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The Lancaster House Agreement: Tongogara's One Goal
Posted: Monday, December 28, 2009

By David Martin and Phyllis Johnson
December 29, 2009 - The Herald

The Lancaster House Agreement that brought a ceasefire in the war for liberation of Zimbabwe was signed on December 21 1979, effective one week later, on December 28. Just before the ceasefire date, the Zanla Commander was killed in a road accident in Mozambique, on December 26, 1979. This is the sixth in a series of eight articles on the events of late 1979 and early 1980, the last stages leading to independence of Zimbabwe.

Among the first people to realise that the causes of the war had been removed was Josiah Magama Tongogara, who came to be recognised by most parties as a key figure in reaching the agreement at Lancaster House.

Although not entirely happy with the ceasefire arrangements that were heavily stacked against the guerrillas and that were virtually impossible to implement within the allotted timescale, he believed that it was wrong to continue fighting when agreement had been reached on the principles he had gone to war to achieve.

He regarded Lancaster House as a kind of "second front" brought about by the people of Zimbabwe and their liberation forces, and by the end of November he was firm in his conviction that they had "scored a tremendous victory... in the near future the people of Zimbabwe will be proud to have their new Zimbabwe and this will never be reversed any more".

Tongogara did not pretend it was going to be easy, he acknowledged that "in the initial stages we have still a lot to do", and he thought he would be there to do it.

"I would like to see myself completing this, creating a new Zimbabwean army that has the interests of the people at heart. Probably after that one can ask me what I want to do.

"I may decide to go back to the countryside and do some ploughing."

It was not to be. He flew back to Maputo from London, and as he was rushing to Chimoio to brief commanders on ceasefire arrangements, the vehicle in which he was travelling rammed into the back of a lorry it was trying to overtake.

He was sitting in the front passenger seat and was crushed in the collision.

Given the timing of the accident and the fact that he was perhaps the man Zimbabwe could least afford to lose at that moment, there were inevitable questions.

The Mozambique government, shattered by the loss of a comrade-in-arms whom they had come to regard so highly, launched an inquiry; the Zanu-PF leadership, numb and immobile, held their own inquiry.

Both came to the same conclusion as did the reputable mortician summoned from Salisbury by the British embassy to embalm the body, at the request of the Mozambique government.

"The injuries are consistent with a car accident," said Ken Stokes of Mashford's and Son. "There is no doubt in my mind that there was no foul play."

There were no bullet holes as a deliberately planted Salisbury rumour was later to suggest.

Born in Nhema Tribal Trust Land near Selukwe (now Shurugwi) in 1940 and named Josiah Magama after Magama, his father he was an exceptionally gifted child.

His older brother, Mike, said that schoolwork, which he found difficult, was easy for his brother, as were football and other sports, and even music.

He grew up, says his brother, with one intention, one goal, to liberate his country, "and I think he's done it."

His next most important goal was that his children and others should grow in peace in a free Zimbabwe and participate in reconstruction.

His untimely death could have disrupted that goal except for the courage and conviction of the young men who made up the High Command and General Staff, and the provincial and sectorial command in the field.

At 7pm on December 26 1979, Rex Nhongo (General Solomon Mujuru) and 41 Zanla commanders flew into Salisbury in a chartered Air Botswana Viscount.

Many thousands of delirious supporters jammed the airport, oblivious of the teargas and police dogs.

Rhodesian army sharpshooters were deployed around the airfield and soldiers had to be ordered by the British to remove a vehicle mounted with a machinegun from the runway.

Dumiso Dabengwa, Lookout Mafela Musuku and a similar number of Zipra commanders had arrived a little earlier from Lusaka.

None were aware that the man they all respected, and expected to be their overall commander in a new national army, was dead.

Nhongo heard the news on the radio at lunchtime the following day and immediately went to see the Governor, Lord Soames, who already had a message from the British embassy in Maputo.

The confidential message from his president, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, that should have gone first to Nhongo as the senior Zanu-PF man in Salisbury and the new acting commander of Zanla, must have been leaked to the Press by a British official or by Rhodesian monitoring of their communications.

Excerpt from The Struggle for Zimbabwe: The Chimurenga War, by David Martin and Phyllis Johnson, 1981. David Martin was a chronicler of the liberation struggle who passed away in August 2007.

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