The South African Communist Party has learnt of the passing of Comrade Dumiso Dabengwa with great sadness. The SACP expresses its deepest and sincerest condolences to the Dabengwa family, to his party, the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) – which fought for the liberation of Zimbabwe from British colonial oppression and rule – as well as to the people of Zimbabwe and Southern Africa at large. Fondly known as the Black Russian, or as Comrade DD based on his name and surname, Dumiso Dabengwa was the former Chief of Intelligence of the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZPRA) and President of ZAPU at the time of his death in Nairobi, Kenya, on Wednesday 22 May 2019. He was on his way to Zimbabwe from India where he was receiving medical treatment.
Comrade Dumiso Dabengwa was born in Bulawayo on 6th December 1939 and attended school at Cyrene Mission where he became a teacher in 1958. In the same year he joined the recently formed Southern Rhodesian African National Congress (ANC) and after that was banned and the National Democratic Party (NDP), which he joined, was formed. He became a clerk for Bulawayo City Council in 1959 before going to work for Barclay’s Bank. In 1960 he was one of the leaders of the ‘Zhi’ riots against the British colonial government and became a member of the ZAPU Youth Front following the formation of ZAPU on 17 December 1961. For his revolutionary actions, he was arrested and imprisoned for 3 years.
In 1963, ZAPU dissidents supported by western intelligence agencies broke away to form the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). They were later to receive military training from the People’s Republic of China, at that time in dispute with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). They used the previously unknown argument that “We cannot be led by an Ndebele” (referring to ZAPU President Joshua Nkomo) to justify their split. The ethnic split took a long time to complete, but eventually it gained traction.
In 1964, Dabengwa became part of the first batch to go for military training in the USSR. He described how they did not know what to expect and how they landed in the freezing cold Russian winter, how they were immediately given suitable clothing, the friendliness of the Soviet people and the personal freedom that they experienced after racist Rhodesia.
After training, Dabengwa was posted to Zambia. He became part of the first major military challenge to the racist Rhodesian government, the Wankie and Sipholilo campaigns. ZPRA joined together with the armed wing of the ANC and the SACP, uMkhonto weSizwe (MK). Dumiso Dabengwa fought next to the legendary SACP hero, Comrade Chris Hani. The Black Russian was slightly wounded when a bullet skimmed across the top of his head leaving a permanent scar.
Later, Dabengwa became ZPRA Chief of Intelligence. His training by the KGB earned him the nickname the “Black Russian”. His second in command was Jeremy Brickhill who was to survive the 1987 Avondale car bomb.
During his time in exile, his mother was killed by the Rhodesians.
Dabengwa is known, like other senior ZPRA commanders to have opposed cancelling the projected ZPRA invasion of Zimbabwe from Zambia using Soviet tanks and aeroplanes; the operation was to be known as “Storming the Heavers”. ZAPU National Executive Committee decided to accept the offer of the Lancaster House talks after Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda had warned British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of impending all-out war.
At the time of the talks, the Commander of the ZANU army, the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA), Comrade Josiah Tongogara openly supported the idea of both wings of the Patriotic Front ― ZANU and ZAPU ― standing as one at the forthcoming elections..
Following the death of Tongogara in a car accident in Mozambique, when the 1980 elections came, ZANU registered itself as “ZANU(PF)”, reneging on the ZAPU and ZANU front idea. ZAPU stood as the Patriotic Front (PF). The election was run by British Army officers who refused to allow voting results from different polling stations to be known. The results showed ZAPU winning only in Ndebele-speaking areas ― not even in those Shona-speaking liberated areas and where ZANU was virtually unknown. This further accentuated the ethnic division.
Nevertheless, ZAPU entered the coalition government with ZANU (“ZANU(PF)”) in the forefront. But in 1982, Zimbabwe agreed to a mutual understanding with the apartheid government not to allow the MK to use Zimbabwe as its rear base. Emmerson Mnangagwa, the current President of Zimbabwe, was at that time the Zimbabwean Minister of State Security.
Immediately after this agreement, ZAPU ministers, including Joshua Nkomo, were fired from the Zimbabwean government. Dumiso Dabengwa together with ZPRA Commander Lookout Masuku were arrested on allegations that they wanted to organise a coup against the government. They were accused of having arms caches which were ‘uncovered’ by paid informants. The following year, 1983, the court found both Dabengwa and Masuku “Not Guilty”, but they continued to be held in prison. Lookout Masuku died in 1986 ostensibly of meningitis. When he asked to see Dabengwa before he died, he was refused. Dabengwa was also refused permission to attend Lookout’s funeral. Dumiso Dabengwa was released in 1987 during discussions for unity between ZANU(PF) and ZAPU in which, in order to save lives, Nkomo and the rest of the ZAPU leadership reluctantly agreed.
The Unity Accord was signed in December 1987 and ratified by the ZAPU Special Congress in 1988, the completion of integration of the two parties came in 1989. Dabengwa refused at first to join ZANU(PF). It took a year for Joshua Nkomo to persuade him to join, but his discipline as a ZAPU cadre eventually became decisive.
In 1990, Dumiso Dabengwa became ZANU(PF) MP for Nkulumane in Bulawayo. In 1991 he initiated the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project in an attempt to overcome the perennial water shortages. In 1992, he became Minister of Home Affairs, a post that he held with distinction until 2000, becoming highly respected by most of his staff at all levels.
In 1996, Dabengwa’s persistent pressure on government secured the feasibility plan for the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project.
In 1998 Dabengwa strongly supported Mugabe in sending troops to protect the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from the US-organised invasion, realising that the objective included Angola and the entire Southern Africa’s peace and stability was at stake.
Dabengwa retired as Home Affairs Minister in 2000s, refusing a parliamentary seat appointed by the President. Over the next few years, Dabengwa remained a member of the ZANU(PF) Politburo.
He spent more time on trying to implement the Matabeleland-Zambezi Water Project and work on the first phase began, that is the building of the Gwayi-Shangani Dam. But due to sanctions, this extremely expensive project came to a halt. Members of MDC then attacked him for not completing the work when they themselves were in support of the imperialist sanctions against Zimbabwe.
After the 2008 elections, a small group of Ndebele-speaking ZIPRA veterans led by Jabulani Sibanda were sent to Shona-speaking rural areas where, for the first time people had voted MDC rather than ZANU(PF). This was known as “Mini-Gukurahundi”. About 400 people were killed, many more beaten or raped. Wishing to distance themselves from these outrages, the old ZPRA High Command met ― including of course Dumiso Dabengwa and thee ZPRA Veterans and broke with the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association. Soon after that, the majority of the Bulawayo Provincial Executive Committee of ZANU(PF) declared that they were leaving that party to revive ZAPU.
A Convention was called in Bulawayo consisting of people from all corners of Zimbabwe, electing Dumiso Dabengwa to lead them. At a Congress called the following year according to the ZAPU Constitution, ZAPU formally left the Unity Accord with ZANU and reconstituted itself as an independent party with Dumiso Dabengwa as President.
In 2017, the Dumiso Dabengwa Foundation was formed to promote restorative justice for victims of violence since 1980, in particular, Gukurahundi, to promote the principles of the liberation struggle and to encourage sustainable development.
“This slow-spoken and honest man has been vilified for his adherence to the truth, however painful, and his principled stand on many issues. Zimbabwe has lost a giant.” – said the Zimbabwe Communist Party in its statement on 23 May 2019.
Issued by The South African Communist Party