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Encounter with the Selous Scouts: A former guerilla shares personal experience

07 Mar 2021 at 07:48hrs | Views
IN mid-1979 I left Lupane and Nkayi areas operations where I had been deployed to in 1977 and joined the furthest platoon in Bubi District. Most of the comrades I found there had been trained in Angola.

At the end of August that year, a gathering point (GP) was called with the venue being the Magazi area, bordering Lupane and Nkayi districts near Gwampa Valley. The order called for all men and so the whole platoon left our operation area to the GP. Initially it had been envisaged that we will go and come back within a few days. However, that was never to be.

When we got to the area of the GP we got information that one of our comrades had been captured. The captured comrade was identified as Budlelwano. He was captured in a dramatic and peaceful fashion as the captors used a rope to get hold of him. Surely his captors were well trained men. The capturing of Budlelwano then forced the commanders to postpone the date of the GP and moved the venue to another area.

Therefore, the venue of the GP was moved to the west, the Kheswa and Ndwane areas. The date was postponed by five or six days. We lost a week. However, it was eventually held without any incident.

Then after the GP, a unit of guerillas in a section and plus, which I was part of embarked on the journey back to our area of responsibility. A day or two after the GP we arrived at our area of operations. The first port of call was at a shopping centre near Mbembesi Bridge along the busy Bulawayo-Victoria Falls Road. We received information that a group of men had been sighted between 1pm and 2pm, that was on the day of our arrival. That information got to us very late.

The following day in the morning we started moving up the Mbembesi River. We had our lunch between Majiji and Kokolombani. There we got the latest information that there were people who were based near the Queen Kraal. In the afternoon we split with the other group crossing Mbembesi to the north covering villages east of Majiji to the border of Majiji and Lupanda. These two areas are about seven kilometres from Siganda Camp.

The next morning we regrouped and got more information. Immediately after our morning briefing we started receiving youths and they told us about these people (Selous Scouts) who were in their area. Those people were said to be looking for us and they had identified as guerillas from Zambia. They even wrote a letter emphasising that we should meet as soon as possible. The youths told us that they just looked like us the guerillas.

We then took the issue about these mysterious men seriously. We split into smaller units, regrouped later, discussed the prevailing situation and took it differently this time around. It had dawned on us that something was really amiss.

At that point we had different opinions as guerillas on those men who were calling themselves freedom fighters.

While some of us were skeptical as we suspected them to be Selous Scouts, the thinking from the other comrades was that they were genuine. They believed it was a Zipra unit that had just been deployed to the area.

After serious deliberations it was resolved that we go and meet that group. However, I was part of the group that was dead sure that those people were Selous Scouts, but we were outnumbered. At around 3pm we tracked towards where those people were.

When we were about a kilometre to the target, I then developed a stance of resistance. My decision was motivated by the fact that when we were in the GP area, I got and read, The Sunday News, this paper which then was under the editorial hands of the Rhodesians. The Sunday News had a news item about our comrades who were killed in big numbers by the Rhodesian forces around the Hwange area. They had been lured into an ambush by the Selous Scouts. Maybe readers can go the Sunday News archives and look for the editions of August 1979. I am confident they will come across that story.

I told my comrades that I was not proceeding and I turned back heading towards Lukala. Those who we were of the same mind followed me. The rest then also abandoned that mission. We then proceeded to Lukala.

However, all the way fellow comrades were blaming me for the failed mission. They thought I had blocked them from meeting our "fellow comrades." We got to Lukala in the evening, which to me was good as I believed it would delay the enemy in getting the latest information about us. I thought it also gave us an opportunity to map the way forward.

How wrong I was as the next morning youths came to where we were. They brought a letter from those so-called guerillas and this time they were accusing us of refusing to fight the Rhodesians. They said they had been trying to call us so that we unite forces and attack the Siganda Camp. In the letter they said if we continued behaving that way then they will take up the issue with the Zipra commander-in-chief, Joshua Nkomo. They said they would inform him that there were guerillas who were spending time at the front not fighting.

It was at that time that it dawned on the entire section that indeed those people were Selous Scouts. We then agreed that we should go back to Lupanda to confront the enemy but make sure that our movement was not monitored. We arrived there at around 7pm. We got to a homestead where we asked for blankets and based in the bushes along the Mbembesi River where there is a weir. Between 3.30am and 4am we were up and took the blankets back.

We had a quick discussion and there was a suggestion that we lay an ambush for the enemy. However, some pointed out that laying an ambush was too risky as ambushing almost thrice the strength of our unit was too risky. Those people were 24 while we were a section of nine. It was agreed that we wait a bit and monitor their movement.

Before we could disperse for deployment, a man who was of our age then that is early 20s brought a message that those people were still keen to meet us and they had learnt of our presence last night. We told him that he should go back and tell them we were now prepared to meet them, the meeting point being between Lupanda and Majiji.

When that man left we deployed along the wall of the weir. We waited for over three hours and at about 9.30am we saw a train of youths mostly girls. As they approached my position I ordered them to run away towards Majiji. A big number of male youths then approached and I gave them the same order. Behind them came a male on a bicycle and that was one of our trusted youths.

He told us that the enemy had split into two and were now nearby. I told him to cycle away and I then called my comrades to brief them on the latest information. Before they could reach my position a Lynx approached from the eastern direction and flew over our deployment. Just behind our position it turned back. I could see a white pilot and a black man holding a gun.

I pointed my AK-47 rifle but reasoned against opening fire. When it was disappearing in the eastern direction, three jet fighters flew over our positions in a single file. They were heading towards Siganda and Lukala direction. Immediately eight of us found ourselves in one ditch, the only favourable place to hide from the bombs. They were to return.

Then all of a sudden an explosion from the leading jet hit exactly where we were positioned. The first bomb hit the tree which I had left as I changed position. The second hit the centre of the wall of the weir while another bomb hit the southern end of the wall where our last man was. Miraculously he survived and that meant him being separated from the rest of the section.

When the planes had gone so that they could return for the second round of bombing, the Lynx came in and one of our comrades fired at it with a Grunov and hit it. That was the chance, we got out of the ditch, ran westwards, about 300m from the main road running from the north to the south, towards Mbembesi River.

When we were about to cross the road, a troop carrying vehicle came speeding from the north to the south arrived. It raised a lot of dust and we took chance and ran across the road being covered by the dust. The eight of us all crossed safely. Then another Puma came but luckily it stopped about 100 metres from where we were. The enemy soldiers in the first vehicle were at that point firing towards the wall of the weir. The enemy forces in the second vehicle debussed and also started firing towards the wall. They did not realise that we were just behind them.

Five of us then ran and crossed Mbembesi River while three others went westwards towards Majiji. However, one comrade Matshelela, uNyoni who is still alive and is in his home area of Matobo remained trapped between the assaulting soldiers and the Selous Scouts. Fortunately, his survival was helped by the poor deployment by the Selous Scouts. It seemed they moved too close instead of giving some distance so that the assaulting troops could clear positions. Fire from the assaulting troops was then affecting the Selous Scouts and that forced them to withdraw.

That gave Matshelela the chance to follow behind as if he was one of them until he hid somewhere.

We later regrouped and went back the next morning where we found a homestead that was about 500 metres from the weir completely destroyed. However, no life was lost as the occupants had joined the youths in running away. At the battle position we picked some pieces of metal, which others claimed were pieces from the damaged Lynx.

Retired Lt-Col Moyo operated under the pseudo names Mabhikwa and Lloyd Zvananewako

Source - sundaynews
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