Major Oliver Zizinga, a bush war heroine and one of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) historicals, joined the 1981-85 guerilla war that ushered in the current Ugandan government. Zizinga (84), succumbed to COVID-19 yesterday morning at Medipal Hospital Kololo and she has been eulogized by top UPDF leaders as a fighter who espoused courage and immensely contributed to the liberation of her country.
A former aide to the current president Yoweri Museveni, Zizinga was among the few female combatants who joined the National Resistance Army guerilla outfit during its infancy stages. Other female heroes of the NRA bush war include Capt. Gertrude Njuba, Joe Mirembe, Lt. Gen Proscovia Nalweyiso and others.
In 1980, three of her children were killed by government soldiers (UNLA) an incident which prompted her to later join the NRA as a mobiliser doing clandestine work and other delicate undertakings surviving the firing squad on three separate occasions.
According to Capt. Gertrude Njuba another war heroine, the first time was when Zizinga left the bushes of Luwero on an errand in Kampala and her trip coincided with the death of Sam Magara, an NRA commander. The death of Magara shook the NRA High Command as rumor quickly spread implicating Zizinga and Museveni to conspiring in the death of Sam Magara. A special meeting of the National Resistance Council (NRC) convened to investigate the source of the rumor and have the accused (Museveni and Zizinga) explain themselves over the matter.
Luckily for Zizinga, it was later found out that the claims of a conspiracy to murder were baseless. But that was just the beginning as she was later to be implicated in a case of poisoning Museveni.
By late 1981, Zizinga was one of the three women on the National Resistance Council (NRC) but also in charge of the Chairman Museveni’s welfare in the bush. This task which involved preparing meals for Museveni, she took on together with Capt. Gertrude Njuba. However, this sensitive also task came with several challenges some of which were life-threatening.
According to Capt Njuba, another incident happened when Museveni developed stomach complications after eating a meal. His personal doctor Kiiza Besigye confirmed that the sickness was due to poisoning putting the president’s chef in target for firing squad. Earlier, Zizinga and Gertrude had been selected by the High Command to oversee the feeding of Museveni following rumors that the principal was a target of poisoning attack.
The two women were tasked to prepared meals for Museveni separate from other members contrary to group dining which was the case then. There was no other suspect other than the two in charge; Zizinga and Gertrude. The National Resistance Council was immediately summoned before Dr Bata was called in to conduct an independent medical report. The report confirmed negative for poison but due to Amoebiasis as the cause of the sickness. Zizinga and Njuba stayed awake to make sure Museveni took the medication until he recovered.
The third incident was when a suspicious Museveni found a speck of basil (Mujaaja) in a tea cup. At that time, allegations of witchcraft were rife within the NRA High Command which mainly composed of the guerilla top brass including among others; Yoweri Museveni, Eriya Kategaya, Sam Magara, Elly Tumwine, Fred Rwigyema, Salim Saleh, David Tinyefuza, Matayo Kyaligonza and Tadeo Kanyankole. The suspicion on witchcraft according to Mrs Njuba, was based on the ethnicity of the two women since they were all Baganda.
When Museveni fell sick after drinking the tea, the two women especially Zizinga who served the tea. The accusation was serious with Zizinga accused for attempting to take Museveni’s life. The speck was later confirmed to be harmless saving the woman’s life. Such was her pain at the accusation that she cried for three days.
Another incident according to Capt Njuba was when Zizinga lost a son who was killed during a clandestine operation against government. Gertrude says Zizinga sobbed uncontrollably which is punishable according to military discipline is a crime punishable with death. However, Museveni pleaded mercy for her and she was exonerated.
Zizinga left armed combat for Nairobi in 1984 to become a mobiliser of Ugandans in the diaspora and soliciting for arms from different countries. She later returned when the NRA captured power. She served in the Fifth Parliament (the NRC) and thereafter as a minister in a number of portfolios including head of the State House Land Department.
Capt. Gertrude Njuba says before Zizinga’s death, they two had made peace with Dr Besigye in relation to accusation of poisoning made against them. She acknowledges that the bush war period was full of challenges but after soul searching, they forgave Besigye. Gertrude eulogized Zizinga as a hardworking, courageous and patriotic citizen whose service cannot be forgotten.