ZANU/ZANLA—Political Commissar Former Air Marshal
The interview was held by Carl Fredrik Hallencreutz in Harare on 7 June 1996.
Carl Fredrik Hallencreutz: In your strategic role in the armed liberation struggle, when did you first come across the Nordic countries?
Josiah Tungamirai: The first time that I heard that Sweden was helping us was in 1971, during our training at the Mgagao camp in Tanzania. At that time, we were only recruits and we did not know much about where the liberation movement was getting its support from, with the exception of the OAU Liberation Committee, which, I think, then was the basic supplier of ammunition and humanitarian aid.
Later on, as we went on with our training and political education—adopting a socialist ideology—we were told by our instructors that the people who supported us were from the East, but also from some European countries. When we asked how we could get support from the capitalist countries, we were told that there were some progressive people in these countries who saw our struggle as a just cause and that they were there to help us from a humanitarian point of view. From the East we got training grounds, ammunition, military uniforms and all the military hardware. At times they also gave us some humanitarian assistance, but—as I said—we were told that it mostly came from progressive people within the capitalist countries. For example, the Americans gave us some clothing and from Britain we also got some clothing. However, the bulk of our clothes, food and transport came from the Nordic countries, especially from Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
Carl Fredrik Hallencreutz: Before you came to Tanzania, did you have any contacts with or information about the Nordic countries?
Josiah Tungamira: No. I come from the Masvingo area, but, unfortunately, I did not know much about the outside world. From 1965—after UDI— Rhodesia was closed by sanctions and we had very little literature about what was happening outside our borders. Even radio communication and news media were very restricted, so I did not know much about the Nordic countries. Of course, I knew from geography classes in school that there was a Denmark, a Norway and a Sweden, but not much about them.
Carl Fredrik Hallencreutz: You did not have any contacts with the Swedish missions in Mberengwa?
Josiah Tungamira: No. In my district the missionaries were from the Dutch Reformed Church and the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholics were mostly Bethlehem Fathers from Switzerland and Germany.
Carl Fredrik Hallencreutz: In your view, what was the motive behind the Nordic support to the liberation struggle?
Josiah Tungamira: I think that they just saw the Zimbabweans as being oppressed. I did not detect anything strange. They did not teach us their ideology and they did not tell us how good Sweden was, how good Denmark was or how good Norway was. They were simply there to give assistance to refugees from an oppressive country. That is how I very clearly understood it. That was different from our Eastern friends. They put in the guns and the ammunition and helped us with our uniforms, which was very important and vital for the liberation struggle, but besides that they also taught us their ideology. You could see that it was because of the Cold War. They had had no chance in the past—during the colonial days—to colonize us, but there was now a chance to do that by helping us with the liberation struggle.
Carl Fredrik Hallencreutz: Did you notice any difference between Sweden, being a neutral country, and Denmark and Norway, who were part of NATO?
Josiah Tungamira: I would not know. I was part of the military structures and our role was to receive what the party leadership brought us and distribute the goods to different camps. The people who would know better where our goods came from are people like Kumbirai Kangai, who was directly involved with that.
Carl Fredrik Hallencreutz: Sweden supported both the so-called ‘authentic six’ and ZANU, trying to adopt a non-partial attitude. How did you see the policy in that regard?
Josiah Tungamira: Well, I think that the people in Sweden who supplied us with humanitarian assistance were very clever. The ‘authentic six’ was not a creation of the six liberation movements. It
was a creation of the Soviet Union, but when Sweden started its support, they supported both the six and ZANU. I think that what they really had in mind was not the question of what party the people belonged to, but what pushed them out of Zimbabwe and into exile. They supported us as exiled people from Zimbabwe who were fighting for our liberation.
Carl Fredrik Hallencreutz: From Tanzania, did you move straight to Mozambique or did you pass via Zambia?
Josiah Tungamira: For some time I was in Zambia, but not for long. It was only a stepping stone to move into Zimbabwe. In May 1972, we were taken from Tanzania in a group of fifteen to reinforce a group of forty-five. The group leader was the now retired General Mujuru (Rex Nhongo) and I was his deputy, leading a group of fifteen fighters. Originally, we were supposed to come through Botswana as a sabotage group. Most of us had done what we called military engineering in sabotage. But when we reached Zambia, it was changed. The group of forty-five had already settled in Mozambique and it was calling for reinforcements. At that time we were ferrying war material from Zambia to Zimbabwe, but when the group asked for reinforcements the idea of sending us via Botswana was changed into sending us through Mozambique instead.
Carl Fredrik Hallencreutz: When you started operating from Mozambique, what sort of contacts did you then have with the Nordic countries?
Josiah Tungamira: The only contact that I had with the Nordic countries was through the humanitarian goods which were delivered to us by the party leadership. There was no direct contact. Through the Department of Transport and Welfare, the ZANU leadership looked for food, clothing and so forth, because our numbers were swelling. But it was our leadership that handled these questions and it was based in Lusaka from 1965 to 1974. General Mujuru and myself were considered pure military people. We had not yet entered politics, as we later did. We were also still very low in the command structures. We were not even members of the High Command, but just ordinary general staff members.
Carl Fredrik Hallencreutz: Did you experience any changes in the Nordic policy as the war went on?
Josiah Tungamira: I think that they maintained their policy of supplying the Zimbabwean refugees with food. In my mind, I do not think that they said: ‘We should support the people who fight’.
They said: ‘We are supporting the refugees’. I also think that that is why they managed to support us, because I do not think that they would have been able to continue if they had said that they were going to support the liberation movement straight out.
What I saw changing were the quantities of the supplies. They were increasing as our numbers were increasing. After the détente exercise—which almost brought the struggle to a standstill in 1974-75—and after the release of the leadership from the Zambian prisons and the reinforcement by the leadership from home, we established ourselves very well in Maputo and there was a big increase in supplies from the Nordic countries.
Carl Fredrik Hallencreutz: From a military perspective, how would you assess the effect of the Nordic support?
Josiah Tungamira: First and foremost, in the years from 1977 to 1979, the numbers of homeless from Zimbabwe increased greatly and at the end of the day we had over 40,000 refugees in Mozambique. At that time, we faced three major problems, namely, food, clothing and medicine. And here the Nordic countries helped us tremendously. Why do I say that it was a very big help? Because at that stage we were no longer recruiting from home, but from the refugee camps and if the refugees had not been fed, if they had not been clothed and if they had had no medical care, then our source of recruitment would have dried up, meaning that they would have died. Before 1977—when the leadership had not yet taken a grip of the refugee situation—a lot of this was taking place. We then had some camps which recorded an average of over twenty people dying each day due to lack of food. That is when the Nordic countries came in full force, giving us food, medicines and clothing. And that is also why the ZANU leadership never went to Sweden, Denmark or Norway saying: ‘Could you give us some guns?’ or ‘Could you give us some ammunition?’ We only got clothing, but as much as we wanted. We also got some medicines and food.
The importance of this assistance went even further. For example, in what we called the North-East—which is now Mashonaland Centre and part of Mashonaland East—there were areas where we had fought the war and everybody had gone into the bush. The cultivation of the land had come to a standstill, so we had to take food from Mozambique into Zimbabwe
to feed the ordinary people, the poor, the masses. We fed them and clothed them with the supplies that we had got from external sources like Sweden, Norway and Denmark.
Carl Fredrik Hallencreutz: Did you tell the soldiers and the local people where the humanitarian assistance came from?
Josiah Tungamira: Yes.
Carl Fredrik Hallencreutz: Did you also discuss the difference between the Nordic support and the support you got from the East?
Josiah Tungamira: Yes, we told them. Besides telling them, we also kept the labels and people would read and ask: ‘You say that Norway is a capitalist country and that Sweden is a capitalist country. Why then is this medicine coming from Norway and this medicine from Sweden?’ People would ask such questions. It educated the people in the rural areas where we were operating. We had to sit down and explain to them and—since we had adopted a socialist line—we would say that ‘we do not agree with their government line, but it is true that there are progressive people within their governments and they are the ones who are asking their governments to help us with humanitarian goods. We are getting our guns, ammunition and weapons from China, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary and so forth. They are helping us to liberate ourselves. So, the West is giving us medicines, transport, food and clothing, while the East is giving us arms and ammunition’. We had to explain that, because the people could not understand. They asked us if we were getting these goods from the Mozambican government and we said that Mozambique had given us shelter, but that the clothing mostly came from countries overseas.
Carl Fredrik Hallencreutz: After the Lancaster House Agreement, how did you see the Nordic support?
Josiah Tungamira: Actually, I cannot comment much on that, because after the Lancaster House Agreement there was a total demarcation between the armed forces and the party and we were concentrating on the armed forces. We were preparing the integration of the armed forces into one force.
Carl Fredrik Hallencreutz: After independence, you became a Major-General and then Air Marshal, forming part of the leadership of the Zimbabwean National Defence Force. Of course, Zimbabwe also became involved in the continued regional liberation struggle. Did you during this period have any contacts with the Nordic countries?
Josiah Tungamira: No, I did not. After independence I concentrated on the defence force and it did not deal directly with what was happening in the government. Also, we did not see what Mozambique had experienced. We received some refugees in Zimbabwe and they were handled by the Ministry of Social Welfare, but their numbers were comparatively small. By the time we got our independence, there were moves towards a democratic change in Southern Africa and there was no major flow of refugees from South Africa or Namibia into Zimbabwe. There was very little of that and we never had major refugee camps, except for the camps for people coming from Mozambique because of the civil strife in that country. We had more refugees from Mozambique than from Namibia and South Africa.
Carl Fredrik Hallencreutz: On the basis of the relationship with the Nordic countries during the liberation struggle, what role would you like to see them play in Zimbabwe today?
Josiah Tungamira: Well, what I expected on our part after independence was to call upon the countries— both from the East and the West—who supported us during the course of our armed liberation struggle to come to Zimbabwe and say to them: ‘Look, here we are with our independence which you have supported in so many ways. We want to sustain it. Please, come and invest, so that you can see the fruits of what you have supported’. On the part of the countries which supported us, I also think that it would be wise to come and say: ‘Look, we have established an embassy. You are now independent and we are no longer supporting you as a liberation movement. We are supporting you as an independent country and the support we are pushing for is in the form of investments’.
I am very worried by the fact that after independence you could see Germany, the United States and Britain entering in full force. They are now playing major roles compared to the countries which supported us until independence. I am very worried about that. They were on the opposite side years ago and now they are on our side, while the countries that supported us from day one are not seen to be in the forefront, helping us to build our economy and to establish ourselves as an independent state.