They will probably remember her mostly for her unforgettable quips at what was once her beloved political party Zanu PF.
During the long period of the bloody liberation war in what was then Rhodesia, she carried a gun on behalf of Zanla, that party’s military wing.
She was fairly young then, about 16-years-old. But so were many other female combatants, including a fictitious freedom fighter named Flame, the film of the same name made a few years ago, in an undisguised tribute to the women and girls who were active in the war against white oppression.
Dongo was among the women — most prominent among them, Teurai Ropa Nhongo (Mujuru) — who eventually became MPs from 1980. Dongo made it in 1990, but Mujuru is today the Vice-President of the republic.
Her husband, himself a guerilla and the former commander of the army, Rex Nhongo or Solomon Tapfumaneyi Mujuru, died recently in an inferno on his farm outside Harare.
Foul play was suspected. But he was buried at the Heroes Acre in Harare.
Yet since Dongo fell out with her party years ago, she may not rate burial at The Acre.
Her most celebrated episode was when, after being kicked out of the party, she lost her seat. But in a by-election in her constituency against a candidate of her former party, she lost.
She did not take the defeat lying down, but went to court — hammer and tongs. The court decided Zanu PF had played dirty tricks — she had proved it.
One of her famous jibes against her party was that most of the men in the party were as good as “Mugabe’s wives”: they would not challenge him for any of what she thought were his failures in the leadership of the party or the government.
Dongo did return to Parliament as an independent. Many of her former colleagues in Zanu PF respected her enough to doff their caps to her when they happened to meet her in or out of Parliament.
Eventually, she sort of gave up politics and went to the Unites States to study for a degree. She lives a fairly quiet life in Harare, but will occasionally speak out against this or that action of the government and her former party.
I doubt that she attended Mugabe’s lavish inauguration in Harare. Many other Zimbabweans did not attend — for the same reason. They believed there was something “dirty” in Mugabe’s victory.
We shall never know, will we? Morgan Tsvangirai’s decision not to pursue the matter was probably the most dignified way in which to end the farce. Many citizens, though, were miffed that Mugabe seemed to lack magnanimity in victory.
He was reported as saying Tsvangirai could “go hang”. He has said the same of the Western leaders for imposing sanctions on him and his minions.
For many of us in Zimbabwe that language is unworthy of a head of state. But there are those who insist that Mugabe often forgets he is not a guerilla leader in a bush war anymore.
Some have commented in the same vein on his reported comments on Nelson Mandela and how, after the ANC’s electoral victory, he accommodated the former architects of apartheid.
He also used some pretty rough language to describe his former colleague in the struggle, Edgar Tekere, when they faced off in the presidential election after their fallout.
But mostly, critics focus on Mugabe’s apparent habit to refuse to accommodate other people’s views — unless he can find a way to sabotage them, as he did with Tsvangirai.
His relationship with Enos Nkala, a founder-member of the original Zanu who died recently, was characterised by the same explosive uncertainties.
Once he had taken over the party from Ndabaningi Sithole, Mugabe’s style became authoritarian.
That is why many fear for the future of Zimbabwe. Unless old comrades from the old days prevail on him to focus on Zimbabwe, not on Mugabe, there could be much upheaval ahead.
- Bill Saidi is a writer based in Harare