Towards the end of 2018, l took time to compile a list of books, fiction and non-fiction, that l would read in the year 2019. It so happened that the first book l chose to read was Masipula Sithole’s seminal text, Struggles Within the Struggle.

l finished reading the book on Sunday, January 13, 2019. A major national shutdown was to commence on Monday, January 14, 2019. Among many factors, citizens were and are still disgruntled over a 150 percent increase in the price of fuel.

True to form, the government responded by shutting down the internet on Tuesday, January 15, 2019. Internet supply was to be intermittently restored and throttled for the rest of the week. Bearers of power blamed social media for fuelling protest action. The government was in panic mode and resolving citizens’ concerns was clearly secondary to power retention.

Sitting at home with no means of conducting my internet-based work, l could not help but reflect on Sithole’s narration of Struggles Within the Struggle. It is then that government’s behaviour started to make sense. Sithole’s thematic focus was on inter and intra party contradictions; contestations between and among liberation movements. Manifestations of what Sithole first wrote about in 1977 are today our lived reality – acrimonious state and civil relations with negative consequences on national development and citizen well-being.

I particularly found potent Sithole’s remarks and l quote thus: “Responsible leadership must promote and be seen to promote leadership by persuasion rather than by coercion. There is no doubt that the commandist and murderous political culture acquired during the liberation struggle will impact on the conduct of our politics after the struggle. If we don’t take deliberate steps to exorcise this culture from our body politic, we are bound to be miserable for a long time after the struggle. We shall even think and feel we were freer during the settler regime.”

As clearly postulated in the above quotation, the violent and vindictive Zanu PF we see today is not an accident but a creation of history. The liberation struggle, while propelled by women and men driven by sacrifice to attain an independent Zimbabwe, was equally driven by women and men with personal ambitions; the quest to claim stake in the new post-colonial order. Sithole details the assassinations of luminaries such as Jason Ziyaphapha Moyo, Herbert Chitepo and Josiah Tongogara. While loyal to the struggle, these men were to meet their fate as a result of intra-party contradictions.

That Zimbabwe has since independence in 1980 experienced episodes of unresolved violence is a direct product of “commandist and murderous political culture acquired during the liberation struggle” as was perceptively foretold by Sithole. If today citizens prove to be a threat to the ruling party’s quest for power retention, the all too familiar response of physical elimination will be meted against them.

I was able to determine the nature and extent to which the split in the Zimbabwe African Patriotic Union (ZAPU) that led to the formation of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) on August 8, 1963, was to be the genesis of ethnic political conduct in liberation movements and even after independence; a terrain where cultural alliances were to be the premise of a political system of reward and punishment.

That the ZAPU split was ethnic is a matter of public record but the actual circumstances and actors causing the split remains less explored in public discourse. Joshua Nkomo is deservedly regarded as an icon. An interrogation of events and circumstances leading to the split in ZAPU in July 1963 places Nkomo in the vortex of deceptive, cowardly, spineless, fearful, intolerant, unprincipled and prevaricating leadership as was alleged by Ndabaningi Sithole against Nkomo. For instance, when ZAPU was banned in 1963, Nkomo was in Zambia and instead of returning to the then Rhodesia to provide leadership, he fled to Tanzania. After ultimately returning to Rhodesia, Nkomo was accused by his adversaries of being afraid of arrest leading to him influencing some of his ZAPU executive members to violate restriction conditions by escaping to Tanzania.

Nkomo also deceived his executive members that Julius Nyerere, then President of Tanzania, had approved his plan to form a government in exile. The claim of authority to establish a government in exile was proven to be false, heightening disillusionment among ZAPU executive members on Nkomo’s leadership.

While true, it is imprudent to only cite tribalism as the solitary factor leading to the split in ZAPU. To what extent were Nkomo’s leadership attributes, or lack thereof, a direct causative factor or perhaps a convenient excuse by a faction pursuing personal political interests? As a people, to what extent are we ready and willing to interrogate, truthfully, Nkomo’s alleged leadership deficiencies?

Related to the above is the sustained belief that had Nkomo become the President of Zimbabwe, perhaps we would be experiencing a modicum of good governance, genuine social cohesion and economic prosperity. I however learnt that Nkomo was in 1963 elected ‘Life President’ at the ZAPU Cold Comfort Farm Congress. With the benefit of the prolonged and disastrous Robert Mugabe leadership in hindsight, l could not help but imagine a situation where Nkomo would have also desired to rule forever. But of course, Nkomo was not Robert Mugabe and the two cannot necessarily be directly equated. However, this begs the question: would Nkomo have been able to overcome the trappings of power given that the party and the then Lancaster House constitutions would have allowed him to rule ad infinitum?

At formation, ZANU was a protest movement against a ZAPU Joshua Nkomo presidency. There was resentment of Ndebele leadership and it is no surprise that from 1965 to 1975 there was no Ndebele who was part of the ZANU Dare reChimurenga. A 1964 ZANU central committee only had one Ndebele out of 21 committee members. When today Matabeleland regions complain of marginalisation, it is important to remember that at its formation, ZANU was an exclusive anti-Ndebele establishment. The 1987 Unity Accord has done little to build inter-tribal harmony and equitable national development.

The ZAPU split of 1963 was to be followed by another split in 1970. It was telling to note that a ZAPU faction comprising of Edward Ndlovu, Jason Ziyaphapha Moyo and George Silundika, all Kalanga and going by the faction name Dengezi, caused in 1970 the defection of James Chikerema and George Nyandoro who then formed in 1971 the Front for the Liberation of Zimbabwe (FROLIZI) together with other defectors from ZANU. During the 1970 ZAPU power contradictions, Nyandoro was reported to have asserted that “the ZAPU organisation has been completely riddled by traitors from Matabeleland. No progress at all has been made on the liberation of Zimbabwe. Our duty now is to maShona. AmaNdebele are still showing themselves to be our pure enemies.”

Such was the brazen tribalism. That Zimbabwe is today still ethnically polarised speaks of a leadership failure, our collective inability to foster genuine nationhood.

Another lesson was that true to a well-documented assertion that Zimbabwe’s history is riddled with bias, revisionism and reframing, it is a pity that Ndabaningi Sithole, founder President of ZANU and leader of the party from formation in 1963 until 1977, was post-1980 relegated to the peripheries of national public memory. Sithole is not a common and popular name in the archives of Zimbabwe’s liberation heritage. He is regarded as a sell-out. Despite Sithole’s limitations, to the uninitiated, it would appear as if former President Mugabe led ZANU from formation, yet he only assumed the ZANU presidency in 1977 (through subversion), just three years before the first democratic elections in 1980.

It is indeed true that while history ought to be factual, heritage is deliberately biased. We deliberately choose events and individuals to venerate for purposes of contemporary political expediency.

In the context of elections, Struggles Within the Struggle lays bare that contested elections are a phenomenon whose origins are traced to the birthing of Zimbabwe as a nation state in 1980. ZAPU, ZANU (Sithole) and the United African Nationalist Congress (UANC) led by Bishop Abel Muzorewa are on record complaining that ZANU prohibited them from campaigning in rural areas formerly controlled by ZANLA guerrillas.

ZANU’s Eddison Zvobgo was to justify such actions on the basis that “no party should reap where it did not sow” (Sithole, 1999, p. 181). On its part, Zanu PF complained about bias by transitional governor Lord Soames in favour of UANC in particular and other parties in general. What has only varied in subsequent national elections is the nature and magnitude of electoral fraud and malpractice. A precedence was set and is being perpetuated.

Furthermore, ZANU internal contradictions and their containment as depicted through the 1974 Nhari rebellion reveal the inherent intimate albeit complex politico-military relations. Led by disgruntled field commander Thomas Nhari, a group of nine renegade guerrillas set upon a mission to depose the Josiah Tongogara-led High Command (a military structure) and replace it with new leadership. Nhari and his group kidnapped members of the ZANU High Command and deployed them to the battlefront as ordinary cadres. The rebellion was ultimately contained by Tongogara.

For containing the rebellion, Tongogara emerged with not just military might but political muscle and was overbearing on the Dare reChimurenga, the ZANU political organ. Powerful and ambitious, Tongogara was identified by an International Commission on the assassination of Herbert Wiltshire Chitepo as responsible for sanctioning the assassination of the then ZANU chairman on March, 1975. Chitepo was accused of sympathising with the Nhari rebellion.

Flip to November 2017. For leading the coup that deposed President Mugabe, former Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander Constantine Chiwenga emerged with political clout and in the process landed the Vice Presidency of Zanu PF and the state. There are murmurs of discord in the Presidium, an all too familiar script and also likely to be resolved through bloodletting. Remember the White City bombing in 2018? That debacle remains officially unresolved.

Sithole wanted to write a sequel titled Struggles After the Struggle. Unfortunately, Sithole was in 2003 elevated to higher glory before he could indulge us in his inimitable analysis of Zimbabwe’s perpetual struggles.

That Mugabe lasted 38 years in power does not help matters as this forestalled much needed leadership ideological renewal. Post Mugabe, each passing day proves that our current rulers are in no way of a better mould.

It remains the citizens’ onus to demand authentic and servant leadership.