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Dyck: A legacy of war and soldier of fortune

ZIMBABWEAN military veteran Colonel Lionel Dyck — who had a dramatic career spanning about 30 years — died of cancer on Thursday in Cape Town, South Africa, marking the end of his controversial métier.



ZIMBABWEAN military veteran Colonel Lionel Dyck — who had a dramatic career spanning about 30 years — died of cancer on Thursday in Cape Town, South Africa, marking the end of his controversial métier.

After fighting with the Rhodesian forces against Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle freedom fighters, Dyck was ironically instrumental in helping the late president Robert Mugabe to suppress his fellow comrades, Zipra forces, when they clashed with his Zanla combatants in Bulawayo in 1980 and 1981.

His involvement in those historic events also saw him being part of the military lockdown in Matabeleland in 1982, a precursor to the Gukurahundi killings.

Although his relatives and friends deny that he was involved in the atrocities, he was there on the ground during the Matabeleland military lockdown.

Gukurahundi had phases: The military lockdown (1980/81); the killings (1983); the scorched earth policy (1984), urban violence and negotiations to end the bloody massacres.

After the Matabeleland assignment, Dyck was deployed to Mozambique to help fight Renamo rebels whose military outfit was established by Rhodesian intelligence, the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO).

Renamo was a CIO project established in 1976 to fight freedom fighters mainly in Mozambique, but it was later transferred to South Africa which then deployed it as an insurgent group in Mozambique.

After military service, Dyck established MineTech International, which grew to be one of the largest suppliers of demining, explosive ordnance disposal and specialised security dog providers on the globe.

When the Cabo Delgado Islamic insurgency erupted in October 2018, a number of private security companies, foreign governments and militaries become involved.

Russian security company Wagner Group, which has close ties to Moscow, was hired by Maputo to battle the insurgency alongside government forces, but it struggled to make progress.

An estimated 200 Wagner personnel left Mozambique in November 2019 after suffering heavy casualties at the hands of insurgents. Enter Dyck and his Dyck Advisory Group [DAG], a “private military company providing aerial support to Mozambique’s armed forces”.

Dag’s three-month contract with the Mozambican police was extended in July 2020, but ended on 6 April 2021.

Dyck had previous experience in operating in Mozambique in the 1980s.

After Independence in 1980, he had remained in the new joint Zimbabwe National Army, played a role during transition and became a commander of forces fighting Renamo, earning himself high-level contacts both in Frelimo and government.

He also had close links with President Emmerson Mnangagwa forged in the early years of Independence and Gukurahundi.

After the Mozambican civil war ended, he worked on demining and anti-poaching operations. Dyck had a colourful personal and military history; bloody works and good deeds all rolled in one.

His James Bond-style life history spans conscription in Rhodesia; dismissal from the army for a drunken accident; going to South Africa for school and becoming a teetotaller; returning to Rhodesia and fighting in the liberation struggle; Entumbane battles featuring Rhodesian forces; Zipra and Zanla; the military lockdown in Matabeleland in the run up to Gukurahundi; Five Brigade massacres; and combating jihadists in Mozambique.

The irony is that Renamo was formed by Rhodesians to destabilise Mozambique during Zimbabwe’s liberation war.

In 1980, it was handed over to apartheid South Africa, for the same mission. 

In-between the years, Dyck was in a global de-mining business and anti-poaching activities in South Africa in which he made millions.

Dyck had more than 30 years experience leading special forces in Zimbabwe, dealing with explosive disposal, security issues and animal conservation, as well as involvement in private military companies or private security company businesses.

Research by The NewsHawks reveals a dramatic and exhilarating story behind the late 80-year-old military veteran.

His life story can be written into one of the most fascinating books to be published on military adventures.

Research, including information corroborated by military sources, shows Dyck joined the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI), a division in the Rhodesian army, when he became eligible for compulsory conscription in the late 1950s.

However, he did not last long, after he was expelled for gross indiscipline.

“The story, as we know it, is that Lionel Dyck was an officer with RLI and one day he got drunk; rolled a Unimog (an all-wheel drive military truck) and killed a troopie,” a military source said. 

Then he returned to Rhodesia to rejoin the army in the 1960s, just in time for the beginning of a protracted liberation war which ended in 1980.

Dyck distinguished himself as a soldier and won several medals. After Independence in 1980, as Rhodesia transitioned into Zimbabwe, Dyck took command of the Zimbabwe parachute battalion, a mix of former RAR (Rhodesian African Rifles), Selous Scouts and other former adversaries from the Zanla and Zipra guerrilla armies, which were integrated to form the Zimbabwe National Army.

Dyck lived on the edge — until his death — and never shied away from controversy, as events were to later show.

In the book: The End of an Era? Robert Mugabe and a Conflicting Legacy, Dyck is described as a shrewd commander of the Zimbabwean paratroopers.

Initially after the war, Dyck was close to retired General Constantino Chiwenga, who at the start of Gukurahundi was commander of One Brigade Infantry Battalion in Bulawayo.

The late Colonel Lionel Dyck His paratroopers played a decisive role in containing the 1981 Entumbane battle between Zipra and Zanla which resulted in the death of more than 300 people.

His troops stopped Zipra at the National University of Science Technology towards Milton High School as it marched into Bulawayo after a series of fights in the camps with Zanla that threatened to plunge the country into a civil war.

Dyck, as an RAR commander, a white-dominated unit then fighting for the Mugabe government, destroyed Zipra personnel armoured carriers which were moving in from Essexvale (Esigodini) to take over Bulawayo.

For helping contain Zipra during the Entumbane battle from 8-12 February 1981, he was ironically given an award by Mugabe — one of the leaders of forces he had fought, together with other former Rhodesian soldiers, both black and white.

Mugabe was now in alliance with the Rhodesians to fight former liberation struggle comrades turned-new enemy: Zipra.

Over the years, Dyck became friends with Mnangagwa and senior Mugabe regime members.

Mnangagwa’s relationship with Dyck is captured in a 2008 Wikileaks cable in which they are described as business partners.

“Colonel Dyck started a lucrative mine-clearing company called MineTech, which today is owned by Exploration Logistics whose chairman is Alastair Morrison, thus cementing the ties between big business in Zimbabwe, British Intelligence and Organised Crime as the core value that the CIO rendered the Government of Britain, (Ian) Smith and Zimbabwe was shadowy business deals, sanctions busting and gun-running,” the cable said.

“This created a world class intelligence outfit with the sole aim of doing illegal deals and today Mnangagwa is the Minister of Defence, the de facto chief of the CIO and the only contender to run for President and he has made no secret of his ambitions.”

Dyck’s last years in the Zimbabwean army saw him leading paratroopers in a hard-fought campaign against Renamo rebels in Mozambique.

Tragically, two of his fighters Colonel Derek Flint Magama, who was Chiwenga’s deputy in Bulawayo during Gukurahundi, and Major Judgemore Cheuka died in a helicopter crash in Mozambique.

Renamo claimed it downed the helicopter, although official explanations were that it crashed due to engine failure.

Magama was notorious for torture and killings during Gukurahundi when he was based in Bulawayo, although his relatives deny that.

Yet witnesses say he was responsible for the gruesome killing of vocal Zapu MP Njini Ntuta.

Thus it came as no surprise when the Filipe Nyusi administration turned to Dyck for help at a time of need.

Dyck made his fortune in the de-mining business, getting lucrative state contracts in Zimbabwe, Angola, Kosovo, Mozambique and Kenya with MineTech.

He also got similar contracts in Bosnia, Iraq, Somalia and Lebanon. 

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