The Vashandi Group was a group of young ZANLA guerilla fighters led by Wilfred Mhanda and Sam Geza who rebelled against ZANU in 1976 in a bid to take over the party political leadership. The rebellion was crushed by Josiah Tongogara who captured the group. The group was later handed over to the Mozambican government which detained it at Nampula until after independence. Vashandi is a shona term that means Workers.
The rebellion by the Vashandi Group was one of 2 main rebellions in ZANU in the 70s. The other being the Nhari Rebellion in which the participants were all killed in cold blood by Tongogara.
Rise of the Vashandi
The Vashandi Group rose in power in ZANLA during the imprisonment of the traditional leaders of ZANU by the Zambian government after the death of Herbert Chitepo. With Tongogara and other High Command leaders in jail, the young group of educated guerillas assumed control of the army training and refugee camps in Tanzania and Mozambique in 1975. The group held a Marxist-Leninist ideology and considered the old leadership as failures.
It was during their rise in power that the young Vashandi commanders compiled the The Mgagao Declaration which effectively ousted Ndabaningi Sithole as ZANU president, installing in his place, the next in line in the hierarchy of the party, Robert Mugabe. The Vashandi were to later attempt to oust Mugabe himself in the rebellion.
The Vashandi Group attracted large numbers of women guerillas. Some witnesses have said this was because women the leadership of the day regarded leaders such as Tongogara with "revulsion" for their abuse of women.
The Vashandi group culminated into the Zimbabwe People's Army (ZIPA) which considered itself both an army and a political movement.
ZIPA, under the leadership of Wilfred Mhanda initially refused to attend the Geneva Talks in 1976. They however attended after being convinced by then Mozambican President Samora Machel. However, after the conference, Mhanda announced that they were:
completely and unreservedly oppose the Kissinger proposals. We totally reject Kissinger’s vicious scheme in its entirety which is aiming at sabotaging the Zimbabwean struggle and simultaneously preserving Western interests in Zimbabwe … The United Kingdom is an avowed enemy of the Zimbabwe people, as evidenced by the role of the British government in the history of Zimbabwe.
Mhanda also made it clear that ZIPA owed no allegiance to any of the traditional nationalist parties or leaders. This declaration and the power ZIPA had under Wilfred Mhanda's leadership posed a serious threat to Tongogara and Mugabe's leadership of ZANLA and ZANU respectively.
After the failure of the Geneva Conference, the Vashandi Group arranged to meet Tongogara and his High Command in a bid to have dialogue about the future of the party and army. The Vashandi were not prepared to dialogue with Mugabe's political leadership but were ready to meet Tongogara whom Mhanda progressive because of his military record. The meeting between them and Tongogara was arranged to take place in Beira, Mozambique.
Tongogara on the other hand however was not prepared to dialogue with the self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninists. He regarded any allegiance to Marxism-Leninism as a form of rebellion against himself and against ZANU and ZANLA. Tongogara had therefore had the venue surrounded with troops personally loyal to him beforehand, and when the Vashandi arrived, they were promptly arrested bringing an end to the rebellion. It is believed Tongogara would have had the Vashandi executed if Robert Mugabe and Simon Muzenda hadn't intervened quickly to have them handed over to the Mozambican government instead.
The leaders of the rebellion spent the next five years in prison and in detention in Mozambique, only to be released at Zimbabwe's independence.
Other Members of the VaShandi
- Wadzanayi Mugadza
- Most of the Vashandi were in their twenties. Some of them were teenagers who had just left school.
- The Vashandi assiduously studied the works of Marx, Lenin, and Mao Tse Tung but they had little time for the ideology of the peasants, which was dominated by ancestor worship
and the power of the ancestral spirits, the midzimu.
- Fay Chung, Re-living the Second Chimurenga, Memories from the Liberation Struggle in Zimbabwe. Page: 127. Weaver Press, 2006. ISBN 91-710655-1-2.
- Fay Chung, Re-living the Second Chimurenga, Memories from the Liberation Struggle in Zimbabwe. Page:150. Weaver Press, 2006. ISBN 91-710655-1-2.