Cuba’s Secret Plan to Split Zimbabwe

Josiah Tongogara… A Zimbabwean guerilla leader who remained true to his cause

In the middle of May, 1979 Raul Valdez Vivo set out  from Havana on a mission which almost turned Southern Africa into world’s number one international flashpoint.

Vivo, one of the top men in the Cuban Communist Party was in charge of foreign affairs and his aim was to persuade the African nationalists fighting in Rhodesia and the leaders of Front Line States-Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique and Botswana –to agree to the setting up of a “Government Of Independent Zimbabwe” on soil then held by the guerrilla movements over the border from Mozambique.

At that moment, the guerrilla war was it height .Bishop Muzorewa had just won an election under Ian Smith’s so called ‘internal settlement’ and Britain, in the first day of the Thatcher Government  was making noises about legitimising his regime.

The Cubans argued once the Muzorewa Government was sworn in on June 1, several Western  governments might recognised it. So a few days before Vivo went to Mozambique to see President Samora  Machel and Robert Mugabe, then based in Maputo as joint leader  with Joshua Nkomo of the Patriotic Front.Vivo told Machel : “ We should act to forestall the internal settlement.

The story is told in a book published on the birth of Zimbabwe- “The Struggle for Zimbabwe” by journalists David Martin and Phyllis Johnson (Farber and Farber).It was the first book to be published  since Zimbabwe independence  that traces what exactly happened  on the African nationalist side during the long years of the Rhodesian war.

Vivo’s plan never came off. The frontline states  had  for long  been trying  to bring together the quarrelling  factions of the  Zimbabwe  guerrilla movement and in particular to coordinate  the main structure of Nkomo’s ZIPRA army based  in Zambia and Mugabe’s ZANLA based in Mozambique. It had been a long  and frustrating exercise and right till the end  of the war  they never were coordinated.

Realising through  bitter experience that Zanu would never accept Nkomo and Zapu would never accept Mugabe as overall leader , the Frontline States had  recently suggested a new organisation with Nkomo as chairman and Mugabe  as secretary  general , but  with Mugabe  in charge of security and defence.

In Dar-es-salam Nkomo had  had thrust the Frontline states  document away across the table. Vivo’s plan-based on the Frontline States  earlier accepted formula –was that  Nkomo and Mugabe  should be taken into a guerrilla –controlled  area of Zimbabwe before Muzorewa was sworn in and there announce the formation of a nationalist  government Nkomo would be  the leader  and Mugabe in charge of defence.

Journalists would be taken in to record the ceremony. The Cubans believed some 60 socialists countries would then recognise this as the legitimate government  of Zimbabwe and the West  would be put on the spot.

Vivo said President Mengistu of Ethiopia, President  Neto of Angola and President Kaunda of  Zambia  all supported  the plan-and  so did Nkomo. He  asked Machel  to call a summit with Menguistu present to  announce  recognition of the government .

In his talks  with VIVO, Mugabe was cautious .He did not give an answer  but said instead  that he would discuss it with his colleagues .Mugabe recalling the meeting  after independence , said they had to  consider what it would mean in terms of the struggle  and in terms  of unity between themselves.

He said: “And so we went to discuss it and we felt it was a non-starter…. Fortunately for us Joshua turned it down. I wonder why …  was it because the exercise was to be from Mozambique and in our liberated Zones?”

Vivo’s mission collapsed. Nkomo refused to go to Machel’s summit, so Neto said he would not go. Ten minutes before Kaunda and Nyerere were due at Maputo airport Vivo sent a message to Machel saying there was no point in his returning to Maputo.

Machel told the Cuban ambassador: “Am I supposed to be the fool in the middle of all this “. Tell Fidel Castrol I ‘m extremely angry “ . At Maputo airport the Russian ambassador handed Machel a massage from Mengistu saying he was too busy to come.

The mission was a fiasco for Vivo. He was sacked from his post in the Cuban Communist Party.

As authors Martin and Johnson point out , “ No  countries recognised the Muzorewa Zimbabwe-Rhodesia authority”. No country recognised the new government and in Britain the Thatcher government began to reassess its position in light of the then looming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Lusaka two months later.

At Lusaka was born Commonwealth plan, the Lancaster House Conference and the peace that was to come only six months later.

The book should be  an important source for students of the politics of the guerrilla war .What the Vivo episode shows is how anxious  were the Zimbabwean nationalist movements , even after many years of hard struggle  and frustration to avoid  entanglement in plans  that would turn Southern Africa into another  Middle East or Vietnam.

Robert Mugabe and Millitary leaders like Josiah Tongogara who died in a car accident before the ceasefire and about whose role the book reveal, remained their own men.-a fact that has been amply proved since  Mugabe took office  as Prime Minister .