Dumiso Dabengwa — Tribute From A Civic and Personal Perspective
22 May 2020
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By Dumisani Nkomo- The first time I had a close engagement with the late iconic hero  Dr Dumiso Dabengwa was when he was Minister of Home Affairs and I was President of the Junior Association of Christian Communicators.

This was sometime in the mid-nineties when most of us  were radical young activists clamouring for the immediate withdrawal of the Public Order Bill which was to be the precursor to the Public Order and Security Act.

Our strategy was to block the passage of the bill and this entailed inviting  the  minister of Home Affairs to come and present on the bill and to there was to be a counter presentation from a civic activist David Coltart who was one of the leading lawyers of the time .

We hesitantly sent an invitation to  minister Dabengwa but doubted that he would come . To our shock and pleasant surprise Hon Dabengwa agreed to come to the meeting.

Our leadership team which comprised of  Qobo Mayisa [ Vice President ] Thabaang Nare Secretary General, Thando Sibanda [ Electronic media head ] and Betty Nyoni [ Social Concerns ] managed to mobilize over three to four hundred people to pack the meeting venue.

In attendance were our senior colleagues Useni Sibanda and Clayton Peel [former Chronicle Editor] who were part of the Christian Communicators Senior Wing .

The crowd was restive that day and was baying for blood and after David Coltart presented to rapturous applause it was the turn of the Black Russian as he was called. The manner in which he took control of the audience was amazing.

He was calm, cool and commanding throughout . You could hear a pin dropped during his address as he quietly and gently delivered his points moving his eyes around the crowded room.

He was not threatening or aggressive but very engaging yet commanding great authority. He did not verbally abuse anyone in his responses but was collected, respectful, carrying an air of authority about him.

This was Dumiso Dabengwa, ever calm, gentle and yet illuminating a regal authority without imposing it.

I grew to know him better after he pulled out of ZANU PF choosing to revive ZAPU and to also focus on what he said was Umdala  Nkomos unfinished agenda of completing the Zambezi project and the tomato  caning factories as well as other development projects.

One thing about Dr Dabengwa which made him great was the fact   that he was approachable, listened to advice but at the same time was willing to advice the younger generation.

On one occasion he summoned me to his office and narrated in a sad tone how the Zambezi Water project had been stalled by then President Robert Mugabe and some ministers from Matabeleland.

He explained that as the Matabeland Zambezi Water Project Trust they had developed a comprehensive plan to ensure that the project was self-sustaining and would not need external donor funding.

Instead they had applied for mining concessions which would enable them to self fund the project which he projected would employ over 500,000 people directly or indirectly through downstream and upstream agro industrial activities . “Mugabe  refused to sign “Dr Dabengwa exclaimed .
On one occasion though for the first time I saw the old man losing his temper.

It was a water conference hosted by Bulawayo Agenda and I was chairing session where he and the late water activist Arnold Payne were speaking. The two had mutual respect for each other but after some time the two almost had a fist-fight as the Black Russian barked “nxa kunjalo , ngangcono kuvuke inqindi“.

I was petrified at the prospect of the two men having a go at each other and in my mind I could almost see the Black Russian having a go at the session chair. I stood my ground as chairman and asked the two to respect the chair.

To my amazement the revered and feared Dabengwa stood up and apologized. I was so shocked because he was much older than me and there was no way such an old man that I revered from his days as a liberation icon could apologize to a mere emerging activist and civic leader.

But I realized that the man respected processes and institutions above personalities.

This was to manifest itself when sometime during the life of the inclusive government he excitedly summoned me to his office and said to me “Dumisani, I think my dream has been achieved “The government is taking over the project and they have secured funding .

This project is not about me but about the people of Matabeleland“. It does not matter who implements it. I was touched by the man’s magnanimity, humility and statesmanship.

Sadly of course this dream was deferred as the government hijacked the project but failed to implement it and the funds that were supposed to go towards the project were allegedly allocated to the Tokwe Mukosi Project .

The Black Russian continued to offer advice to civic leaders although a number were clearly not comfortable because of pre -conceived ideas they had of the old man.

He was clear that in civic issues he engaged civic leaders on a non-partisan development basis with his dream of the Zambezi water Project being his key priority followed by his passion for devolution of power.

In the days just after the November 2017 coup he continued to give strategic advice on issues of statecraft and civic military relations. His greatest disappointment was that a transitional government which should have been set up including various parties and technocrats never materialised as at the last minute ZANU PFs legendary greed led to the political abortion of this arrangement.

Overtures for Dabengwa to become a vice present continued for a while but this arrangement was only meant for political convenience as it was an individual and not institutional agreement. Dabengwa flatly refused because he was a man of principle.

It would be tragic if the Black Russian was not honoured practically and these are the ways he can be honoured :
Completion of the Zambezi Water project .
Return of all ZPRA properties .
Full implementation of devolution of power .
Comprehensive framework to address the Gukurahundi Massacres
Support for the Dumiso Dabengwa Foundation
A street in the Central Business District  must be named after the late icon .


Dumisani Nkomo is the Chief Executive Officer of Habakkuk Trust
He writes here in his personal capacity in response to ZAPU Publicity department’s call for perspectives and experiences on President DD to mark first anniversary of his death