Can silence deliver freedom, justice? . . . Inside Cephas Msipa’s autobiography

Reviewed by Eddie Zvinonzwa

In Pursuit of Freedom and Justice: A Memoir, By Cephas G Msipa; Harare, Weaver Press, 2015.
185 Pages
ISBN: 978-1-77922-282-4 (Paperback)

“WHENEVER you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door opens to allow in more light.”

These are the words of famous Armenian-Russian (by ethnicity) American artist, philosopher and writer of fantasy and science fiction, Vera Nazarian.

I find these words appropriately summing up the impact Cephas Msipa’s book In Pursuit of Freedom and Justice: A Memoir has on its readers.

The book leads the reader into gropping for answers to several questions that have never had answers proffered for them in the country’s 35 years of independence.

For some, it may lead to serious attempts at self-introspection.

Published by Weaver Press, the book was launched in Harare last week.

Midlands State University academic Terence Mashingaidze said of the book at the launching ceremony: “In Pursuit of Freedom and Justice: A Memoir is a captivating autobiography; it is an even-tempered narrative that is written in accessible diction. It is a subjective and partial retelling of our nation’s history through personal experiences. Like all autobiographies by different individuals, it by nature apprehends and interprets national experiences in subjective ways.”

After turning over the last page of the book, I felt Mashingaidze’s remarks were not far off the mark in describing Msipa’s unassuming reminiscences about his contribution to nation building over the past 50 years or so.

Here is a book from someone who cut his teeth, first hand, through the vagaries of colonial injustice, nationalist organisation, resistance, a political detainee, political prisoner, conciliator, policy maker as deputy minister and minister in the post-independence majority government and as Governor of the Midlands Province between 2000 and 2008.

The period 2000-2008 perhaps forms one of the most critical in shaping the Zimbabwe we have today given the radical land reform exercise that began in earnest at the turn of the millennium. Msipa himself talks about how he spearheaded the exercise in the Midlands.

The rendition Msipa gives of the tensions, injustices and successes during the colonial period and beyond may not be devoid of bias but all the same, like Mashingaidze contends, “provides us politicians, policy makers, academics, students of history and committed Zimbabweans with a reflective mirror to review the moments that have defined the evolution of our nation’s political, economic and social realities over the past five decades”.

Besides telling readers about his upbringing in the Midlands and Matabeleland South provinces of the country, Msipa is clear that the region is much smaller than the nation/ country in how it drives the individual’s zeal to bring about change in a country fraught with injustices and the lack of freedom.

Perhaps some of the most touching chapters in the book are: From Geneva to Lancaster and Dissidents and Gukurahundi.

While previous attempts at arriving at an internal settlement to end colonialism in Rhodesia had failed largely because of the intransigence of the minority white regime, the Geneva Conference was the most important before the Lancaster House Conference that finally charted the way for Zimbabwe’s independence.

Following the agreement at Lancaster, Zanla, Zipra fighters, and Ian Smith’s Rhodesia Front (RF) and Abel Muzorewa’s Pfumo Revanhu were supposed to not only observe a ceasefire but were to get into assembly points while the RF was confined to the barracks awaiting integration into a single national army.

Because there were no Zanu PF leaders who turned up to welcome the returning guerillas, the writer had to feel the void.

Writes Msipa; “They appeared confused and subdued and did not share the excitement of the huge crowd that welcomed them at the airport. … I had not thought to wonder why Josiah Tongogara, Zanla’s commander was not on the flight.

“He was supposed to have arrived together with (Dumiso) Dabengwa on a British chartered plane. Dabengwa said nothing to me. Only on the next day did I discover that Tongogara had been killed in a road accident in Mozambique. He had been on his way to Maputo to catch the flight to Salisbury as head of the Zanla group.” (p90)

Despite the existence — elsewhere — of several theories and versions on how Tongogara met his demise, Msipa does not venture into this minefield. Instead, he chooses to concentrate on how the veteran nationalist had found the revered general in previous interactions.

“PF Zapu was as shocked as Zanu PF about Tongogara’s death. We considered him to be a moderate in his party, and much more pragmatic than most of his colleagues. His views carried a great deal of weight.

“My own interaction with him in Geneva and at Lancaster House left me with the impression of a leader prepared for unity under the Patriotic Front. He was very warm towards me, and affectionately called me ‘mudhara’ (old man).” (p90-91)

Disgruntled ex-Zipra guerillas deserted assembly points and went back into the bush signaling the beginning of a long period of internal conflict. Mugabe fired Joshua Nkomo, Josiah Chinamano, Joseph Msika and other ministers and deputies from Cabinet in 1982. Clement Muchachi was to resign in solidarity with Nkomo and company.

John Nkomo and Msipa — the only PF Zapu ministers left in government — were to be fired in November 1984.

It is very important that it was Msipa who raised the Gukurahundi question up for discussion in Cabinet.

What is worrying, according to Msipa, is the level of atrocities that were carried out in the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces by the North Korea-trained Fifth Brigade.

“Innocent men, women and children perished in their thousands. They were accused of either harbouring dissidents or supporting them. It turned out to be a massacre of people perceived to be PF Zapu supporters. The fact that people were Ndebele speakers was regarded as sufficient proof that they were PF Zapu supporters and therefore dissident supporters.” (p113)

What is astonishing is the sincerity and empathy with which Msipa recounts these massacres in which up to 20 000 people were killed.

Also, Msipa’s perspective is also very unusual given that nobody has ever had the audacity to challenge what Mugabe says. He writes;

“There are schools that have mass graves in their grounds into which all the people of the village, killed by the Fifth Brigade, were thrown in and covered up. Why should children be exposed to these mass graves? Could there not be a decent burial place for those who were killed?

Mugabe has described the Gukurahundi atrocities as “ a moment of madness”.

“Gukurahundi was not a day’s event or a “moment of madness”. It began in 1981 and continued until 1987 when the unity accord was signed between PF Zapu and Zanu PF.” (p113)

Msipa interestingly also touches on contemporary Zimbabwean politics. The retired politician writes; “The presidium and politburo were determined to ensure the ascendency of Joice Mujuru in 2004 even though they had to usurp the constitution of the party to do so.

“Mugabe’s frustration in reaction to the Tsholotsho Declaration of 2005 was palpable, angrily he said, ‘There is everything wrong when chairpersons of the party meet secretly without the leadership of the party and

worse still what would they be discussing there?” (p184)

He writes further; “The expulsion and exclusion of Joice Mujuru and her perceived allies from Zanu PF in December 2014 was, in reverse, a bizarre replay of her ascendency to the national and Zanu PF vice presidency in 2004, which had the support from nine out of the country’s ten provinces. In other words Mujuru was determined to be elected rather than appointed vice president in line with the party’s constitution.” (p184)

Msipa also looks at the Zanu PF constitution. Reacting to Mugabe’s urge that party members should watch out, “We now have some with unbridled ambitions.” (p185), Msipa writes:

“Meanwhile, the party’s ‘own methods’ are not crystal clear. For instance how does one measure the extent of ‘unbridled ambition’ when attempts by ambitious aspirants to position themselves strategically for eventual succession are met with hostility? We should find a way to reduce the tension in Zanu PF succession politics as well as in our body politic…

“The Zanu PF constitution is a document of national interest that must be amended to allow for an orderly and predictable transfer of authority. In all this Robert Mugabe has the power to remove causes of factionalism in Zanu PF. That has been my call and it will remain my call.” (p185)

Thus ends the narrative from one political player who managed to experience first hand colonial injustice, nationalism and the related war of liberation and the post-war period as a policy maker but curiously, one who does not blow his contribution out of proportion.

Probably this instalment would not be complete without mentioning the passion with which Msipa tackles the issue of the otherness. His book almost becomes a manual or even module in the study of tolerance and diversity — those twins that make the world live in peace.

Cephas Msipa was born on July 7, 1931 in a family of ten children, in Zvishavane District in the Midlands Province under Chief Masunda. During his illustrious political career, Msipa has worked with the late Willie Musarurwa, Ariston Chambati and George Kahari to form what used to be called the “Big Four” in PF Zapu.

Msipa has worked in Zimbabwe’s post-independence government first as deputy minister of Youth, Sport and Recreation, Manpower Planning and Development and later as minister of Water Resources and Development and lastly as Governor of the Midlands Province.

The forthright retired politician has eight children, thirty-one grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

His book is an invaluable contribution to the sparse literature available on Zimbabwe’s political history and remains a must-read for all those who would want an enriching perspective to the country’s past, which will no doubt help them traverse and evade the mines that litter our conflict-ridden political terrain.