By Felex Share
The renaming of institutions after the country’s national heroes is a way of exorcising the ghost of colonialism and preserving Zimbabwe’s history, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has said.
The Head of State and Government, and Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) said the initiative was setting in motion the long-standing desire by Zimbabweans to rewrite their own history.
He made the remarks yesterday while officially commissioning the renaming of King George V1 Barracks to Josiah Magama Tongogara. KGV1 Barracks houses the Zimbabwe National Army and Air Force of Zimbabwe headquarters. All military cantonments countrywide have been renamed after national heroes. President Mnangagwa said the renaming exercise promoted Zimbabwean values.
“By so doing we rid ourselves of the colonial mentality which regards all that is associated with Europe and the West with high esteem while placing a low opinion on our own value systems. The renaming of our institutions after some of these leading African military strategists goes a long way towards preserving the nation’s history that we bequeath to future generations,” he said.
KGV1 has been named after the late General Tongogara, who commanded ZANLA, the military wing of ZANU, during the liberation struggle. Popularly known as General Tongo, the military strategist died in a car crush on December 26, 1979. The ZDF and the Ministry of Defence have been pushing for the change in names in an effort to redress the colonial nomenclature of key military institutions.
President Mnangagwa chronicled Gen Tongogara’s life since childhood, how he became politically conscious and ended up commandeering the liberation struggle. He said Gen Tongo became politically conscious after witnessing the oppression his parents were being subjected to by the whites they worked for at Gwenoro Farm in Midlands.
“The childhood exposure and experience to white racist and repressive domination, under which he and his family had to endure, embedded in him, during his very early life, an unyielding hatred of colonialism for the rest of his life,” President Mnangagwa said.
“The First and Second Chimurenga ignited and fanned the burning desire for the right to self-determination for the highly nationalistic indigenous people of Zimbabwe and one such person is none other than General Tongo, whose role in the Second Chimurenga was pivotal towards ending our oppression.”
He said Gen Tongo left the country for Zambia at the age of 20 before undergoing military training in countries such as Zambia and China. Military prowess and strategic depth saw Gen Tongogara becoming a member of the Dare reChimurenga and High Command, which directed the liberation struggle against the Smith regime. President Mnangagwa said Gen Tongo commanded respect from both friends and foes and was a leader “who cared so much about the welfare of his men”.
“In 1969, he forged strategic links with FRELIMO as a way of opening the Tete corridor by fighting alongside FRELIMO against the Portuguese in Mozambique,” he said.
“The strategic partnership subsequently enabled ZANLA guerillas then to take advantage of FRELIMO liberated zones inside Mozambique and using these as launching pads for attacks into Rhodesia. By 1973, General Tongo had ascended to become Chief of Defence in Dare reChimurenga, the Zanu Supreme Council and was charged with the responsibility of directing prosecution of the war in Zimbabwe.”
He said Gen Tongo resolved counter-revolutionary manoeuvres that threatened to derail the revolution such as the Nhari, Badza Rebellion (1974) and the Dzino Revolt (1976). The Head of State said during the Geneva and Lancaster Conference talks, Gen Tongo proved to be a “shrewd and formidable negotiator”.
“His untimely death came when he was on his way to brief the commanders on the ceasefire agreement. All in all, he was a pan-African soldier, whose leadership, confidence and humility combined well with humanity and compassion to produce a true African leader,” President Mnangagwa said.
He said Government and the Tongogara Foundation would erect a cenotaph at the place where Gen Tongo died. He died in North of Maxixe, Inhambane province in Mozambique.
“The Mozambican people who live nearby have tended the site, marked it, maintained it and respected it for the past 37 years,” President Mnangagwa said.
“There is no doubt that the name Tongogara is synonymous with Zimbabwe’s successful prosecution of liberation war. He was indeed a visionary whose passion for freedom and self-determination made him a leading character in our liberation struggle,” he said. “He displayed true resistance and resilience against numerous raids from Rhodesia and exhibited unfailing devotion and commitment to the struggle.
“His consistent and persistent, inspirational and daring initiative, combined with his undaunted will power weakened the superiority of the Rhodesian security forces and eventually destroyed the mighty sword of the enemy.”
The President said the selection of a few national heroes in renaming the institutions was not meant to obliterate the role played by other cadres.
“It is just humble recognition of their outstanding services to the revolution that put them a cut above the rest. It is also a symbolic gesture for the many unsung heroes and heroines of our struggle, who are too many to mention. In dislodging the colonialists, no effort was insignificant,” he said.
Yesterday’s event was attended by service chiefs, members of the Tongogara family and Foundation, ministers and traditional leaders.