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Crossing points during Zimbabwe/ Rhodesia bush war

26 Apr 2020 at 12:13hrs | Views
WHAT do the following places share in common: DK (point along the Zambezi Valley), Kanyemba, Chirundu, Mlibizi, Kavira Forest, Chisuma? Some guerrillas may identify them as crossing points into Rhodesia during the struggle for independence. Of course, there was also a spot west of Victoria Falls, about 73 kilometres from Kazungula which was another crossing point.

When we talk about crossing points, there are two types to identify: crossing to get out of Rhodesia and then crossing points back into Rhodesia by trained cadres. There was a marked difference between the two over the years from 1962 to the end of the war in 1979.

Getting out of Rhodesia commenced very early in the 1960s. By 1962, some people were already sneaking out of the country to evade Rhodesian authorities who were descending on the Zapu Youth with a heavy hammer. At the same time, some of these youths were headed for sabotage training in friendly countries such as China, North Korea, Egypt, Ghana and Cuba.

This early period was during the days of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. The three countries had been brought together in 1953 to serve as a market largely for British manufactured goods in response to the Union of South Africa which, in 1948, had fallen into the hands of Afrikaners.

The early 1960s witnessed the start of the Sabotage Campaign (Zhanda, uMtshetshaphansi). Generally, the Rhodesian authorities were lax in terms of security screening at the borders with Zambia. Movement out of the country spiked following the decision in 1963, at the Cold Comfort Farm, to send people outside the country to initiate the armed struggle. These passed through Victoria Falls with some opting for the border post at Chirundu.

As a result, officially designated points served as both exit and entry points. The train was the chief mode of transport. The youth and men from the main wing crossed at Victoria Falls en route to Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) for destinations where they were going to undergo sabotage training.

The same port of entry was used by trained cadres some of whom carried their weapons on them —in steel trunks that were taken aboard the trains. Sometimes there were transported in trucks that were doing business in Livingstone and to cross back into Southern Rhodesia.

Luke Mhlanga who was based in Livingstone, trained in China in 1963, and among his duties was the facilitation of the movement of both weapons and cadres. Trucks such as those belonging to the furniture-making company Johnson and Fletcher were used to bring in the weapons. The use of trucks was not known to their owners, but only to drivers.

It is important at this juncture to point out that Bechuanaland, as Botswana was known then, was neither an exit nor entry point. That was going to come later but starting with that country as an exit at a time the Rhodesians had ramped security checks at the northern border exit and entry points. After Unilateral Declaration of Independence the border between Zambia and Rhodesia was closed. That did not prevent trained guerrillas coming in, other than that they were largely not using officially designated crossing points.

One important crossing point into Rhodesia in the early days was Feira. Kavalamanja on the Zambian side was close by. Those crossing there proceeded to Kanyemba. The Pyramid Detachment of 1968 in which Zapu's fighting wing and MK launched joint infiltration into Rhodesia, used Feira as a crossing point. The Zambezi River channel at the point is relatively wider and therefore less deep where the river flows into Mozambique.

The Pyramid Detachment was led by Moffat Hadebe who with his Group of Six are credited with firing the first shots of the liberation struggle at Zidube Ranch in September 1964. Feira was a crossing point that Rex Nhongo and colleagues used in their move to infiltrate the north-eastern part of Rhodesia in 1972. Nhongo and the likes of Robson Manyika, the Chief of Staff and effectively Deputy Commander of Zapu's armed wing, Badza and Nhari left Zapu to join Zanu following internal strife in the Party in 1971, a split precipitated by British agents.

These Zapu-trained guerrillas took with them military ideas that they had gleaned during their stay in Zapu. It turned out these ideas were not compatible with what was happening in Zanla at that juncture. The fallout led to the well-known Nhari rebellion which was ruthlessly crushed by Josiah Magama Tongogara. Both Nhari and Badza were eliminated.

Rex Nhongo (Solomon Mutusva, later Solomon Mujuru) knew about the Feira crossing points at the time he was serving under Zapu. He went to the same point which he used to get to the north-eastern part of Rhodesia, a move which marked the beginning of a new phase in Zanla's campaign in the war of liberation. Zapu was then using dinghies that the Soviets were supplying. It had been the initiative of Dumiso Dabengwa.

The use of dinghies marked departure from use of Tonga-crafted dugout canoes and rafts comprising empty drums and wooden platforms.

The latter had been used during the crossing of the 1968 Pyramid Detachment. Both arms and ammunition were sometimes swept down the swiftly flowing Zambezi River.

The northern Front (NF) with its three regions was the first to host crossings from Zambia to Rhodesia. Some of the crossing points used were the ones mentioned above. It was not until 1974 when the Southern Front (SF) was opened. By this time numbers of people leaving the country had spiked. The Rhodesians faced a more daunting task having to defend virtually the entire length of the borders with Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa and Botswana. Reserves and even women were being called up to support the Rhodesian army.

At the same time, the South African security forces had been sucked into the conflict, seeking to defend their country along the Zambezi River instead of leaving the Rhodesians to do it out alone. For them it made sense to fight along the Zambezi River instead of leaving it too late when the MK guerrillas were already infiltrating the country across the border with Rhodesia.

At the same time, Botswana was relatively safer as there were fewer British officers in the army, police and the Special Branch.

At that juncture, there was a shift to the south. Exit points were then located in the border between Rhodesia and Botswana. Several cadres who joined the struggle in its mature stage crossed into Botswana from Matabeleland South. As pointed out in an earlier article, buses belonging to Pelandaba Bus Services owned by Joseph Mtshumayeli Ngwenya and Suka Sihambe, operated by William Ngalapi Nyathi together with Shu-Shine Buses belonging to P Hall and Company, were being used to ferry people from urban centres, notably Bulawayo, and also from rural areas.

The southern part of Matabeleland South was settled by the Babirwa people whose relatives occupied the north-eastern part of Botswana which bordered Zimbabwe. There were regular visits then between the related peoples but living in different countries. Language was a facilitating common feature, although not always so for those coming from further north. Tafi Zibuya Moyo was also active in transporting people to the border.

Some people, and this time there was an increase in women and girls leaving to enlist for the struggle, went via Kezi and got to Beula (Bhewula) and Seula (Nsewula) and crossed into Botswana. Others proceeded from Kezi to Matholwa (Kafusi Manuka) and went past the Windmill and found their way across the Shashe River into Botswana.

Others opted for the Mankonkoni route which led them to Gwanda South but also ended up in Botswana. In fact, there were numerous crossing points with some more across the Ramokwebama River at places such as Mphoengs. These crossing points further to the north would see cadres going straight to Francistown via places such as Ramokwebana, Jakalasi and Tshesebe.

Those crossing from Matobo District and also Gwanda District proceeded to Mabolwe, Gogojango and then to chief town in the sub-district, Bobonong from which they were ferried in cars provided by Botswana to Selebi-Phikwe.

From Selebi-Phikwe they were taken in cars by Botswana officers and joined the Francistown-Gaborone road at Serule and proceeded to Francistown where airplanes flew them to Lusaka and then on to Nampundwe Transit Camp.

Even when the guerrillas in the Southern Front were active in recruitment, they were using the same routes. They, however, hid their weapons once they crossed into Botswana where they were not allowed to carry arms. In Botswana towns they were housed in prisons for their own security as Rhodesian agents were teeming particularly in Francistown. They, however, did not share the same premises with the prisoners.

To counter the use of the Southern Front by people crossing to join the struggle two police camps were established: Sun Yet Sen, close to the Shashane River and Tshelanyemba and David Camp at Kalanyoni. The latter was so named because of the sabotage activities of David "Sharpshoot" Mongwa Moyo's sabotage activities within the Semokwe District chaired by Peter Njini who worked with Bhebhe, Tayima Ncube and others. The border fences at that time were not there. What was cleared was a road running parallel to the border. All these measures failed to stem the tide of the escalating war of liberation.

Source - sundaynews
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