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Zipra operations in Mashonaland

13 May 2018 at 11:40hrs | Views
This week we continue our interview with former Zipra regional commander for the Northern Front 3 (NF3), Joseph Mbedzi pseudo name Joseph Sibuko. NF3 was a Zipra military zone that covered mainly parts of Mashonaland Central and West provinces. Mbedzi was deployed in Guruve in Mashonaland Central then called Sipolilo in late 1976 and operated there until the signing of the ceasefire in 1979.

Last week he spoke about how he joined the armed struggle from his rural home in Beitbridge District, Matabeleland South Province, his training stint at Morogoro in Tanzania in the group of 800 and then deployment. Today he picks up from where he left in an interview with our Assistant Editor Mkhululi Sibanda (MS). In our last edition Mbedzi was still talking about how they crossed the Zambezi River into then Rhodesia. Below are excerpts of the interview:

MS: It took you how many days from the Zambezi River to the villages and which was the first area you reached?

Mbedzi: From the Zambezi to the first village, which was Kachuta in Sipolilo now Guruve District in Mashonaland Central Province we took 16 solid days to reach Kachuta. When we crossed we were a platoon of 24 of guerillas under the command of Biggie Joe, umkhula wami. From the Zambezi River we went through a game reserve and it was a bit difficult, the terrain was terrible, very mountainous.

MS: For all those days what were you surviving on in the bush?

Mbedzi: When we left the forward base across the Zambezi in Zambia we were carrying heavy luggage each, that it why the Zipra training was tough and painful, it was meant to prepare one for the situation you will face during operations. So each one of us was given six packets of 1kg and-a-half of mealie-meal, a 2kg packet of sugar, four tins of beef, two tins of beans, some milk and biscuits.

We were told that each soldier should carry food that would last him for 30 days. In addition to food stuffs, we also had a kasha with 1 400 rounds of loose ammunition and that was shared among two comrades. Besides that each had his weapon, in most cases an AK-47 rifle and four loaded magazines on each person, grenades both offensive and defensive. So you see the heavy load that we had on our hands. When war veterans say they suffered for this country they would not be joking, people went through hell to free this country.

However, among us there were some who were carrying landmines and we had to assist in carrying their food stuffs and that added the load on the comrades. Then there was the issue of water. Where we found water, we based a little, patrolled the area to assess the situation. As for the water if we saw that there were living organisms, swimming around then we would drink it and use it for cooking. The fact that there were organisms alive in that water meant that it was not poisoned by the enemy. Safe water for us was the one without poison, we did not care whether it was dirty, which in most cases it was. At night we slept on mountains. As for the clothing we were fine.

We had one for dry vegetation, which we was the Russian military uniform and when the vegetation changed to green, we either wore the Cuban or Egyptian camouflage.

MS: On your way you did not encounter the Rhodesian forces?

Mbedzi: We were getting closer to the villages when we had a contact with the Rhodesian forces. We relaxed a bit I think.

We decided to take a rest on the tributary of Hunyani River and we sent a patrol team to do some rounds. Those asked to patrol were supposed to take a one kilometre radius and guerillas being guerillas at times they would not tell you the truth. So our guys I think they were just doing some 300 metres and while we were cooking and doing all sorts of things the enemy forces were watching from their OP (observation point). We had our lunch without any incident. Where we had based the spot was between two hills and near the river. The Rhodesians then laid an ambush. I think the Rhodesians saw us taking our kit bags and they knew that we were leaving. Fortunately for us we changed direction a bit and that affected their plan. In panic they started firing and I think they were of the feeling that we were encircling them. There was an exchange of gun fire and the enemy forces withdrew. Those guys were few, they might have been four.

MS: When they withdrew you might have been excited I suppose.

Mbedzi: For most of us it was our first contact and in excitement we pursued them. Unknown to us there was a helicopter and it picked them, which is how we lost them. Those Rhodesians were a reconnaissance unit. We had announced our presence in the area. There were no injuries on both sides. Then we reached Kachuta and when we got there villagers were very excited because some had heard the sound of gun fire. They were curious to know more. We were the first guerillas to arrive in that area in the 70s, the Zanla forces had no presence there yet.

MS: But in general how were you received by the villagers?

Mbedzi: We had no problems because with Zipra the instructions were to reach out to the Zapu structures. So in Kachuta we found old Zapu members, some who had even been in the NDP structures and so the reception was incredible. The villagers were very happy to see us and we felt welcome. There was also no language barrier because among us there were a number of Shona speaking comrades. We explained to the villagers that our mission was to free them from the racist white regime and that the war was now on and they should expect hardships as the war brought a lot of suffering. They understood and pledged their support, which they did until the end of the war.

MS: Then tell us about your operations?

Mbedzi: We then split into two groups. I was among the nine who remained at Kachuta and its surroundings while 15 others moved towards Kazangarara. Those who left our group included comrades like Xabanisa, Kotsho, Agrippa and Pamusana. The nine of us operated for more than a month, mobilising the masses and laying ambushes to sabotage the enemy movements. We then went back to Zambia to report to our forward bases. When we went back instead of taking 16 days to reach the Zambezi River, we took only two days.

MS: Why such a short time when earlier on you took 16 days?

Mbedzi: The reason being that when we were going for deployment we were relying on the compass, so you try by all means to avoid some features shown on the map. On our way back we were using paths that had been opened up by wild animals such as the elephants. So it was very simple. I was the navigator, if it points out that there is a mountain or another feature, you try by means to avoid it, so it takes time.

When we got across the border we were given reinforcements and some of us were given a platoon to command. So when we got back we were platoon commanders. As for Biggie Joe he became the detachment commander. The number of troops continued to grow when we received the newly trained from Angola, which was the first and those from Mwembeshi in Zambia. Others were coming from other training centres with some having gone for further training overseas.

MS: Now you were settled in your operation area probably doing hit and run missions, but what were the big targets?

Mbedzi: As guerillas we had to hit and run to confuse the enemy, sabotage its economic activities and so on. That gave the enemy the impression that the guerillas were many and all over the place. As for the big targets we had the Mashumbi Pools, Kanyemba and Masoka garrisons.

A strategy was then crafted to attack them. Reconnaissance units were sent and plans put in place. We took our time in making preparations as artillery weapons were brought from Zambia such as Zegues, B10 and so on. As fort the Mashumbi Pools when we attacked it, we were a unit of 72 heavily armed men. I was the zone commander with detachment commanders reporting to me while my boss was Rodwell Nyika who was the regional commander. I can say as for the Mashumbi Pools we overran but after heavy fighting. To me it is one of the important battles in the history of Zipra and that of the country's liberation struggle. As for the Kanyemba garrison we had to destroy it because it was giving us problems.

When we moved inland it meant that we left it behind, so we did not feel comfortable and we also attacked it, forcing the Rhodesians to abandon it. There was also the Mana Pools battle, whose attack was led by Rodwell himself. It was also a very successful operation, but Rodwell lost some of his fingers in that battle and had to be treated in the Soviet Union.

MS: Then came your promotion as the regional commander?

Mbedzi: The army was growing and we had intensified our operations. I was then recalled to Zambia where I was told that I was going to be in charge of the area between Kanyemba and Chirundu, which was named NF3.

The whole front stretching from Bulilima in Matabeleland South up to Mashonaland Central then came under Rodwell and was deputised by Gilbert Khumalo (Nicholas Nkomo). So my region covered areas such as Guruve of course where I set up my headquarters, Banket, Hurungwe, Chinhoyi, Magunje, Karoi and Mvukwesi, which is now called Mvurwi. I was making regular movements within the region to make sure the job was being done. If soldiers are left on their own at times they relax — in fact it takes a soldier 24 hours to be a civilian. There were incidents where guerillas did not want to go back to the rear and this was because the enemy forces were intensifying their raids in Zambia.

It was now safe to be at the front than at the rear. You know at times guerillas would come up with plans of avoiding contacts, it's human nature. They knew the situation on the ground and could come up with plans, but the war had to be fought. So if I went to those areas I would make an attack and the whites would start looking for them. As for Guruve there was real war and if you go there and ask the villagers they would tell you that.

MS: As the regional commander how was your unit, which you moved, with structured?

Mbedzi: There was an artillery man, intelligence officer, radio man and I had a section with seven guerillas that was embedded to me, which I moved with wherever I was. There was an HQ platoon, but that one did not move with me every time. At one point we lost our communication man in an ambush in Guruve and that comrade was called Mbokodo.

MS: How did it happen?

Mbedzi: We were coming from Nyakapfupi and it was around 3pm and we fell into an ambush. In the ensuing fight Mbokodo was killed. We were together with Todd Mpisi, who was at that time the deputy chief of reconnaissance, he was deputising the current ZDF Comamnder General Philip Valerio Sibanda whom we called Ananias Gwenzi. At that time members of the High Command had also been deployed into the country, so Mpisi was with us.

Stayed together for some time. You know with areas like Guruve we ended up having three armies, us the Zipra forces, Zanla and Rhodesians. At times we would clash with our Zanla comrades and those suspicions were caused by the Rhodesian army, which would use divide and rule tactics. They would tell the villagers that Zipra was a Ndebele army, so they should not give us food and again tell them that Zanla was for Shonas. However, at times maturity would prevail among the nationalists forces.

MS: What about armament?

Mbedzi: In most cases because of the heavy contestation for the territory we were now operating in detachments of 48 each. We were well armed as each section, which is nine guerillas had a PK, RPD, RPG that is a bazooka, so now each of our platoon had three PKs, three bazookas and three RPDs. So as for the detachment it had nine bazookas, nine RPDs and nine PKs. There were also some light machine guns such as amagronova. The bazooka man also had an AK-47. We had no problems with the arms and the Rhodesians would not dare us. We could come out clean from one ambush to another.

Because of the intense situation we motivated our troops by doing promotions on the ground. Our region was very strategic because even urban units on their way to Harare were passing through us.

MS: Any incidents that you regret?

Mbedzi: It was the Shamrock Mine tragedy. Shamrock Mine is between Mhangura and Karoi and we had managed to drive away the whites there. However, realising that they had been defeated they poisoned water sources there. Then there was a unit that had just arrived from Angola.

Unknown to them when they got to Shamrock they used that water and they all perished, there were about 40 guerillas who died in that incident. We knew of that unit's presence and we looked for them all over without trace. What made the situation painful was that we were just two months away from the ceasefire. It happened then that when we were at the Rekomichi Assembly Point, a Rhodesian officer, a Watson told me of the incident and we went there and found their corpses. It was very painful.

MS: After the war did you join the Zimbabwe National Army?

Mbedzi: I was there briefly and left. I came to stay here in Bulawayo, but later moved to Harare where we started a co-operative as former Zipra cadres. In the 1985 elections I was in the Zapu campaign team in Mashonaland Central Province. At the height of the land reform programme I got a plot in Kadoma where I am into farming. I can say my home is now Harare and Kadoma, as for Beitbridge I go there occasionally. I am now a Kadoma and Harare man. Our people should learn to settle in any part of the country, that is what we fought for.

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Source - zimpapers
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