of UNIP.

I branched off for a little while and joined the private sector working for Lonhro with people like Tiny Roland and others. I was the director for Africa. After sometime, I linked up with a number of other Zambians to challenge the One Party State in Zambia. We wanted a multi-party state. We then formed the Movement for Multi party Democracy demanding a change from One Party to Multi party. Fortunately we did succeed and in 1991, the country reverted to the multi party system. I was chairman of the campaign committee of the MMD and we won 125 seats out of 150 seats during elections.

Our President Chiluba won 75 percent of the votes. I was Foreign Minister then I became Minister of Information, then became Minister in charge of Parliamentary Affairs, became Government Chief Whip in Parliament up to 2011 when I retired from active politics.

Of course I still do write and comment on political issues and I write books. I am also a part time lecturer for masters degree courses in peace and conflict studies.

MH: During your early political days you were working under Dr Kaunda. Now years later under MMD you were on the opposite side with Dr Kaunda and UNIP. How did this feel? Didn’t this feel like a betrayal of some sort?

Dr Mwaanga: Not even. Dr Kaunda was actually my mentor and he is still my elder statesman. We had honest disagreements over the issue of the One Party State. I went to him and told him that I didn’t think the One Party State was sustainable. When he disagreed we agreed to disagree, but I continue to respect him and to assure him that the struggle we were waging for a return to multi party system was not directed at him. It was directed at changing the system.

MH: This doesn’t usually happen in African politics – people agreeing to disagree.

Dr Mwaanga: Well, that’s what exactly happened. I am very respectful of Dr Kaunda and what he did for this country and for Africa’s liberation struggle. That’s why I had to discuss these issues with him. I had to point out to him that Eastern Europe was changing, the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the emerging multi party movement in West Africa.

I even had the opportunity to go and approach President Nyerere who was very close to me. He was one of the African leaders I admired the most. I said to him, “Mwalimu, you are an architect of One Party system, now there is a growing debate about change to multi party politics, what is your view about this?” I remember what he said. He said, “Look, youngman, we cannot avoid the debate but in the final analysis we have to let our people decide what they want to do. But speaking for myself, (meaning President Nyerere) I am still a believer in One Party system.” He said he thought it was good for his country but he would not impose it on any other country.

He even went on to quote a Swahili proverb saying ‘when you see your neighbour being shaved, you must watch your (bead) because you know that when they are finished with the neighbour they will come to you. And so you should try and make your shave as smooth as possible.’

So I was very respectful of Dr Kaunda and I still am. That’s why I felt the best was to discuss the issues with him.

MH: But when MMD came into power, the party to an extent ill-treated Dr Kaunda. Why?

Dr Mwaanga: There were differences within the MMD in terms of how Dr Kaunda should be treated. There were lots of people whose families had suffered at the hands of Dr Kaunda’s regime using the Emergency legislation to detain people without trial. Some of them had suffered personally. So they took it out in Dr Kaunda.

But with the benefit of hindsight, I think that was not a good thing to do to an elder statesman. Maybe there is shared responsibility on both sides because you also recall that Dr Kaunda tried to get back into active politics. If he had retired, this wouldn’t have happened.

I was in charge of gathering information preparing a package for leaders who would have retired from active politics. I went to 15 Commonwealth countries to see how they were looking after their former leaders. After this we drafted legislation and we now have an Act in this country called Benefit of former Presidents where former Presidents are entitled to get 80 percent of the salary and allowances of the incumbent President. They have a house built for them, they have got security, domestic workers, electricity is paid, water is paid, free medical services and they travel abroad three times a year at government expense. So its a very generous package that we gave to our former leaders.

MH: What is the ideology that drives you? What are the things you believe in?

Dr Mwaanga: I believe in human rights. I believe in political rights for the citizens. Freedom of citizens to express themselves within the boundaries of the law. To campaign against legislation they consider unjust. I believe that there should be honest differences of opinion among us as Africans and these differences should not escalate to levels were violence creeps in. We can differ without being violent. Violence is wrong whether is coming from the opposition or from the government.

MH: Ok, at least we now have some background as to who we are talking to. Now, let’s come to the relationship between Zimbabwe and Zambia. This relationship dates back to the days of the Federation. How would you describe this relationship from these early years?

Dr Mwaanga: The relations between Zambia and Zimbabwe have always been cordial. We cooperated even at political party levels. You had Zanu and you had Zapu in Rhodesia. We had UNIP and the ANC. We worked together to dismantle the Federation. We even worked with Dr Banda’s Malawi Congress Party to fight against the Federation.

When the Federation was imposed on the black majority, there was an agreement among whites that there should be Federation. Blacks were excluded from it. We were not part of that process.

MH: Briefly tell us, how was colonialism in Zambia?

Dr Mwaanga: Colonialism was very severe here because blacks were totally discriminated against even in terms of areas where they could live. If you went to some of our famous hotels, in Livingstone there was a hotel called Fairmount Hotel and there was another hotel called North-Western Hotel – when you got there was a sign written ‘Africans and dogs not allowed.’ That tells you how severe it was.

They segregated even facilities, the railway system was segregated – Africans had their own section in fourth class, whites has second and first class and those elevated blacks who could afford were in the third class.

Residential areas the story was the same. Even here in Lusaka. Those signs of segregation were all over. ‘Africans and dogs not allowed.’ You went to Ndola it was the same, to Kitwe and many other places.

You couldn’t go to a chemist to buy medicine you had to buy medicine through a side window. Even the departmental shops, blacks had to go through a side window. You couldn’t enter a bakery in the centre of the city because entering the bakery was reserved for white people only. The butchery it was the same. You had to go through a side window.

That is what led us as blacks to rise against not just colonialism but also to equate colonialism to the federation. The federation was an off shot of colonialism.

MH: But Zambia is unlike Zimbabwe isn’t it? You didn’t exactly take up arms to wage a war here?

Cde Mwaanga: It wasn’t as violent as it became later in Southern Rhodesia which is Zimbabwe now. But in 1961, UNIP under Dr Kaunda we held a conference at Mulungushi where we decided to change the strategy to make the struggle more active. Prior to that there was what we called ‘passive resistance’ against colonialism and against the federation. But after 1961, there was ‘active resistance against colonialism and the federation.

What this meant was that we had to begin attacking federal and colonial institutions. To send the message to whites that we had began a different phase of the struggle. Passive resistance was not producing results.

After we embarked on this campaign, in less than a year, our leaders were then called to London to go and discuss a new constitutional dispensation under Ian Macloud who was then the colonial secretary in Britain. They agreed on a constitution which was called 15-15-15. Which meant 15 seats for blacks, 15 seats for the mixed races and 15 seats for whites. This didn’t lead to One Man One Vote but if you had attained a certain level of education you could participate in the voting system. That led to the formation of the first black government in 1962 between UNIP and the ANC which then took us into independence in 1964.

MH: In 1964, a new and free Zambia is born, but soon after we see this young country hosting several liberation movements here. How was that decision made?

Dr Mwaanga: First of all, before we became independent, the federation was formally broken up in 1963. Then we had elections here in January 1964, which were won by UNIP overwhelmingly. Come October, we became an independent country.

Prior to independence in 1963 if you remember, the Organisation of African Unity was founded in Addis Ababa. That replaced the regional groups which had existed. The informal groups like the Casablanca Group which comprised of the more militant group of African countries like Ghana, Egypt, Ethiopia and so on. Then there was the Monrovia Group comprising of Senegal, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Liberia among others.

The formation of the OAU meant that all these sub-regional groups disappeared and they all merged into the OAU. And at that conference in 1963, Dr Kaunda who was still the Minister of Local Government in the coalition government between UNIP and the ANC, he subscribed to the charter of the OAU. In the charter, there was the provision that we would support the liberation of the African continent as a whole and that as long as any inch of Africa was not free, none of us should walk the streets of Africa feeling free. That was the motivating factor. So after we became independent, the cabinet then met and decided that we are part of the OAU and we will support the liberation of not just Southern Africa but Africa as a whole because there were other countries in other parts of the continent that were not yet liberated. Countries like Mauritius, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau and so on. So we had to support all these countries.

Dr Kaunda made a declaration at that time that we will support, host and give residence to liberation movements from Southern Africa to come and set up their offices here in Zambia.

MH: Is this the reason why some Zambians blame Dr Kaunda for the decision to host the liberation movements here? They put it as it if was a Kaunda decision alone?

Dr Mwaanga: Oohh, no, no, it was a decision by Cabinet. The central committee of UNIP and the national council agreed to this. It was not a decision by one person. Dr Kaunda is unfairly blamed for it. It was not his decision alone.

MH: Ok, now between Zapu and Zanu, which of the two first set up bases in Zambia?

Dr Mwaanga: Zapu first came and shortly after Zanu followed. You will probably recall that Zapu had much stronger links with UNIP than Zanu. But at government level, when we decided to host both parties, we did not discriminate in terms of the type of assistance and attention that we paid to the two liberation movements. That distinction was made at party level, but certainly not at government level because it would have violated our commitments to the OAU.

We also had to host other African liberation movements like Swapo from South West Africa, MPLA from Angola, Frelimo from Mozambique and so on. So it became a very big challenge for Zambia to host so many liberation movements, especially in countries like South Africa where we hosted the ANC plus other political groups like the Unity Movement for South African, PAC among others. This presented a challenge for us as a host country.

MH: From your point of view, what would you say where the differences between Zapu and Zanu? Where there ideological differences or what between these two liberation movements from Zimbabwe, then Southern Rhodesia?

Dr Mwaanga: For us, our role was not to look at their differences but to accept them the way they were. Not to look at their ideological differences,if there were any. We also looked at the history of how the struggle started, which one of the two parties was the earlier one. But this wasn’t our main concern as a host country.

Our concern was that we gave them facilities and we set up what was known as the liberation centre which is located in Kamwala on Chilumbulu Road here in Lusaka. We offered them equal facilities. We also offered them houses where they could live. We offered them facilities to obtain passports, we sent students abroad to go and study. We offered scholarships for their students to study at our universities.

MH: There was quite a big community of people from Southern Rhodesia here due to the federation isn’t it?

Dr Mwaanga: Oohh, yes. There was a large community because of the federation and also those who were associated directly with the liberation struggle. When they left their country to go for training beyond Zambia or to be trained here, we had to offer them facilities to travel and so on. We even offered them air tickets to go to different parts of to world. We rented and bought houses for them. We had to offer them security. Security became a very major challenge because the security services from both South Africa and Southern Rhodesia had became very active in terms of wanting to destabilise the liberation movements and even to assassinate some of the leaders.

We had to make sure that as a host country, we offered them security in such a way that we didn’t have any one of these episodes. Subsequent events of course turned to be the direct opposite in the sense that some of the liberation movements started having internal problems within their organisations.

MH: I have spoken to former commanders of both Zipra and Zanla and they point out that the Zambian government was pro-Zapu and anti-Zanu. How far true was this?

Dr Mwaanga: Well, I will dispute that. I think you heard me say that at the political level in terms of the party, Zapu had much closer ties with UNIP. But at the government level, we exhibited what I call an even-handed policy in dealing with the two organisations. As a member of the government I don’t recall a day when we discriminated against Zanu in preference to Zapu.

Whenever they wanted a meeting, whether with our commanders or with me as Foreign Minister or other members of government, they were given fair and equal access.

MH: Some of the comrades say Dr Kaunda was pro-Zapu and very close to the late VP Nkomo?

Dr Mwaanga: He may have been as party leader of UNIP, but at the level of government, in terms of government ministries I can assure that at no time, as Minister of Foreign Affairs or in other ministries, did we receive an instruction that you should be more favourable to Zapu than Zanu.

Cabinet had made a decision that we had to be even handed in the manner in which we dealt with the two parties. I know that Dr Kaunda also enjoyed personal relations with Joshua Nkomo who was based here at the time. They had very good relations over the years.

Zapu was actually a sister party of UNIP. So if there was some bias, it could only be very subtle because as members of government we were told that we should give equal help and equal assistance to both Zapu and Zanu.

MH: How was Dr Kaunda’s relationship with Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole who was the leader of Zanu at the time?

Dr Mwaanga: He enjoyed a good relationship with Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole. Whenever he came over here for a meeting he was met and his needs were attended to. If Dr Kaunda was not able to attend to his needs he would call his ministers to ensure that his problems were solved. Even when we got to the stage where we got involved in negotiations to have both Zanu and Zapu leaders released from prison, we negotiated for both of them in equal measure. We did not discriminate against any one of them. You will also recall that time we had an organisation called the Front Line States comprising Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana and later we co-opted Nigeria. We negotiated as a team from Front Line States without discrimination.

I remember when we sent teams for example to Gweru prison, to go and negotiate for the release of the leaders after we had finished negotiations with the South Africans who were the de-facto colonialists in Southern Rhodesia at the time, our officials were allowed to go and collect leaders of Zanu from Gweru prison and also from Gonakudzingwa to collect Zapu leaders. They were supposed to come for a meeting with the Front Line States.

I remember when we sent our officials to Gweru prison, we sent Mark Chona and one or two of his assistants to go and collect them for this secret meeting before the formal release agreed, when they got to Gweru prison and asked for Reverend Sithole, the officer in charge told our officials that Reverend Sithole was no longer the leader of Zanu. They were told that there had been a change of leadership in Zanu and that (President) Robert Mugabe had taken over.

Our officials didn’t really know what to do. They had to report back to the leaders of the Front Line States and at that time there was suspicion among the leaders of the Front Line States that how could this leadership change take place without their knowledge. Was it initiated by the colonialists or was it something genuinely agreed to by the leaders of Zanu while in prison? We had to pause for a little while to verify these facts. After these facts had been verified, that is when instead of Reverend Sithole coming to Zambia, we had President Mugabe coming. He came with two of his officials. I remember Maurice Nyagumbo came. Joshua Nkomo came with two of his officials also. It was the first time the leaders of the Front Line States got to know that they had been a change of leadership in Zanu.

MH: Was President Mugabe known very much by this time?

Dr Mwaanga: Yes, we knew him. He was the secretary general of Zanu. The leaders knew about him, but they didn’t know prior that he was now the president of Zanu.

--Next week, Dr Mwaanga speaks about the tragic incident that happened at Chifombo were some Zanu comrades were shot by some Zambian soldiers after clashing with their Zapu colleagues. For the first time he speaks about a tense meeting he had with the late Zanu chairman Cde Herbert Chitepo who was assassinated a few hours later. The interview also answers questions on who, from the Zambian perspective, killed Cde Chitepo. He will answer questions on why the Zambian government appeared as if it was against the armed struggle in Rhodesia as it pushed for negotiations between Ian Smith’s regime and the two liberation movements – Zapu and Zanu. He will talk about the sacrifice by the Zambian people as they supported the liberation in many countries across Africa. Don’t be left out as history is being put into perspective .- Get a copy of your favourite Sunday paper next week.

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