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LEST WE FORGET: The Zipra commander who lost his sight in combat

by Staff reporter
13 Aug 2017 at 13:09hrs | Views
PEOPLE from all walks of life will tomorrow converge on various places across the country to commemorate the Heroes Day, a day set aside to remember the sacrifices made by the gallant sons and daughters of this country in decolonising the country from a white racist regime.

For those who were in combat it is a day to look back and recall how they escaped death when they came face to face with the Rhodesian forces and also reminisce on the victories scored at the battle front.

While thousands of Zimbabweans would be filing to different centres to mark the Heroes Day, probably Jeffery Ndlovu whose pseudonym was Kenneth Murwiri would be groping around his house in a Bulawayo suburb trying to find his way around or listening to President Mugabe's speech, which he is set to deliver at the National Heroes' Acre in Harare this morning.

Ndlovu, the former Zipra adjutant-general and later on chief of technical engineering lost his sight in combat when he was hit by a landmine near the Zambezi River in 1979. For his credit Ndlovu never dropped his head after that life changing incident, true to the adage that disability does not mean inability. He finds his way around his house and yard effortlessly and also continues to work hard to sustain himself and his family. One only notices his disability when he or she gets closer to him as Ndlovu still looks physically fit and he keeps himself well. For our Lest We Forget Column, our Assistant Editor Mkhululi Sibanda (MS) spoke to Ndlovu who turned out to be a moving encyclopedia as he has the history and events of Zipra on his fingers. Today Ndlovu speaks about how he joined the armed struggle, his training, the Zapu internal problems of 1971 and the re-launch of the war after that crisis. Below are excerpts of the interview:

MS: Ndlovu or Kenny as some of your colleagues call you, people would love to find out about your upbringing. Please could you just give us your history briefly.

Ndlovu: I was born on 5 April 1948 at Entabeni Emnyama in Matobo District. The place was a farming area and that is where I started my primary schooling. The school where I did my sub-A was Matopos Salvation Army. Later on I attended Cyrene Mission which is also in Matobo District, St James Mission in Nyamandlovu which by then was a mixed school, but as you might be very much aware it is now a girls only boarding school. At St James, that is where I did my Standard four, five and six. After that I returned to Cyrene Mission for my secondary education and that was in 1966.

When I left Cyrene I went to live with my uncle in Tshabalala here in Bulawayo where I started looking for employment.

MS: Was it easy to get a job then?

Ndlovu: It was not, it took me time to land one and when finally I got it I was employed as a stores clerk by a construction company that specialised in the constructing swimming pools and that was June in 1969. It was at that company where my appreciation of political issues grew as I was working with a former ex-detainee, Naison Nyoni who kept on encouraging me to leave the country and join the armed struggle. Even before I met Nyoni I already had an interest in politics because of the events such as the Wankie Battle, which was a joint military operation by Zapu and ANC military wings. My uncle in Tshabalala also had a friend called Ncube who came from Lupane who used to talk about the presence of guerillas in his home area. In addition to that Ian Smith had also declared UDI and it was when I was still at school, but such behaviour by the Rhodesians emboldened our people to confront the regime.

MS: As for joining the armed struggle, when did you leave the country?

Ndlovu: I left the country in December 1969 for Botswana and I was on my own. In fact my workmate, Naison Nyoni whom I mentioned earlier had a bit of input in the journey to Francistown. He said after crossing into Botswana I was to keep on the road to my right, something which I did. Nyoni also advised me that when I got into Botswana I should report to the police. So when I got to Francistown I went to the police who kept me in their cells for three days after which I was sent to a United Nations camp where I found other Zimbabweans who were on their way to join the armed struggle in Zambia.

MS: Who were those people?

Ndlovu: There was now Retired Brigadier-General Abel Mazinyane, Dennis Matswaha, Sakupwanya and Roy Madlela. After me came in Clever Nyathi now a professor and formerly pro-vice-chancellor at Nust who was on a scholarship programme. Although he wanted to join the armed struggle the situation prevailed that he should go to Canada to continue with his studies. The people who were in charge there on our side were Herbert Maphosa and Elliot Moyo.

MS: How long did you stay in Francistown?

Ndlovu: The four guys that I found there, Mazinyane, Matswaha, Sakupwanya and Madlela left before Christmas and I followed after Christmas. This was to do with the availability of funds and air tickets I believe. Anyway, they had arrived in Francistown before me. I then found them in Zambia, almost two weeks later. Arrangements were then made for us to proceed for military training. When we left Zambia for Morogoro in Tanzania we were 11 and that was in January 1970. At Morogoro we were to team up with others to make us 80.

MS: Who were your instructors?

Ndlovu: The camp commander was Albert Nxele deputised by now Retired Brigadier-General Ambrose Mutinhiri who was the chief of staff.

Among the instructors from our side there were those who had trained in Algeria. Those who were trained in Algeria were Alfred Nikita (Rogers Mangena), Gordon Munyanyi (Tapson Komane), Elliot Masengo (Harold Chirenda) and Philip Maphosa (Jordan Gampu). Then the instructors who were trained in the Soviet Union there was Lameck Mafela (Lookout Masuku), Sam Mfakazi, Stanley Tsvarayi and Pondayi. To break down their duties, Mangena was in charge of military engineering and judo, Lookout taught us politics, Munyanyi was for combat tactics – guerilla warfare and conventional warfare, Chirenda came in with topography that involved issues like map reading, Pondayi was for armament, Mfakazi also came in for engineering, Tsvarayi (medical) and Jordan Gampu was for close combat that involved things like martial arts and bayonet charge. Later on Nxele left for Lusaka and Mutinhiri remained in charge.

MS: You have spoken about instructors, how was the training?

Ndlovu: As for the training it started with guerilla warfare, which took us four months to complete and we then did regular warfare which we completed after two months. We learnt a lot, things like how to attack isolated, static and mobile targets. We did artillery, learning how to use mortars like mortar 82mm, engineering which involved how to handle explosives, mining, which later turned out to be crucial as mine warfare was to play a major role during our operations. I can safely that mine warfare played a big role in our operations as it is the one that really brought the Rhodesian forces to their knees.

MS: Your training was in 1970 and then came the internal problems that afflicted Zapu. The internal problems have come to be known as the JZ Moyo-James Chikerema crisis. How were you affected by that?

Ndlovu: The crisis erupted at the headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia while we were at Morogoro in Tanzania. That issue had serious implications on the party and its forces like us. It meant that we ended up being redundant. We ended up doing nothing during that period and it sort of extended our military training as we could not go for deployment. Some of our colleagues left the struggle, some going to Froliz, which was led by Chikerema and George Nyandoro while others left for other places. I can tell you that among our group which had 80 recruits we also witnessed defections and if I am not wrong, the number dropped from 80 to about 65. As for the trained personnel, Zapu was left with just 20 guerillas to keep the fire burning.

MS: What really caused that crisis?

Ndlovu: Personally, I can't explain it. I was not on the ground, I was a recruit in Tanzania. It's also unfortunate that a majority of the people who were there have since passed on. I'm talking about JZ, Edward Ndlovu and T G Silundika. But as we speak I think the best people with the answers and can explain better are Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko, Dumiso Dabengwa and now Retired Colonel Thomas "Menu" Ngwenya. They were there on the ground and saw it first hand. However, towards the end of 1971, JZ Moyo came to visit us at Morogoro where we had remained with Lookout Masuku in charge deputised by Munyanyi. He said those who remained behind had shown that they were prepared to fight under Zapu for the liberation of Zimbabwe. It was then that a new strategy was conceived of taking those from the military to beef up the administration of the party. Zipra was then formed replacing what all along had been Zapu's military wing which had been called the Special Affairs Department. There was also the formation of the Revolutionary Council which was chaired by JZ, Dabengwa coming in as its secretary while TG Silundika was the secretary for information and publicity and Edward Ndlovu the organising secretary. Also in the executive was Jane Lungile Ngwenya. The command element of the army that is commanders from different sections as well as party representatives based in different countries were also in the Revolutionary Council.

MS: Now you are talking about the re-organised command element and the formation of Zipra, who were those people?

Ndlovu: Nikita Mangena became the commander but his rank was that of chief of staff as the rank of commander was reserved for the party President, Dr Joshua Nkomo who was in detention at that time. After Mangena was Lookout as political commissar, Munyanyi (security), John Dube (Charles Ngwenya) for operations, Report Mphoko (logistics) and Cephas Cele (personnel, training and recruitment).
MS: What about operations?

Ndlovu: A decision had been taken to re-launch the armed struggle, it then happened that 10 of us were smuggled from Tanzania, we were smuggled because we had not been given the mandate by the host country to carry out operations. From Tanzania we then assembled in Lusaka.

MS: You said you were smuggled, who were the other nine besides yourself?

Ndlovu: There was Munyanyi who was destined for the headquarters, Lemon Khumalo, Mazinyane who was to work under Munyanyi in the military intelligence department, Chibhoyi who was for reconnaissance and he worked with comrades like David Ndebele, Sikhosana and Ngwabi leading a section of six reconnaissance officers. We were first taken to Chakwenga transition camp where there were MK guys and 10 of our recruits who included people like Situlo Matiwaza, Cleopas Jubane, Mahango, Donald, Makanyanga and Mountain. I believe I spent four days at Chakwenga before I was moved to the HQ to assume the role of adjutant. When I got to Lusaka it meant that I had to discard my military attire as we now mingled with members of the public.

MS: Before you tell us about the role of adjutant, maybe let's start about operations. When were the operations re-launched?

Ndlovu: Ok. What happened was that a decision was made to resuscitate our operations. Remember we had about 20 trained comrades who had trained before us and had not left the armed struggle and had remained loyal to Zapu and its leader Dr Joshua Nkomo. So when the decision was made to resume operations, three comrades were sent for a sabotage mission in Rhodesia and that marked our resumption of the war. The three were Abel Mazinyane, Roger Ncube (Matshimini) and Jack Mpofu (Market Ndebele). That operation was important in that it was the first under the reconstituted Zipra. The three crossed the Zambezi River in March 1972 and mined a section of the railway line in areas near Matetsi. It was a very successful operation as the train derailed and in embarrassment the whites said baboons had placed stones on the rail track, but the incident shocked them. Zipra had announced its presence and we were ready for war.

-The interview continues next week with Ndlovu talking about the role mining played in the first Zipra operations, his role as an adjutant-general, the first casualties from the Zipra side, the intensification of the war and his redeployment to the military engineering department.

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