Edgar Tekere was a member of the Zimbabwe African National Union high command during the Rhodesian Bush War. After serving eleven and a half years in prison alongside Robert Mugabe, the men decamped to Mozambique in 1975, a crossing Tekere detailed in his 2009 (banned in Zimbabwe) memoir, A Lifetime of Struggle.
“We stayed in the forest, looked after by Tangwena’s wife. It was misty with a light drizzle, and so she was able to light a fire to cook for us, without smoke being seen by our pursuers. Mbuya Tangwena called on us to join her in traditional prayers, and take snuff, as is the tradition in Zimbabwe. Tangwena was waiting for his wife to give the signal for us to move. She was a spirit medium, a host to Sekuru Dzeka Tangwena, her father-in-law. On the second day, at around seven in the evening, Mbuya Tangwena became possessed with the spirit, and instructed us to leave. She told Chiewf Tangwena to take us to Tangadza, another sub-chief of the Tangwena Dynasty, who was living on the Mozambican side of the border. She ordered her husband to take us by the most difficult path, at which he demurred, but the old lady told the great chief, ‘You just do it, or these people will be caught.’ It was amusing to see him defer to this small woman.
All the while, the Rhodesian forces were combing the area looking for us.
The path we had to follow was pitch black, there was a heavy drizzle, and we could not see where we were going. We could not carry a torch, nor light a match, and we moved in single file, Tangwena leading the way, followed by Mugabe, myself and a young man, Nyakurita, who brought up the rear. Suddenly, I heard a loud grumble right beside us, it sounded like a lion. Chief Tangwena promptly fell down – and stayed there. When we tried to help him up, he told us to wait for a moment until he was ready. At last, he rose to his feet. ‘The spirits are guiding us,’ he said. Most strangely, considering the loudness of the ‘growl’ was that Mugabe did not hear a thing.
We continued to Kairezi, on the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique. We crossed Kairezi River, which was flooded, but at the point we were to cross, it was very slow moving, and we were able to slide into the water and wade across, with the water at one point up to my chest. We carried some matches and a radio that we managed to keep dry, as well as Mugabe’s portable typewriter in a steel case. Chief Tangwena pointed out a group of huts ahead where we were going to stay. He then told us to rest, but the huts seemed to be so close I decided to go on ahead. As I proceeded, I fell headlong into a deep pit, and it took me sometime to find my way back to the others.
We crossed during the night of 4/5 April 1975. On the morning of our arrival, there was an announcement on radio that Edson Sithole had disappeared. I remember saying to Mugabe that we would never see him again. The following day was a Sunday, and we rested and dried ourselves at a fire we lit in the abandoned huts.
We stayed with sub-chief Tagadza for some time. It was another Tangwena village consisting of quite a number of families. Chief Tangwena moved back and forth across the border, arranging for the escape of more people. He was also involved in diplomatic manoeuvres with Frelimo, the Mozambican Liberation Movement, as Mozambique was to gain its independence from the Portuguese on 25 June of that year. Messages had to be sent to and from the capital Maputo to be decided upon by Samora Machel himself. So we spent about five weeks there.
It was harvest time in Tagadza, and we joined the Tagadza people working in their co-operative field.
My first disagreement with Mugabe took place then. We were discussing what we would do when we met the other recruits, and Mugabe was adamant that we should tell them that we were in the UANC, according to the Lusaka Accords. This made me extremely angry, and I said, ‘What a treacherous mind you have! We are here by decision of ZANU. I am not part of the UANC. You are a betrayer. I’m going to report back to those who sent us here about your betrayal!’ Tangwena was with us at the time, and he managed to make peace between us, and Mugabe insisted no further. But after that I made sure that he did not meet any of the recruits when I was not there too, in case he began to talk about UANC.”
A Lifetime of Struggle, Edgar Tekere, Sapes Books, 2009
Photo: 1979, Romanian National Archives, #L028