On December 26, 1979, Josiah Tongogara died in a car accident. If you have never heard of Comrade Tongogara, the ZANLA Military Commander, think of him as Dzimbahwe’s Che Guevara – a liberation icon with streets named after across the country.
A mere six days after the Lancaster House Agreement was signed, the voice of Robert Mugabe conveyed “an extremely sad message” to “all the fighting people of Zimbabwe”. On the Voice of Zimbabwe radio station he announced Josiah Tongogara had died in a car accident. He was 41 years old.
The Boxing Day Interview
Outtakes from an inteview with Robert Mugabe while still exiled in Maputo, Mozambique dated 26 December 1979. Mr Mugabe speaks about the death of a rebel commander General Josiah Magama Tongogara, a major player in the ceasefire agreement, for the Patriotic Front.
Theories on death
Comrade Tongo’s death is shrouded in mystery because the sequence of events leading up to the accident have been recounted with inconsistencies leading some to suspect foul play.
A CIA intelligence briefing of 28 December 1979 said Tongogara was a potential political rival to Mugabe because of his .. ambition, popularity and decisive style. On the same day, the US embassy in Zambia reported: Almost no one in Lusaka accepts Mugabe’s assurance that Tongogara died accidentally. When the ambassador told the Soviet ambassador the news, the surprised Soviet immediately charged ‘inside job’.
Ian Smith also insisted in his memoirs that Tongogara’s “own people” killed him, and that he had disclosed at Lancaster House that Tongogara was under threat. “I made a point of discussing his death with our police commissioner and head of special branch, and both assured me that Tongogara had been assassinated,”
Smith wrote: A former Detective in the Law and Order Section of the, now defunct, BSA Police (now Zimbabwe Republic Police) saw photographs of Tongogara’s body. There were three wounds, consistent with gunshot wounds, to his upper torso. The undertaker’s statement was not a “formal” autopsy report and as such was dismissed by all but the senior politburo of ZANU. In spite of all these rumours, Mr. R. Silke, the pathologist for Mashfords Funeral Home in Zimbabwe, confirmed, in a television documentary in 1982 called “Tongo”, that this theory of gunshot wounds on Tongogara’s body, was false as he personally inspected the body. He confirmed that the injuries he found were consistent with road accident trauma.
Five More Things You Probably Didn’t Know About The Most Feared Man In Ian Smith’s Rhodesia
- Comrade Tongo was born in Shurugwi in 1938. He and his family lived on a farm owned by the parents of Ian Smith, Rhodesia’s last prime minister. This is where he first met Smith.
- When he couldn’t get a place for further education after Standard IV, he left for Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) where he studied bookkeeping and later worked for the Chainama Golf Club in 1961.
- When he suspected foul play in the death of his brother he left his job and became a militant nationalist.
- Tongogara was arrested, tried and acquitted in Zambia for the March 1975 murder of Herbet Chitepo.
- Tongogara was a “tough, clear-thinking man with positive ideas on political development. He greatly admired Patrice Lumumba and Mao-Tse-tung and there is little doubt that he is a committed Marxist. So intense is his political commitment that he carries a radio with him wherever he goes for fear of missing important news items from Peking and other Communist stations”.