E.D. Mnangagwa was born into a rural family that lived on the land and made a living from farming; and into the chieftainship clan of Chief Mapanzure of Zvishavane in Zimbabwe (then called Shabani in Southern Rhodesia). His father was Mafidi, the son of Kushanduka, who was the son of Mnangagwa, the son of Mapanzure, who was the son of Chief Chivi, Zungairi.

His grandfather, Mubengo Kushanduka, fought in the First Chimurenga in the 1890s. It was normal practice and prestige at that time to send a young son to serve at the court of the Ndebele King, and so he had been sent to stay at the court of LoBengula. He grew up and became one of the soldiers at court, and travelled with them all the way north across the Zambezi, learning the Tongo language which he later taught to his grandson. At the Shangani battle in 1893, he was in the Machechi brigade stationed at Gwanda, returning home in the late 1890s to his father’s court, which was Mapanzure, and himself becoming Chief much later, in the 1940s. He returned home with his gun, which he fired three times on the birth of his eldest grandson, Dambudzo, on 15 September 1942, when the cattle were in the fields eating the maize stocks, after the harvest.

His father Mafidi and mother Murayi had a family of 10 children, of which he is the third born and eldest son. His living siblings are Emmah, Daina, Stephen and Irene. The other siblings who are now late, are Georgina, David, Albert and two other brothers who were twins. Mafidi had two wives, having inherited Murayi’s sister on the death of her husband, and the total number of children was 18, with nine brothers and nine sisters. This is fewer than the grandfather, who had six wives and 32 children.

He grew up as a normal boy in the village, herding cattle, but he was allowed to go to the Chief’s court, where the Chief was seated on a stool, and the young boy could stand at his side listening to cases being tried in the Mapanzure court. In this way, the traditional system facilitated the early education and maturing of future leadership through interaction with, and learning from, the elders. He was fascinated by the proceedings of the court, and by the stories of his grandfather telling his experiences as a soldier in the Ndebele brigade. His grandfather, Kushanduka, who was the biggest influence on his young life and formative years, lived to an age well past 100 and passed away in Zambia in the late 1950s.

By the late 1940s, his father Mafidi, who was the eldest son, was acting Chief for the old man when a white Land Development Officer (LDO) arrived at the homestead to de-stock cattle and reduce the numbers. The neighbour was an old woman who had five cattle, and they reduced her cattle to three. In response, the Chief’s advisors, machinda, in the Chief’s court, removed one wheel from the land rover of the LDO, saying that if the old woman could survive with three cattle, then the development officer must drive back to the district commissioner’s office on three wheels!

When the acting chief, Mafidi, was arrested, the villagers went round to the District Commissioner’s office in Shabani carrying spears and axes. The DC agreed that, no, we don’t want to fight you or put you in jail, but you can leave and go to Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). This was before the Central African Federation. Mafidi went in 1952 and settled in Mumbwa where a relative was living at Chief Shakumbila, Shugakatuwalushe village, Mumbwa. Dambudzo and his sisters were collected to join them in 1954, travelling by train from Somabula via Bulawayo to Hwange, Victoria Falls and then Livingstone and Lusaka in Zambia, while the younger boys remained at home. This is the background against which the young Mnangagwa, with his parents and many of his family, left Southern Rhodesia for Zambia.

Chief Shakumbila told the headman Shugakatuwalushe that this man Mafidi Mnangagwa was the son of a Chief, and a Chief in his own right; and he gave instructions for him to be given as much land as he needed. So, a year later, they returned home to collect their cattle, about forty head, put them on the train and took them back to Zambia. Within three years, many uncles, aunts and cousins followed, until eventually there was a Mnangagwa village in Mumbwa which grew very big, and an honorary chieftainship. Many returned after Independence in 1980, and Mafidi’s eldest son, Dambudzo, sent three lorries to Mumbwa to collect his immediate family and their belongings, and brought them back home to independent Zimbabwe, which the family had fought and died for.

Young Dambudzo, being the eldest, had already started school at Lundi School in his home area, later completing Standard 4, 5 and 6 at Mumbwa Boarding School in Zambia, before going on to Kafue Secondary School and Hodgson Technical College, and later the University of Zambia. The Lundi Primary School is still there, now joined by the Dambudzo Day Secondary School, built by the Mapanzure people near to where he was born and named in honour of Dambudzo and his relatives who died in the liberation war that was fought to regain land and independence.

In the closing days of the war, in late 1979, when he was attending the Lancaster House negotiations in London, the Rhodesian army raided the Mapanzure village and massacred 23 civilians, including 16 Mnangagwa family relatives. The Dambudzo school is built on the site where they were killed, some two kilometres from his birthplace.