Dr Dumiso Dabengwa was the archetype of a soldier, nationalist and nation builder.
He became active politically in his early 20s. This resulted in his arrest and imprisonment in 1962 after the Rhodesians charged him with using inflammatory language. After jail, he slipped out of the country into Zambia and later to the Soviet Union (now Russia) for military training, specialising in intelligence.
He rose to the top echelons of the military leadership in the struggle, directing and fighting in some of the defining battles that eventually led to victory in April 1980.
In 1965, he was appointed the chief investigator for a group of 40 military men who started mapping infiltration and invasion routes into the then Rhodesia. Also, he was a member of the joint Zapu and African National Congress of South Africa’s Umkhonto WeSizwe strategic committee that mapped and executed the famous Wankie (Hwange) Battle in 1967 that shook the establishment of that time.
Dr Dabengwa fought in one of the first armed contacts between the joint platoons and Rhodesian forces alongside the late Chris Hani of South Africa in the Hwange and Mana Pools battle.
A giant of our story of liberation and the country’s social, political and economic development post-independence, there is no liberation war without him. Also, there is no Zimbabwe without him.
He served as deputy minister and minister and held senior positions in PF Zapu, Zanu-PF and later Zapu.
We are deeply hurt that one of our national icons who helped found this nation and contributed in shaping it over the past 39 years rested on Thursday aged 79 after battling a liver condition for some time. Indeed, his death is yet another painful reminder to us all that we are all mere mortals. We are born; we live and certainly die at some point. Happily for Dr Dabengwa and a few of his kind, their records will never die.
As he has always done when matters of national significance arise, President Mnangagwa took the responsibility of officially breaking the sad news to the nation on ZBC TV on Thursday afternoon.
“As we mourn his untimely departure,” said the President, “our whole nation is lifted by the story of his life and that of his generation, a story which neatly interweaves with our own story as a people in the struggle for independence and full Statehood. . . . Over and above his legendary contribution to the struggle which spanned over decades, I personally recall how, alongside many other comrades, we worked closely together to integrate our erstwhile warring forces into a united national army, during the early and heady days of our independence. Always principled and resourceful, the late DD, as we affectionately called him, would bring calmness and sobriety to the whole process, thus ensuring its unmatched success. We also remember and cherish his contributions to our nation, both as a minister of Government and as part of the national opposition. We will sorely miss his wisdom and dedication to his nation.”
Condolence messages from Zanu-PF, Zapu and MDC-T, individual politicians, businesspeople and the like continue to pour in in a way that demonstrates the lofty standing of the departed hero.
We learn a lot from Dr Dabengwa’s life of service to his country. He was a man of a few words. When he spoke, it was always one or two firm words and all action later. He was supremely courageous, confident in everything he did. Yes, not many soldiers lack these qualities but DD, as they called him, was a rare breed of a soldier.
He loved his country so much, which is why he was among the pioneers who trained on the Zipra side to later prosecute the liberation struggle. Although he was arrested in 1982 and was released four years later, his patriotism remained undiminished. That is when he went into politics full time. He was elected MP and was appointed deputy minister and minister in 1990, serving for 10 years.
Despite his illustrious resume, Dr Dabengwa was your every day man. He enjoyed driving himself around, in ordinary vehicles, walking alone on the streets of Bulawayo dressed simply. He avoided chauffeurs and the rigid protocol that many politicians crave to assert superiority.
Probably because of his firmness and confidence, Dr Dabengwa would not turn if he took a decision. He would stick to it regardless of any protestations to the contrary. Some of his contemporaries may have had problems with him over these traits, but that is what defined DD, the revolutionary icon, the super patriot and nation builder.
May his dear soul rest in eternal peace.