When the whistle blew out on Nathan Shamuyarira as a former member of the dreaded Front for the Liberation of Zimbabwe (FROLIZI) this may have put President Robert Mugabe in a tight spot.
Can he still afford to keep him in the politburo, for example, if the FROLIZI ghost which Shamuyarira had successfully managed to suppress for almost two decades continues to haunt him and refuses to die?
The unmasking of Shamuyarira by ex-fighter Margaret Dongo may have been played down by the pro-government media –where most of the editors were appointed during his tenure as Minister of Information- which was quick to come to his defence, but the fact remains, the damage had been done.
Dongo did not mince her words. She simply said Shamuyarira had no right to talk about ZANU because he did not know enough about the party since he had been a member of FROLIZI.
“People who are vana mafikezolo are the ones who are speechifying after the death of Urimbo,” she said in apparent reference to people generally regarded as opportunists in the ruling party.
Although a founder member of ZANU, Shamuyarira teamed up with members of the then ZAPU to form FROLIZI on 1 October 1971 and was made secretary for Research and Finance.
According to his contribution in the book: Turmoil and Tenacity, edited by former President Canaan Banana, Emmerson Mnangagwa quotes writings by Shamuyarira where he says FROLIZI was formed because of the “revolutionary inadequacies of ZANU and ZAPU” and the “ideological bankruptcy of ZANU and ZAPU”.
FROLIZI, Shamuyarira is quoted as saying was formed to “bring an end to the shameful chapter in the history of our struggle in which ZAPU and ZANU were more often at each other’s throats than they cared to fight the real enemy”.
It is statements like these that Shamuyarira has probably been trying to hide all along. His silence had paid dividends as Shamuyarira was a non-entity at independence and sources say he was not even a member of the ruling party’s central committee.
But within 10 years he had risen to his present position where he is not just a member of the powerful politburo of the ruling party but is now the party’s chief spokesman.
Analysts and critics say his rise has been immensely propped up by his media connections that tend to keep him in good limelight while his perceived political opponents are permanently fighting for space in the same media.
Whispers even say the man who once said: “FROLIZI is the only Zimbabwean organisation that can rightly be called progressive and committed to the essential and basic principles of a revolution” and vilified ZANU, is the same man now tipped as one of those who could succeed President Mugabe.
His meteoric rise, however, meant that some of the top ZANU-PF officials like Mayor Urimbo had to be brushed aside, eventually being kicked out of the politburo.
Other powerful persons he rose over include Eddison Zvobgo who at independence was the party’s chief spokesman and Emmerson Mnangagwa who was Special Assistant to the President.
At independence there was no way one could get to President (party) Mugabe without going through Mnangagwa. This was evidenced by his being appointed to the powerful post of secretary for security and minister of the same portfolio. But he too was sidelined to Minister of Justice and Secretary for Finance in the party.
Other influential politicians who lost include Enos Nkala who was the party’s treasurer for more than two decades but has since left the party.
Shamuyarira’s unfortunate remarks about a person who never wavered from the ruling party are therefore bound to spark heavy debate especially from those who feel they have been abandoned by the ruling party in favour of those who are close to President Mugabe.
Unfortunately regional ties, no matter how some might want to underplay them, seem to have played a big part in all this.
With the growing discontent especially from ex-combatants, as opposed to freedom fighters who merely participated in the struggle but never went into the battlefield, this could force President Mugabe to rethink whether he should keep all of them, especially those considered by some of his powerful colleagues to have been sell-outs.
Even Shamuyarira, generally a no-nonsense man who critics say has tended to equate an attack on him personally as an attack on the President or the Zezuru clique in ZANU-PF, had nothing to offer in reply to Dongo’s remarks except that: “She (Dongo) was prone to making irresponsible statements and I am not going to respond to that”.
For a man who once said, at the formation of FROLIZI: “those of us identified with the new organisation have a duty to explain our action”, his deafening silence on the issue probably explains widespread belief that even those who were behind the formation of FROLIZI are not willing to be identified with it now.
Although FROLIZI was one of the so-called liberation movements fighting for Zimbabwe’s independence, no one today wants to be associated with the party. It is simply taboo and is so detested that even those who once belonged to parties that joined forces with Ian Smith are considered to have been better sell-outs.
In his contribution in Turmoil and Tenacity entitled: An overview of the struggle for unity and independence, Shamuyarira says FROLIZI was formed to unite ZAPU and ZANU because several attempts to do so from as far back as 1963 had failed.
“In 1971, a serious attempt towards unity of ZAPU and ZANU was made in Lusaka. In that year ZAPU’s external leaders split over the question of internal democracy. Jason Moyo, George Silundika and Edward Ndlovu stood on one side, while James Chikerema and George Nyandoro stood on the other demanding unity with ZANU. Within ZANU Nathan Shamuyarira, Stanley Parirewa and Tasiyana Mutizwa felt that unity with ZAPU should be welcomed. ZANU rejected this proposal after much discussion and the result was the emergence of a third party, FROLIZI,” Shamuyarira writes.
He does not say whether he was involved or not. Even his biographical note in the same book does not mention his membership of FROLIZI. It simply reads:
“Nathan Marwirakuwa Shamuyarira was born on September 29th, 1930. He went to Waddilove Institute where he qualified as a teacher. He taught at various schools until 1953 when he joined African newspapers as a reporter. By 1956 he had risen to editor of the Daily News. In 1959 he was appointed editor-in-chief of African Newspapers, but he resigned in 1962 over policy differences with the proprietors.
“He was founder member of ZANU and a member of its national executive. In 1964 he fled Rhodesia and went to Princeton University, USA to read for a degree in political science. He later joined the University of Dar es Salaam as a lecturer in political science. Meanwhile he had been appointed ZANU Secretary for External Relations in 1968.
“In 1977, he went to Mozambique where he was appointed director of the education department and later administrative secretary. During the 1980 elections he was the administrative secretary for the ZANU-PF election directorate…….”
Emmerson Mnangagwa in his contribution: The formation of the Front for the Liberation of Zimbabwe: FROLIZI, tells a completely different story.
He says Chikerema decided to hold talks with ZANU after he had realised that he had fallen out with his ZAPU colleagues. He says, Richard Hove, who was ZANU’s secretary for external affairs (refer Shamuyarira’s biographical note above) announced that though his party had been holding discussions with Chikerema, ZANU had discontinued these discussions until ZAPU resolved its internal conflict.
“Soon after Richard Hove’s press statement, Nathan Shamuyarira and others resigned from ZANU, and together with James Chikerema formed FROLIZI,”he writes.
Although the party was initially led by Shelton Siwela, he together with secretary general Godfrey Savanhu, were ousted in 1972 with Chikerema becoming president, turning the party into a Zezuru clique.
Prior to independence, even President Mugabe used to denounce FROLIZI. Vice-President Joshua Nkomo in his book: The story of my life, which was published in 1984 but was not allowed to circulate in Zimbabwe, dismisses FROLIZI saying “it was neither a party nor an army but a collection of defectors”.
The ghost of FROLIZI seems to have refused to die and let Shamuyarira enjoy his new status and will continue to dog him for the rest of his life. His past association with FROLIZI will always be a heavy political baggage and one gets the impression from letters published in the local press that few people are indifferent to him.
With the impending ZANU-PF and the 1995 general elections, it is likely that his past may be used against him and thus put pressure on President Mugabe.
“After all, who is Shamuyarira to jeopardise our just struggle for recognition?”asked one ex-combatant in a letter to a local daily.
But, Shamuyarira has been a survivor. He should not easily be written off. He is said by some of his opponents to have political power that verges “on a political life-giver”.
Only time will tell.