Former Zipra commander Abraham Nkiwane dies of cancer aged 93

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BULAWAYO – Former ZIPRA commander Abraham Dumezweni Nkiwane, famed as one of the three freedom fighters to smuggle the first weapons of war into Southern Rhodesia – now Zimbabwe – to prosecute the liberation struggle, has died aged 93.The other two who sneaked in through Zambia together with the deceased after being drafted into the daring mission in 1962 are Misheck Velaphi Ncube and Kennias Mlalazi, according to historian Phathisa Nyathi.
Nkiwane succumbed to prostate cancer in the early hours of Tuesday at the United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) where he was admitted, his son Kennedy said.
“For the past six months, my father has been battling prostate cancer and at one time we had to take him to South Africa. Last week, his condition deteriorated and we had to take him to UBH where he was admitted but sadly, he could not make it and passed on this morning.
“As a family, we have lost a pillar and a mentor. He has worked hard not only for the family but for the nation through his contribution to the liberation struggle,” Kennedy told the Chronicle newspaper.
Zanu PF politburo member and fellow guerilla fighter Tshinga Dube paid his respects saying Zimbabwe had “lost one of its illustrious sons, a man who was dedicated, not a junior cadre in the struggle, a man who played a critical role to ensure the country’s liberation and unity.”
“Comrade Nkiwane was the first to bring weapons in 1964 [Nyathi says 1962 and that he was one of the three] for the armed struggle working together with Dumiso Dabengwa. I worked with him during the liberation struggle for many years,” Dube told ZimLive.
“He was Chief of Staff for personnel while I was Chief of Staff for Communication, Mphoko [former vice president Phelekezela] was Chief of Staff for logistics.”
Dube recalled how Nkiwane played an instrumental role in the ZAPU military wing, which he led to Tanzania for training in 1964.
“When Kaunda [Kenneth] won the 1964 Zambian elections, he told Joshua Nkomo that Kaunda was a man he could work with to free the country from colonial rule,” he said, adding that Nkiwane’s hero status was unquestionable.
“He definitely deserves the national hero status but I do not know what others will say. No doubt he is a national hero.”
According to a 2018 tribute by historian Nyathi, which was published in the Sunday News, Nkiwane “is best known for daring the heavens and throwing caution to the wind when he and colleagues smuggled the first arms of war into Southern Rhodesian in 1962 following the proscription of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu) in September 1962.
“Nkiwane was born in 1928 in Ntabazinduna and attended the Presbyterian Church’s David Livingstone Primary School before proceeding to Tegwane Mission [now Thekwane] after which he taught at Tjehanga School from which he was expelled along with Malikongwa and Mkandawire for their demand for justice in the manner the Methodist Church was running schools.
“In 1949 he was employed by the Bulawayo Municipality. He was engaged in the African Department under the directorship of Dr. Hugh Ashton. In 1954 when Comrade Nkiwane was reading towards the Bachelor of Commerce, he left for Northern Rhodesia [now Zambia] at the time of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland which had been inaugurated in 1953.
“Initially, he lived in Livingstone where he worked as stock controller in a company known as Rhodesia Mercantile Holdings, Northern Rhodesia. He worked for that company till 1960.
“By 1961 Comrade Nkiwane had joined the United National Independence Party (UNIP), Zambia’s nationalist party led by Dr. Kenneth Kaunda. Soon he began to work full time for the party and subsequently moved to Lusaka. Not so long after that Zapu leader Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo visited Zambia specifically to solicit political support from Kaunda.”
Nyathi added: “More specifically, Nkomo sought a safe route to East Africa in order to facilitate the movement of arms into Southern Rhodesia. Nkomo asked for the services of Comrade Nkiwane, now that the struggle for Zambia’s independence was to all intents and purposes a foregone conclusion.
“Comrade Nkiwane then relocated to Mbeya in Tanzania where he was in contact with Sikhwili Moyo who too was involved in the movement of arms between Tanzania and Zambia. Nkomo sourced arms of war which he took onto a flight from Cairo to Dar-es-Salaam.
“The weapons would finally find their way to Rhodesia. The person chosen for the risky mission to smuggle those history-making arms of war fell on the shoulders of none other than Comrade Nkiwane.
“Comrade Nkiwane, who by that time owned a Zephyr Zodiac car, was not to undertake the risky task alone. Misheck Velaphi Ncube and Kennias Mlalazi were also drafted into the team that was going to ship the weapons across the borders — between Tanzania and Zambia and finally between Zambia and Southern Rhodesia.

“Apparently, the Tanzanian government was involved in the transportation of the said weapons, comprising among others, Pepesha sub-machine guns and explosives that had seen service in World War II.
“In driving rain the Zephyr Zodiac rolled over the Victoria Falls Bridge during lunch hour when security was lax. The destination was Lupanda Native Purchase Area in Lupane where some SRANC cadres including Maurice Nyagumbo were restricted. Comrade Nkiwane’s father owned a plot at Lupanda, one of the Native Purchase Areas (NPAs) which were created through the Land Apportionment Act (1930).
“Prior plans had been made to facilitate the movement of arms from Lupanda onwards. A plan had been hatched through which Comrade Nkiwane showed a smoking pipe to his father, instructing him that whoever brought and showed him that particular pipe was authorised to collect the weapons.
“The trio then proceeded to Bulawayo to meet up with Findo Mpofu who lived in Bulawayo’s Mzilikazi Township. Mpofu was in the underground sabotage network that handled the weapons within Rhodesia. Measures had been instituted to avoid exposure if one person got caught.
“Comrade Nkiwane’s party did not stay long in the country. They did not pass through Lupanda lest suspicions were raised. As a result, the party, after a successful pioneering mission, drove straight out of the country and back to Zambia. These were the humble beginnings of the armed phase of the struggle for independence,” Nyathi wrote – ZIMLIVE

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