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The Day Chikerema rebuked Mphoko

08 Apr 2018 at 09:23hrs | Views
Today we round up our interview with veteran guerilla and nationalist Abraham Dumezweni Nkiwane. In the past two weeks Nkiwane spoke about the state of education in the then Southern Rhodesia, rise of nationalism, how the late Vice-President Dr Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo entered politics, the smuggling of weapons to light the fire of the armed struggle and the laying of the ground work for the formation of Zipra.

In today's interview with Mkhululi Sibanda (MS), Nkiwane touches on joint operations by Zipra and Umkhonto WeSizwe and the Zapu internal problems. Below are excerpts of the interview:

MS: Baba Nkiwane you spoke about a military operation in Kezi, can you tell us about other similar missions.

Nkiwane: Moffat Hadebe who I spoke about earlier on who was involved in the Kezi operation was later deployed into the country with the High Command. On arrival on the Rhodesian side he was chosen to command the reconnaissance unit made up of a group that included another reconnaissance team made up of seven men. Those seven were Joe Modise of Umkhonto, Dumiso Dabengwa, Walter, Masondo, Mavuso, Report Mphoko and myself. There were also five other members from the HQ who included communication personnel.

MS: So how was the operation?

Nkiwane: Moffat moved with us as a commander up to a point where we found the enemy working on a new defence line, a new road being made round the whole country. We moved on inside the country still with Hadebe as overall commander of the whole force. The whole force had 123 men. We were with Hadebe for six days. We had intended to move towards Guruve then Sipolilo in Mashonaland Central Province when our communication system on the Zambian side, the signal was lost. Therefore we lost contact with Lusaka. It was then agreed that the High Command return to the point on the Zambezi and check whatever fault was with the communication system. We discovered that the generator was burnt and since there was nothing we could do with it in the bush we were forced to return to Lusaka to rectify and replace the generator and that was done.

MS: But how were those forces supposed to move?

Nkiwane: They were supposed to move between the then Rhodesian and Mozambican borders. The Zapu cadres were to create many bases on the south east while our ANC counterparts were to move into the Kruger National Park on their way into the Northern Transvaal. The High Command of the joint alliance had decided on this strategy as a way calculated to make use of this area, which had been left completely without the presence of enemy troops. Both Rhodesians and South African forces had moved in numbers to the Zambezi since the Wankie (Hwange) battles. I should also mention that all fighters had fake registration certificates issued purportedly in various districts depending on the language the man spoke. For most of our ANC comrades the documents were made to look like they were issued by the District Commissioner at Bubi, Matabeleland North. Ndebele speakers had theirs look like they were issued in various districts in Matabeleland while Shona speakers theirs looked like they were issued in different parts of Mashonaland.

MS: Who made those documents?

Nkiwane: They were made and printed for us by friendly countries overseas and were not different in paper quality, print etc.

MS: How was the joint command structured?

Nkiwane: The co-commanders were Ackim Ndlovu and Joe Modise, Intelligence and Operations were under Dumiso Dabengwa and Walter Mavuso, Under Personnel and Training there was myself and Gatsheni, Report Mphoko and Masondo were in charge of Logistics and Transport, Zola Zembe was also in Operations while Walter Mthikhulu headed the Communications Department.

MS: What can you say about the Hwange and Sipolilo Battles considering that some people view them as failed missions.

Nkiwane: As much as criticism was poured on us by our enemies and detractors over those battles, the Smith regime was unsettled and it started to get more and more military reinforcement from South Africa. Most of the South Africans were deployed along the Zambezi River. We may we have lost the battle but not the war.

MS: Then Zapu had problems in 1971 and you were there. What happened?

Nkiwane: The causes of those problems were not about the way Zapu was run outside the country. The problem was a small administrative one affecting the Department of Special Affairs. At that time Zapu had created two major bases in Zambia and both were situated not far from the Zambezi River. The bases had been there for some time. The story started after realising that morale was gradually going down as a result that personnel were made to stay too long at the rear bases, owing to problems of securing sufficient arms and other war materials. Then it happened that in one of our weekly meetings with the representative of the national executive, in this case James Chikerema. Chikerema after listening to the concerns by the High Command suggested that perhaps morale would be better boosted if the High Command and himself paid regular visits to the forward bases. The idea was agreed unanimously.

MS: So the visits were made?

Nkiwane: Yes. We started with the Eastern front situated at the Chakwenga River towards the confluence of the Luangwa and the Zambezi rivers in Zambia. All was very well there, the spirits were indeed lifted to my satisfaction, by the way I was the Chief of Personnel at that time. We ended our stay in the east with the lads. A continuation of the visits was to be made now to the southern base situated not far from the confluence of the Gwayi/Zambezi rivers in southern Zambia and northern Zimbabwe. However, that is where trouble started.

MS: Take us through, what happened?

Nkiwane: Before we got to the base we were met by a unit that marched us to the camp some five or so miles away. The vehicles were left concealed the military way and a strong guard took turns providing the security of the vehicles. It was at this camp that trouble started. The cadres had gone without food supplies for about two weeks and had been living on zebra meat. The late Cephas Cele was camp commander and normally had a fair complexion but in that trip he looked very strange. Chikerema then took Report Mphoko to task, he was the Chief of Logistics, the rest of us were not aware of the problems as our food stores were carrying plenty of food in Lusaka. When we left the base for Lusaka we had thought that Report was going to handle what Chikerema wanted to know.

MS: Then what happened after that?

Nkiwane: In Lusaka after about three days the High Command was summoned to a meeting with Chikerema. At that meeting Chikerema had discovered the causes of the food shortages at DK as the base was code named. In that meeting Chikerema blamed the High Command for lack of vigilance and blamed himself for placing so much trust on the High Command that some of its members were so dishonest to say the least. He informed the members of the High Command that the reasons for non-delivery of food to the camps were due to the fact that a 10-tonne lorry had broken down on an unofficial trip to the hinterland of Zambia. That lorry had been driven there to deliver some bricks sent there by a member of the High Command and with connivance of one or two others.

MS: How then did you deal with this delicate situation?

Nkiwane: For not bringing the problem of food or transport to attention of other members of the High Command it was resolved that from that time, the High Command should be split into two as follows, said Chikerema: One half from Lusaka shall proceed to the eastern bases and the other shall move to the western bases. These men shall remain there for a period of two weeks. At that time those in the Eastern Front ad those in the Western Front shall move all towards Lusaka. After the meetings, the group from the eastern bases shall move to the eastern bases and vice versa. But the following shall remain in Lusaka at all times, but may move out of the bases as per demands of their portfolios. These two were Dumiso Dabengwa who was the intelligence chief and myself, who was in personnel and training.

MS: How was this suggestion received?

Nkiwane: This was not taken lightly as there were comrades who wanted to beat up Chikerema. We did a lot to cool the tempers down. This was in the morning, a little later we thought all was over, even those who pretended to have been abused by the Vice-President's directive also retired to some places. However, a majority of these men went to consult other members of the national executive who were in Lusaka at the time and confided the events in them.

MS: Were those members justified to do that?

Nkiwane: It was not the normal thing to do, in fact it was a violation of our standing orders. But they still met the officials who by right had nothing to do with what was discussed and they went on to entice Jason Moyo and said he was the most suitable man to run the Department. After playing in the minds of other people who were not well informed about what the matter was all about, JZ Moyo spent a sleepless night only to appear the following morning with a flood of flyers, which were given to people at random and they were designed such that they attracted the readers. The heading was MY OWN OBSERVATIONS ABOUT THE STRUGGLE. The article attacked Chikerema in terms of overflowing to areas of tribalism and stressing that it was not the first a similar thing had happened, perhaps implying and referring to the split of 1963 that resulted in the formation of Zanu.

MS: As an individual how did you take such developments?

Nkiwane: Once again I regretted having had to move to Zapu from UNIP. As a result of this I moved out of Zapu for about two years and only returned to my job when Dr Joshua Nkomo had been released from detention following the d├ętente. It was Nkomo who then went about finding wheels and axles to enable the party to function as normally as possible, providing the leadership it really needed at that period.

MS: How did the Chikerema issue impact on the party, Zapu?

Nkiwane: As the vilification of Chikerema went on, a number of cadres who spoke Shona were confused by the events to an extent that they left Zapu only to rejoin it when President Nkomo became full time in running the party in Zambia. Cadres such as Ambrose Mutinhiri and Elliot Masengo rejoined and played their part.

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