He was born in Bulilima District (also known as Plumtree) near Zimbabwe's border with Botswana. Mzila, as he is affectionately known, grew up in Thekwane village until he graduated as a teacher at Gwelo (now Gweru) Teacher's College (GTC). While at GTC Mzila became active in the youth league of Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) (led by Joshua Nkomo). After graduating, Mzila relocated to Bulawayo where he taught in several schools including Sobukhazi High School.
At the battle front
It is when he was at Sobukhazi that Mzila decided to cross the border and join the war front.
"He gave us a huge assignment that we spent the next two weeks on believing he was coming back", reckons one of his former students Believe Gaule (now Tsholotsho Senator and key player in the Constitution making process). “Together with my friends we set our eyes on the journey and as we crossed Ramakgoebana River into Botswana we agreed that we are cutting whatever relationship (we had) with Rhodesia because we will only come back to a new country Zimbabwe. As symbolism we tore our Rhodesian identity documents and buried them on the sands of Ramakgoebana"—Mzila
He attended military training in the Soviet Union, Cuba and Angola before returning to the battle front as a Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary (ZIPRA) platoon commander operating along the Zambia-Zimbabwe boundaries.
Demobilization and civilian life
At the end of the war in 1980, disappointed that ZANU and not ZAPU had assumed control, Mzila came back into the country, demobilised from the army and re-assumed civilian life. During operation Gukurahundi, Mzila was a teacher in rural Matebeleland mainly Fatima, Regina Mundi and St Paul's all in Lupane District. As a known ex-ZIPRA his life was in constant danger but as an ex-guerilla he knew how best to outsmart a conventional army. It is during these times that he developed an even stronger bond with rural peasants as he saw them being victimised on grounds of conscience and many a times ethnicity. Later, Mzila furthered his education and became a college lecturer. He lectured at Hillside Teacher's College, Gwanda ZINTEC (now Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Polytechnic) and United College of Education (UCE). Moses Mzila taught Sociology of Education at UCE and he was regarded by most students as the best lecturer. He was full of charisma and his lectures were interesting. It was during his time as a college lecturer that he helped reform and strengthen the College Lecturers Association of Zimbabwe (COLAZ). COLAZ became an affiliate of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) which was very influential to the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in 1999.
The 2000 elections
Mzila became part of a group of civil servants who braved the government and openly organised for the opposition. “Once a meeting was organized for us to meet students and lecturers at U.C.E, I went there together with others and we found the hall filled to capacity. We sat at the high table and waited for our hosts to introduce us. Long after order and calm was established, in came this visibly young man….. slim and tall. Suddenly the whole hall was alarmed and charmed and everyone went electric. He started a song to which everyone danced. At the end of the meeting he introduced himself to us. I later went to the office and the met the Vice President (the late Gibson Sibanda) and I said to him 'I met a young man at U.C.E and he strikes me as someone who can help us win seats and I understand he has been doing work also in Plumtree. All you have to do is organize as many meetings for him and I am sure he will sing himself into Parliament'. At that time l did not know the intellectual side of him which even shocked me when I learnt of it", narrates Professor Welshman Ncube (now MDC President and Government Minister). Accordingly Mzila contested the then Bulilimamangwe South Parliamentary seat in the February 2000 elections on an MDC ticket and won. He has retained that seat up to this date.
Mzila was to become an influential figure within the then united MDC. He was elected chairman for his home province of Matebeleland South, a position that made him a member of the party's National Executive Committee and National Council. His name soon became a brand of mass mobilisation to the extent that under his leadership, his party, both before and after the split, has always attained majority seats in his province. His trademark song 'Guerilla ilanga litshonile solalaphi' and Fidel Castro dress code soon became symbols of resistance and victory against state oppression in the Matebeleland South. At National level Mzila was appointed Secretary for International Relations in the party. This position however set him in various occasional clashes with Presidential Advisor on International Relations the late Professor Eliphas Mukonoweshuro. As early as 2004, intraparty violence showed up in the MDC. Legislators like Edwin Mushoriwa (now MDC Deputy President) and Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga (now MDC Secretary General and Government Minister) and other national leaders like Frank Chamunorwa (now MDC vice-chairman) and Shupikai Mandaza were all attacked by armed party youths. A commission of inquiry composed of Advocate H. Zhou, the late Senator Enna Chitsa and Mzila among others was appointed to investigate the causes and extent of the conflict. Renowned party activists like the late George Kawuzani, Bertha Chokururama and Tonderai Ndira among others were hauled before the Zhou Commission. Written, video and audio recordings were made and submitted to the united MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai (now Prime Minister of Zimbabwe). “After going through our findings Tsvangirai called and said "you deserve my respect. These kinds of confessions are what the CIO (Central Intelligence Organization) is looking for and had they put their hands on this you would have never been broke in your life", says Mzila explaining the integrity and secrecy with which they conducted the commission. "I however do not understand why he disregarded our recommendations", he adds. After the infamous 12 October 2005 MDC split Mzila went with the 'pro-Senate' group where he retained both positions of Matebeleland South Provincial chairman and National Secretary for International Relations. He held these two positions until January 2011 where Congress elected him to the powerful post of Deputy Secretary General.
In the whole of Zimbabwe, Mzila has become the natural face of the fight for truth, justice and reconciliation for the victims and perpetrators of Gukurahundi atrocities. This, he has achieved through coining consistent and persistent messages that have become a hallmark of his addresses be it in rallies, funerals, church functions, public meetings and even Parliament. His consistency has won him invitations to speak in various platforms in and outside Zimbabwe on one hand, while on the other subjecting him to attacks by political opponents and series of traps by the state ultimately leading to his arrest on 16 April 2011 in Lupane. It is also, inarguably, his consistency that made him natural successor to the late Gibson Sibanda as Minister of State in the Organ for National, Healing, Reconciliation and Integration (ONHRI).
On 25 February 2009, Mzila was sworn in as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was to become Deputy to ZANU PF's Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, a man he would later describe as 'a terrible work mate'. By then Mzila still held the position of International Relations Secretary in his party and his appointment as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs would have been a great match had he not been with his 'terrible workmate'. He however tried his best to create socio-cultural ties between rural Zimbabwean artists and Africa leading to Mokis Connection's (a rural Bulilima musical group) visit to Algeria.
After the death of Gibson Sibanda in August 2010, Mzila succeeded him as Minister of State in the Organ for National, Healing, Reconciliation and Integration. In other quasi-government bodies, Mzila serves as one of the six negotiators to the Global Political Agreement and a member of the management committee of the Committee of Parliament of the new Constitution (COPAC).
Arrests, harassments and detentions
On 16 April 2011, while driving to address a public meeting in Victoria Falls at the invitation of Uluntu Ciisi Trust, just after passing the grounds where Lupane Government complex is pegged he was stopped by a police road block. The junior officers advised him that their superiors at the camp had sent for him and he should pass by.
"I debated with myself on whether to pass by the station on my way to or from Victoria Falls but eventually said let me start there lest the police think I am running away and mount yet another roadblock and treat me like a fugitive ahead. As I took a turn by Lupane Service station I discovered that indeed there was another roadblock which, I presume, had I not turned would have been nasty. I instantly alerted my lawyers and my political colleagues and psyched myself up for the worst which was clearly inevitable"
The ex-combatant would then celebrate the country's 31st Independence and other weeks to follow behind bars and in a heavy search for justice. He was summarily accused of contravening the notorious Criminal Law (Codification) and Reform Act by attending a church prayer meeting at Silwane Primary School in Lupane and encouraging attendants to speak openly about their grievances. However the greatest and real crime is his leadership style. Soon after his appointment in October 2010, Mzila introduced a new people-centered approach to the task of ONHRI. He began to attend civic society meetings and church gatherings in rural areas encouraging victims of atrocities to speak openly about their problems and prescribe solutions thereof. This irked the state and a plethora of plots against him were made. These included denying him fuel to travel from Harare to Matebeleland, breaking into his office, his arrest on 16 April 2011, subsequent harassment and humiliation and draconian bail conditions which he later appealed against and won.
Mzila is no stranger to arrests and detentions. Prior to the 16 April arrest he had served a six-month sentence at the notorious Khami Maximum Prison. This sentence came in 2003 during the state's clamp down on MDC leaders accusing them of violence, treason, arson and other crimes. “I found myself in a small prison cell full of young people in their twenties and they looked at me with faces that I read to be saying 'what is this grey haired man looking for here?'. Others were however quick to notice who I was and we spent several nights singing songs of freedom. Oppressive and unforgettable as it was, this is an experience that rejuvenated my fighting spirit", he explains. While on bail following the 16 April arrest, Mzila was briefly detained together with Prof. Ncube, Misihairabwi-Mushonga, Paul Themba Nyathi, Youth Secretary General Discent Collins Bajila and sixteen other MDC leaders after attending a house meeting in Victoria Falls.