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'We had informers within the Rhodesian security services'

17 Nov 2019 at 05:24hrs | Views
WE continue our interview with Tapson Ncube pseudonym Makhula Thebe who in the past instalments has spoken about how dissenting voices were treated within the Zipra ranks.

Viewed as a rebel, Ncube found himself in trouble with the High Command and was then thrown into detention at the Freedom Camp (FC) in Zambia in 1977. He had been chosen by more than 300 guerillas at CGT2 Camp to be their representative at the Conference of Militants which was addressed by Zapu leader, Dr Joshua Nkomo. In today's interview with our Assistant Editor Mkhululi Sibanda (MS) Ncube picks up the conversation with his arrival in Lupane where he was deployed for operations.   

MS: Take us through what happened after recovering your weapon.

Ncube: I need to go back a little. During the battle the Rhodesians managed to capture our heavy weapons, the Gun-75 and mortar 60. So we were left with AKs, RPK, the three bazookas and three dectarov, also known as a groonov. In terms of ammunition we were still fine although I had been given 300 loose bullets while others got a sealed kashar each. That was beyond my control as it was the order of the High Command.

MS: So who ordered that you can get only 300 loose bullets, what is it the Chief of Operations, Jevan Maseko as you mentioned that he is the one who presided over your  deployment?

Ncube: I can't blame Tshangane (Maseko) for that. What actually happened is that Tshangane drove his Land Rover ahead of us to DK where the crossing point was while us the troops were in a much bigger truck, those Zipra vehicles. Tshangane left after satisfying himself that things were in order and in my case I don't blame him for anything. I shoulder the blame on the logistics guy, whose name I can't remember but comrades called him by his nickname, Mbhunu. Those guys were following instructions. He is the one who gave me the loose bullets numbering 300, so to me Tshangane had nothing personal against me, but some of his colleagues in the High Command had something to do with my treatment. Then coming to your question after arriving at Mzola and meeting my old friend, Sandlana Mafutha who was one of the field commanders at the front, it was decided that we be placed in units which were operating in the area until a GP (Gathering Point) has been called to distribute us. The 60 of us, the newly arrivals were then given temporary deployment awaiting the GP.

MS: Then what became of you?

Ncube: When the GP was finally called after seven days that is when we met all the guerillas, guerillas were excited to be re-united with people they had trained with, those that they had been at the front. They had got information that so and so had arrived. We greeted each other and the commanders took us through the situation that was obtaining on the ground. Then the time to be fitted into units came and  I was placed under the command of Mackenzie. All the guerillas were from Lupane but they spread their operations to areas under Chiefs Sikhobokhobo, Sivalo and Madliwa, all in Nkayi. They even reached Kwekwe.

MS: So what was Mackenzie in that operational area?

Ncube: Mackenzie was a platoon commander, so I was placed in his platoon. When we arrived his platoon had 27 comrades and when we were added the strength rose to either 37 or 39 I think. But the platoon during operations was to split into sections which had their own commanders. After being fitted into different units the commanders then took their troops to give orders. Immediately after being deployed Mackenzie changed his platoon structure. In his address to the platoon he said he had identified Makhula Thebe, referring to me to take over as the platoon commissar, effectively making me his deputy as in the Zipra structure the commissar was the second in command.  He went on to say "Makhula as the commissar and intelligence officer, we are giving you 15 names of sell-outs to execute." However, he said before we could assassinate those people there was a need to investigate and screen those villagers who were selling out the struggle. He emphasised that I find out the real agents of the enemy from both Nkayi and Lupane. He then handed me the list of names  of those people and at that time it was January 1978. Those names had been listed down by the guerillas, acting on information they were getting from our contacts in the villages.

MS: At that point you were preparing to kill the villagers.

Ncube: No, no. When I was given that order, I had to study the list and prepare to make investigations. I had to investigate first as there was a danger of killing innocent people just because of rivalry and jealousy within  communities as some villagers lied to the comrades about the conduct of  fellow villagers to the freedom fighters. I studied that list for three weeks.

MS: While looking into that list where were you?

Ncube: From the GP we moved from Lusulu where the GP had been held. That Lusulu is not the one in Binga but it is in Lupane, west of Dimimbili. It was decided by the commanders that our platoon should concentrate on the border between Lupane and Nkayi districts. However, our area of operation was more in Nkayi than Lupane. Our platoon area of operation started from Chief Sivalo Mahlangu moving to Gwelutshena, Chief Madliwa area eNesigwe, ikhwela isiya kubo Gabambi, Matema. After leaving the GP and travelling for quite a distance Mackenzie split the unit into sections, but said as for me I will move with him. We had our section that escorted the platoon commander.  The sections were given the areas to cover and Mackenzie also set a date for our GP for our platoon.

MS: Tell us about your first battle.

Ncube: I did not stay long to have my first contact with the Rhodesian forces and that battle was at Nesigwe near Sigadula. The enemy forces who were travelling in three trucks were approaching Gwelo River and that is where we laid our ambush. We fired at the trucks and those enemy forces were coming from harassing villagers at Gwelutshena. It was my first time to engage the enemy and finding myself shooting at the Rhodesians gave me a lot of satisfaction, more than seeing the enemy forces fleeing. We did not do much damage on the enemy forces, especially their trucks as they all sped away. Still we were happy with the way we had harassed them. It was a surprise attack on the part of the Rhodesian forces.

MS: What sort of weapons did you use in that attack?

Ncube: We had an RPD that was in the hands of Castro and in addition to that we also had a bazooka, a groonov and a launcher while the rest of the unit were armed with AK-47 rifles. We had planned well for the ambush but we were disturbed by a herd of cattle that just came from nowhere and crossed the road close to where we were. However, still the fire was massive and the enemy forces could not withstand that. It was not clear whether we injured some of the enemy forces as they sped off in their vehicles. In a guerilla war situation, it was mission accomplished because as guerillas the trick is to keep the enemy guessing and unsettled. We wanted the Rhodesians to feel unsafe all the time so that they could not roam willy-nilly. We were happy when they ran away. After that we regrouped at Mdengelele, immediately after that we split into smaller groups of six. A date for GP was then put.

MS: Let's go back, tell us about what happened to the 15 villagers you were given to deal with.

Ncube: I had to be thorough in my investigations, tactically talking to villagers to get to the bottom of the matter. The villagers gave good information and I had to use my own judgment as well, of course I was working closely with other comrades. I then discovered that from the list of 15, 10 of them were innocent. So at the end of the day I gave the go-ahead that five villagers, I mean the informers should be killed. Indeed we had to assassinate them, we were in war situation, there was no room for people who were working against the revolution. We raided them at their homesteads and they were executed.

MS: In killing those people did you have concrete evidence against them?

Ncube: Yes, yes it was there. As Zipra in our operations we also leaned on Zapu structures. So the sell-outs among the villagers had communication with the Rhodesian security forces either in Lupane or Nkayi depending on the district they came from. They would go to the Rhodesian offices nicodemously, little did they know that among some of the security people within the Rhodesian ranks, especially among the police officers were Zapu people, people who supported the struggle. Those people gave us invaluable intelligence, they were part of our intelligence network. There were also other people who were working at the Rhodesian government installations in camps for example and other offices as general hands, so they would see this person (sell-out) coming to report about the activities of the guerillas. The sell-outs were foolish in the sense that they thought that everybody who worked for the Rhodesian government supported the Smith regime, no, that was not the case. It was strategic to have people working for the Rhodesian government as that benefited the guerillas from both Zipra and Zanla across the country.

– To be continued next week

Source - sundaynews
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