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Rhodies wanted Gagisa for a war trophy

28 Jun 2020 at 07:27hrs | Views
I first met Stanley Nleya (Elish Gagisa), who died in Bulawayo on 16 June and was buried at the National Heroes Acre in Harare on Wednesday last week, at Morogoro in Tanzania in 1969.

I had travelled from Zambia with Jeffrey Ndlovu (Kenneth Murwira) who was to become ZPRA Chief of Engineering and lost his eyesight in a landmine blast in 1979, Ernest Magutshwa, Matswaha Ndlovu and others to join Gagisa and others such as Jevan Maseko, Masala Sibanda, Tjile Nleya and Eddie Sigoge who were already at Morogoro.

On arrival at Morogoro I was put in a section, which Gagisa was part of. In the barracks it also happened that our beds were next to each other. Our section was commanded by Bernard Maphosa, who was a veteran of Gonakudzingwa as he had been detained there alongside the Zapu leadership. I later learnt that Gagisa had come from Inyathi Mission where he was a student.

During training Gagisa was always excelling. He was brilliant in both theoretical and practical subjects. He was in the top eight in all subjects.

A crafty person as Gagisa was he also taught me lessons of survival during training.

We did well during training that our section was considered one of the best. We were always tasked to carry-out special missions. I remember we were selected to demonstrate an ambush for the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU) delegation. I was selected to be an engineer for the exercise.

My task was to blow up a tree to block the route used by the OAU delegation to trigger the ambush. Nikita Mangena who was one of our instructors was in charge of the exercise. I laid the explosives on the target tree, everyone was on their ambush positions. Then it started raining. When the delegation arrived we were soaked in our positions. The target got into the ambush. Nothing happened. I had connected the wires to the battery to trigger the explosives but nothing happened. The target passed through unmolested. Mangena then ordered me to trace the cables to the tree. On my way I met Gagisa who mocked me by saying: "Were you asleep."

Mangena was breathing fire. Luckily for me following a quick investigation it was discovered that the malfunction was caused by the rain that had soaked the soil, causing a short circuit to the cable. The OAU delegation was then sold a dummy that the first demonstration was camouflaging. The ambush was sprung when the delegation passed through on their return.

After that Gagisa and other comrades who had been appointed instructors were given an opportunity to take us through exercises under the watchful eyes of senior instructors like Mangena who had been appointed to the High Command. To my surprise and also others these guys treated us like recruits, not their original colleagues. They were just merciless.

I also remember that during our training at Morogoro, Elias Ndlovu (Tshaloba), Gagisa and myself were tasked to carry-out an urban mission into Morogoro Town along Dodoma Road at Ngunyedege Mountain. We were to go and carry-out a reconnaissance mission in Morogoro Town. For the mission we had some money as part of our logistics. I was looking forward to have lunch at some restaurant, but alas we had lunch at an ANC residence.

The meal was prepared by Cdes Brenda and a lady who later on became Mrs Modise. I was not part of this arrangement. I still bemoan my share of the money. I suspect that it was "donated" somewhere.

As Deputy Chief of Operations, Gagisa was involved in the deployment of troops into operational areas and that meant accompanying them at times. On one occasion the Rhodesians got wind of that and tried to set up a trap to capture him. Once after taking a group of 150 men across the Zambezi River into Mashonaland West Province and being with them for two days Gagisa returned to Zambia.

A section of that unit came across a "guerilla unit" that identified itself as a group that had just crossed from Zambia and had Deputy Chief of Operations, Gagisa with them. It tried to lure the ZPRA section into a trap by displaying the phantom Gagisa at a distance. The ZPRA section commander smelling trouble requested that the so-called Gagisa advance towards his section.

The Selous Scouts unit refused and accused the ZPRA section of indiscipline, then opened fire. There was a brief engagement. A Rhodesian helicopter appeared. It was clear that the Rhodesians wanted Gagisa for a war trophy.

I will miss Gagisa, we did a lot of good things together during the war. Maybe a few bad ones, I cannot remember. The armed struggle became his life. We were thrown at the deep end of the armed struggle at a tender age. We did our best.

He usually approached problems as an operations man head-on. He was a very uncompromising patriot. Go well Stanley Nleya, Elish Gagisa, DOKO! A selfless revolutionary.

Retired Brig-Gen Mazinyane is a former ZPRA Chief of Intelligence

Source - Sunday News
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