The man who helped Zanu re­lo­cate to Ma­puto


BORN in Mozam­bique in 1942, Mr Dave Popat­lal is an unas­sum­ing In­dian com­rade who has be­come part of the Zanu fam­ily. His par­ents mi­grated to Mozam­bique in 1911. Af­ter open­ing his busi­ness in Ma­puto around 1975, the Por­tuguese-ed­u­cated Mr Popat­lal by what he calls di­vine in­ter­ven­tion, bumped into the then Zanu sec­re­tary for fi­nance Cde Chrispen Man­dizvidza out­side his shop. Mr Man­dizvidza had been tasked by Zanu to look at how the party could re­lo­cate from Zam­bia to Mozam­bique.

How­ever, there was a big chal­lenge. Zanu wanted of­fice premises and ac­com­mo­da­tion for its lead­ers yet Cde Man­dizvidza didn’t know any­one in Ma­puto and didn’t have much money. Af­ter in­tro­duc­ing him­self to this In­dian stranger, a very close re­la­tion­ship de­vel­oped as Mr Popat­lal be­came the link be­tween Zanu and the Fre­limo-led gov­ern­ment of Mozam­bique. He or­gan­ised ac­com­mo­da­tion for most of the Zanu mem­bers of High Com­mand and Cen­tral Com­mit­tee.

This was a very risky task con­sid­er­ing that the Ian Smith regime had em­ployed all man­ner of dirty tricks on Zanu in Zam­bia. Mr Popat­lal had to make sure that he was safe and had to put in place mea­sures to guar­an­tee the safety of the mem­bers of the High Com­mand and Cen­tral Com­mit­tee.

In this in­ter­view with our Deputy Ed­i­tor, Mun­yaradzi Huni, Mr Popat­lal con­firms that in­deed he had to be very dis­creet in his oper­a­tions as “there was 100 per­cent ex­po­sure to be vic­timised for sup­port­ing Zanu.” This story about how Zanu re­lo­cated from Lusaka to Ma­puto has never been told be­fore in this graphic man­ner. Read on …

SM: Thank you so much Mr Popat­lal for your time. Now as we start, can you briefly tell us how you met Cde Chrispen Man­dizvidza and how things went from there?

Mr Popat­lal: I was for­tu­nate to meet one of the com­rades from the then Rhode­sia. I was stand­ing out­side my shop in Ma­puto on this day. This com­rade in­tro­duced him­self as Chrispen Man­dizvidza. He asked me whether I could speak English. Dur­ing those days, there were very few peo­ple in Mozam­bique who could speak English.

By this time, there wasn’t much in­ter­ac­tion be­tween my­self and the Mozam­bi­can gov­ern­ment or Fre­limo be­cause this was soon af­ter the In­de­pen­dence of Mozam­bique on 25 June 1975. When we opened our busi­ness that is when we started link­ing with Fre­limo of­fi­cials who were com­ing to Ma­puto. That friend­ship led to much more con­nec­tiv­ity with Fre­limo. We used to re­ceive high-rank­ing of­fi­cials in our shop. There were short­ages of clothes, food and ev­ery­thing. So Fre­limo de­cided to look for some­one who could as­sist them in sup­ply­ing the ba­sic clothes and so on. A very trust­wor­thy re­la­tion­ship de­vel­oped with Fre­limo.

So when Cde Chrispen Man­dizvidza con­tacted me, the re­la­tion­ship I had with Fre­limo made it easy for me to get author­ity from Fre­limo and the In­spec­tor of State and the Min­is­ter of De­fence then to in­ter­act and sup­port Zanu in all as­pects pos­si­ble.

MH: When you met Cde Man­dizvidza, what ex­actly did he say to you?

Mr Popat­lal: He said he had come to Mozam­bique with some com­rades to lib­er­ate Zim­babwe. He told me that Zanu was a lib­er­a­tion move­ment. He said he wanted to es­tab­lish the ad­min­is­tra­tion and all nec­es­sary pro­ce­dures so that Zanu could op­er­ate legally and prop­erly from Ma­puto. He told me that he didn’t know any­one and he didn’t have the knowl­edge of lo­gis­tics on how to do all this. He didn’t have houses for his Zanu of­fi­cials and he didn’t know how to go ac­quire the houses. He was the Zanu sec­re­tary for fi­nance then. Be­cause of the re­stric­tions ex­ist­ing then, the is­sue about se­cu­rity and safety of lib­er­a­tion move­ments was of para­mount im­por­tance. This led me to con­tact rel­e­vant au­thor­i­ties and got clear­ance to as­sist. From then on, the sky was the limit.

MH: When you got clear­ance from the Mozam­bi­can gov­ern­ment, what was your first task?

Mr Popat­lal: The first task was to as­sist them to open a bank ac­count to safe­guard their flow of fi­nances. The sec­ond was to set the ad­min­is­tra­tion, they needed of­fices and they needed houses for the top Zanu of­fi­cials. I started look­ing for strate­gi­cally lo­cated houses for mem­bers of the Zanu High Com­mand and mem­bers of Cen­tral Com­mit­tee. I did this with the author­ity given to me by the rel­e­vant gov­ern­ment and Fre­limo of­fi­cials. By this time, all houses had been na­tion­alised, all prop­er­ties had been na­tion­alised in Mozam­bique. I think this was around the end of 1976. So I went and spoke to se­nior of­fi­cials in the de­part­ment of hous­ing to fa­cil­i­tate the whole process. This is how I chose the houses that were ap­pro­pri­ate. Like I told you, many Por­tuguese peo­ple had left the coun­try and some of the houses were avail­able.

MH: This was ob­vi­ously not an easy ex­er­cise. How would you choose the houses?

Mr Popat­lal: I was as­sisted by of­fi­cials from the de­part­ment of hous­ing. They had a list of the houses. The houses were sit­u­ated in ar­eas that were re­served for fu­ture diplo­matic mis­sions and high-rank­ing of­fi­cials. The first houses were for mem­bers of the High Com­mand. The first house we got was for the sec­re­tary gen­eral the late VP Simon Muzenda. We also lo­cated premises for our com­rades who were in­jured in the strug­gle. These premises were ideal for their re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. I later got houses for the other of­fi­cials. The next phase was to make sure the houses were op­er­a­tional in terms of elec­tric­ity and wa­ter con­nec­tiv­ity. This was a very com­plex process be­cause we had to guar­an­tee that ev­ery­thing was work­ing prop­erly. I have to men­tion here that Fre­limo and the gov­ern­ment of Mozam­bique were very, very gen­er­ous. Prac­ti­cally, they didn’t charge any rentals. We made ar­range­ments that there was no need to pay for any­thing. This was as­sis­tance from the hous­ing de­part­ment.

MH: You told me ear­lier on that these Zanu com­rades wanted all this as­sis­tance but they didn’t have money?

Mr Popat­lal: Yes, they didn’t have much money. But later Zanu started get­ting money from a num­ber of donors and they were now pay­ing for wa­ter and elec­tric­ity ex­penses. When we started, I had to make sure that elec­tric­ity and wa­ter was in con­stant sup­ply even with­out any pay­ment. Be­sides this, I had my own car which I used to trans­port com­rades to and from var­i­ous places. I also gave Zanu ac­cess to my busi­ness fa­cil­i­ties when­ever they wanted.

MH: You took this huge re­spon­si­bil­ity but there were very high risks con­sid­er­ing what the Smith regime had done in Zam­bia and the bomb­ings of camps in Mozam­bique. Didn’t you fear for your life?

Mr Popat­lal: There was 100 per­cent ex­po­sure to be vic­timised for as­sist­ing Zanu, but I had to take lots and lots of pre­cau­tions. There was a lot of con­fi­den­tial­ity. Even the move­ment of com­rades into my busi­ness premises was done very dis­cretely or even at very odd hours so that no one would dis­cover what was go­ing on. The com­rades would come just like any ordinary per­son. We cre­ated a sys­tem to as­sist them with­out be­ing no­ticed.

MH: As a Mozam­bi­can why were you tak­ing such a risk?

Mr Popat­lal: I knew about the his­tory of Fre­limo and how they had got their his­tory. Also when I got in touch with the Fre­limo of­fi­cials, they told me of the sac­ri­fice that other coun­try had taken for Mozam­bique to be free. I ac­tu­ally felt hon­oured to be as­sist­ing Zanu. The other thing, my par­ents once lived in a con­cen­tra­tion camp, dur­ing the con­flict be­tween Por­tu­gal and In­dia and so I felt I should play my part in the free­dom and in­de­pen­dence of the peo­ple of Zim­babwe. I had a taste of poverty, a taste of re­stric­tions, a taste of racism and a taste of dis­crim­i­na­tion. So when the door and op­por­tu­nity came to me to as­sist, I nat­u­rally fell in love with Zanu.

I fell in love with Zanu be­cause the com­rades came to Mozam­bique bare­foot, some with slip­pers, walk­ing with shorts and shirts with short sleeves. That showed me their de­ter­mi­na­tion and I said to my­self, this is high time to as­sist. This was di­vine time for me to par­tic­i­pate with them in their strug­gle for lib­er­a­tion. MH: Where you mar­ried by this time? Mr Popat­lal: Yes, I was mar­ried. I was mar­ried to Jaishri who is still my lovely wife to­day. She was born in Malawi.

MH: You took this huge re­spon­si­bil­ity, putting your­self and your busi­ness at risk. What was your wife say­ing?

Mr Popat­lal: She was very, very sup­port­ive. Ex­tremely sup­port­ive up to now. When the com­rades vis­ited us at home or at the shop, she would wel­come them and even cook for them. By the way, we started our shop with a cap­i­tal of 13 shirts noth­ing else, we didn’t have money. The shop we took over had been aban­doned and it was in ru­ins. We had to ren­o­vate it day and night. There was no em­ploy­ment in Mozam­bique by this time. Mozam­bique was in chaos. There was a bit­ter war which had taken place in Ma­puto in Oc­to­ber 1974. There was sys­tem­atic de­struc­tion of prop­erty. Peo­ple were killed and mas­sa­cred. Fre­limo and the Por­tuguese gov­ern­ment had signed a peace agree­ment in Septem­ber 1974. In Oc­to­ber 1974, there was a re­bel­lion by Por­tuguese sol­diers. On their way out of Mozam­bique, they caused lots of dam­age. They killed peo­ple, civil­ians. That turned very nasty. So when we started this busi­ness with my wife, we didn’t have fac­to­ries or any­thing.

MH: Who are some of the Zanu lead­ers you or­gan­ised houses for?

Mr Popat­lal: Like I said one of the first houses was for Cde Muzenda and then an­other for the trans­port and lo­gis­tics de­part­ment. We also had to make sure that the houses had ba­sic fur­ni­ture like beds, mat­tresses, ta­bles — the ba­sics so that the com­rades could be com­fort­able. The of­fi­cials from the hous­ing de­part­ment of Mozam­bique would just show me the avail­able houses and I would choose which houses suited which com­rades and when. I made sure the houses were in rea­son­able con­di­tions and by the time the high-rank­ing Zanu of­fi­cials came, most of the houses were ready for occupation.

Among the first com­rades were Cdes Chrispen Man­dizvidza, Gen­eral Gava (Zvinavashe), Matemachani, Justin Chauke, Wil­liam Ndan­gana, Kumbi­rai Kan­gai who was head of all lo­gis­tics, Cde Cha­pungu (Chamupupuri), Gen­eral Ru­wodo, Josiah Ton­gog­ara, Edgar Tekere, Don Mu­vhuti and oth­ers. Around 1977, we had Cdes Ed­di­son Zvobgo who came and started the pub­lic­ity de­part­ment with Charles Ndlovu (Web­ster Shamu), then Richard Hove, Dy­dimus Mu­tasa, Dr Felix Muchemwa, Cde Mil­i­tant, Cde Justin Chauke and oth­ers. Af­ter Zanu’s first Cen­tral Com­mit­tee meet­ing in 1977, in Chi­moio, we also had com­rades like Ernest Rusu­nun­guko Kadun­gure who was now the sec­re­tary for fi­nance. Cde Chrispen Man­dizvidza had left. On the health side, there was Mrs Shamu­yarira and Mrs Getrude Mu­tasa. There was also Op­pah Muchin­guri, we used to call her Cde Chamu.

MH: By this time, was Pres­i­dent Mu­gabe al­ready in Ma­puto? Did you or­gan­ise a house for him also?

Mr Popat­lal: Pres­i­dent Mu­gabe came when most things were set­tled in Ma­puto. He was al­lo­cated the house by the pres­i­dency. Pres­i­dent Samora Machel is the one who al­lo­cated the house for Pres­i­dent Mu­gabe. How­ever, it was in the same zone with the other houses for the high-rank­ing Zanu of­fi­cials. This house was along D. Naria I Rua road. Re­mem­ber, Pres­i­dent Mu­gabe was teach­ing in Kil­i­mane. When he came he was given all the sup­port by Pres­i­dent Machel’s of­fice di­rectly.

MH: You were or­gan­is­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion for free­dom fight­ers and na­tion­al­ists. How was their dis­ci­pline?

Mr Popat­lal: It was fan­tas­tic. I would say 101 per­cent dis­ci­pline. I never saw any­one go­ing out to any restau­rant or pub­lic place. There were all fo­cused on the ob­jec­tives of the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle. I don’t have any sin­gle case of in­dis­ci­pline among these com­rades who came to Ma­puto. Very ex­em­plary, very hon­est, highly eth­i­cal and re­spect­ful. And lov­ing and car­ing. MH: How would you en­sure that they were safe? Mr Popat­lal: The strat­egy was not to be no­ticed. This meant that they had to min­gle humbly, no ex­trav­a­gant be­hav­iour, no funny clothes and no se­cu­rity. We didn’t want any se­cu­rity be­cause that would at­tract at­ten­tion of other peo­ple. Most of the time I was with these com­rades.

MH: When you were with these com­rades, what would you talk about?

Mr Popat­lal: We would not dis­cuss any sen­si­tive is­sues. The idea was to keep them happy, to mo­ti­vate them and keep them smil­ing. I en­cour­aged them to carry on fight­ing.

MH: These were com­rades from dif­fer­ent back­grounds. Did you buy any­one of them drinks? Whisky?

Mr Popat­lal: In my pres­ence they wouldn’t drink but what­ever they did at their homes, it wasn’t my busi­ness. This was their pri­vacy. We didn’t al­low strangers or any vis­i­tors to visit these com­rades. Not even for main­te­nance of the houses. I am the one who was pro­vid­ing ev­ery­thing to make sure the com­rades were safe. Even the chang­ing of bulbs in the houses, I was re­spon­si­ble. Dur­ing the night, very late in the night I would drive around the houses to see whether they were any sus­pi­cious ve­hi­cles and peo­ple loi­ter­ing around. MH: Where you be­ing paid for do­ing all this? Mr Popat­lal: (laughs) No, no, no. There was no salary. The is­sue of a salary never drove me to be a friend of Zanu. You saw the let­ter that was writ­ten to me in 1980 that I was now part of the Zanu fam­ily. My fam­ily was now Zanu. This was never an is­sue about be­ing em­ployed or get­ting a salary. This was in the con­text of hu­man­i­tar­i­an­ism, friend­ship, sol­i­dar­ity and com­rade­ship. When you have these four el­e­ments, there is no ma­te­rial is­sue. It was price­less. There was no price tag on ren­der­ing these ser­vices, es­pe­cially when we saw Fre­limo com­rades march­ing on the streets of Mozam­bique in Ma­puto.We felt very proud that one day Zim­bab­weans would also march in their streets with the same free­dom.

MH: Who are some of the com­rades you be­came very close to as you ren­dered this as­sis­tance?

Mr Popat­lal: I be­came very, very close to Cde Simon Muzenda, Ton­gog­ara, Solomon Mu­juru, Paradzai Zi­mondi, Gen­eral Gava, Kadun­gure, Mu­tasa, Petit Moshe, Topsy, Wil­liam Ndan­gana. In fact I was close to most of them be­cause I had to deal with all of them at some point.

MH: What about the set­ting up of their of­fices in Ma­puto? Where you also in­volved?

Mr Popat­lal: Yes, I worked with the de­part­ment of hous­ing in Mozam­bique. The gov­ern­ment al­lo­cated the of­fices at Pre­dio Isa­tex — Bairro da Coop. To­day it’s called Praca OMM. On the first floor we had of­fices of Zanu and on the sec­ond floor we had Zapu of­fices where the now VP Mphoko used to op­er­ate from. How­ever, there wasn’t much ac­tiv­ity at the Zapu of­fices. Zapu com­rades would just come in and out. At that time, I was ex­clu­sively deal­ing with Zanu be­cause they were the ones I had come into con­tact with.

MH: Be­sides Zanu and Zapu, there were of­fices for other lib­er­a­tion move­ments?

Mr Popat­lal: Yes, the Mozam­bi­can gov­ern­ment hosted quite a num­ber of lib­er­a­tion move­ments. There was a lib­er­a­tion party from East Ti­mor, MPLA from An­gola, ANC, PAC and oth­ers. They all op­er­ated un­der the laws of Mozam­bique. We had a de­part­ment un­der the Min­istry of De­fence called the Nu­cleo de Apoio Refu­gia­dos e Movi­men­tos de Lib­er­ta­cao whose di­rec­tor was Cde Fran­cisco Langa. This de­part­ment was cre­ated specif­i­cally to co­or­di­nate all oper­a­tions and ac­tiv­i­ties of lib­er­a­tion move­ments. To fa­cil­i­tate trav­el­ling and travel doc­u­ments and so on.

MH: You said you be­came quite close to some of these of­fi­cials from Zanu. How would you de­scribe Cde Ton­gog­ara?

Mr Popat­lal: He was di­vinely gifted, en­er­getic, ded­i­cated and devoted to the strug­gle. A per­son of ex­treme in­tegrity. An ex­treme hard worker. Very hu­man and very lov­ing. He used to grind his teeth some­times.

MH: From pic­tures he looks like some­one who was very tough? Those big red eyes?

Mr Popat­lal: Not even. He was di­vine. He was a won­der­ful per­son to work with. He was very close to all the com­rades. ◆ Next week, Mr Popat­lal con­tin­ues nar­rat­ing his fas­ci­nat­ing story ex­plain­ing the bond be­tween Zanu-PF and Fre­limo and the role that Mozam­bique played in the lib­er­a­tion of Zim­babwe. He will talk about the fa­tal ac­ci­dent that claimed one of the coun­try’s top com­man­ders, Cde Ton­gog­ara and how he was part of the team that brought the re­mains of Cde Tongo to Zim­babwe. Make sure you get your copy of The Sun­day Mail.

Mr Popat­lal re­sponds to ques­tions from The Sun­day Mail Deputy Ed­i­tor Mun­yaradzi Huni dur­ing the in­ter­view last week - Pic­tures by Ku­dak­washe Hunda

One of the let­ters of re­quests that was writ­ten by Cde Meya Urimbo to Mr Popat­lal

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