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Thambolenyoka speaks about war experiences

13 Sep 2020 at 07:07hrs | Views
THE mere mention of the name, Thambolenyoka, who operated as a dissident in the districts of Matabeleland South in the 80s during the post-independence disturbances used to send shivers down the spines of many.

However, the man whose real name is Tennyson Mlobi Khutshwekhaya Ndlovu says he is a changed and responsible man whom his community has since 2008 been voting into the council chambers of the Insiza Rural District Council. While many might be aware of Ndlovu's infamous operations in the 80s when he played a cat and mouse game with the security forces, during the armed struggle he was a decorated military instructor in the Zipra camps in Tanzania and Zambia, churning out cadres who went on to engage the Rhodesian forces on the battlefield. During the armed struggle he operated under the name of Hezeck Magedlela.

On Wednesday last week our Assistant Editor Mkhululi Sibanda (MS) traced Ndlovu to his home area of Filabusi where he passionately spoke about his participation in the armed struggle, but when questions were thrown at him to narrate his activities as a dissident he started dodging them like bullets, saying he was not comfortable talking about what took place during that period, which he called impi yomphehlo (second round of the war). Below are excerpts of the interview. Read on . . .

MS: Many know you as Thambolenyoka or just Thambo, so who is this man who in the 80s had his name on the lips of many.

Ndlovu: I was born Tennyson Ndlovu on 3 March 1952 at Plot One, which was my family's property at Gwatemba here in Insiza District. That farming area was known as an African Purchasing Area, meaning the colonial government allowed Africans who had the financial power to buy pieces of land there. There were other similar areas like at Somnene in Bulilima District. My father Mlobi, was the elder brother of veteran nationalist and now national hero, Naison Khutshwekhaya Ndlovu. Their father Khutshwekhaya, that is my grandfather, had five sons and two daughters.

So initially I grew up in Gwatemba until my father relocated to Shurugwi in the Midlands Province following an ugly incident with his brothers. What happened was that my father had participated in the Second World War and after that conflict bought a bus from his gratuity. However, when his bus faced mechanical problems, instead of using his money, he sort of became naughty and would from time to time raid his father's herd of cattle, sell one to meet the expenses of his business.

That did not sit well with his brothers and a family feud ensued. He then moved to Shurugwi. So myself I started my education at Madondo Primary School there in Shurugwi and later on moved to Hanke Mission. However, I was to return to Gwatemba with my mother, Daisy Sibanda and siblings when my father passed on in 1959. I then continued with my education until I finished Standard Six in 1967, but could not proceed because of financial problems. So, I moved to Bulawayo to look for employment and got a job at Dunlop.

MS: I suppose when you got to Bulawayo that is when you started being politically active.

Ndlovu: Yes, yes. I became a member of the Zapu Youth wing. I was staying at Block 10 in Mpopoma.

MS: What made you get into politics?

Ndlovu: I was working as a machine operator at Dunlop, a big tyre manufacturing company, but we were paid peanuts. Our wages were not matching the production, we could see that we were making money, but those whites did not want to pay us. In November 1974 I left the company as a genuine worker to join the revolution. Time had come for me to jump onto the revolution train. I left Bulawayo in the company of a man from Gutu, Masvingo who was working for our neighbours back home in Gwatemba.

He boarded a bus to Bulawayo to hook up with me. Before leaving Bulawayo, we bought some groceries, items like sugar, tea leaves, milk and so on to sell a dummy to the security forces at roadblocks that we were genuinely travelling home. We boarded a bus that was going to Bambadzi in Bulilima District, an area close to the border with Botswana. There was an old man whom I was working with, Lemon Dube from Bambadzi, so from time to time I used to ask him about directions to his rural home while I was plotting my move to join the armed struggle.

From Bulawayo we boarded the bus straight to his home where we found his wife. We put up there for the night and she treated us like her children. When she asked us where we were going, we said South Africa. Early the following morning she showed us the crossing point to Botswana and we got across without any incident. We then got to a place called Tutume where we got lifts to Francistown.

MS: Take us through what happened when you got to Francistown.

Ndlovu: We were locked up in the prison cells as part of a security measure because Rhodesia used to send its spies to Botswana. There were high chances of being captured. Then in December after meeting some Zapu representatives we were taken to the airport from where we were flown to Lusaka International Airport in Zambia. We were met at the airport by Lookout Masuku, who was the Zipra Political Commissar then. From the airport, Masuku took us to Mtenderi, a place around Lusaka. From there we were later taken to a base along the Zambezi River, our number then rose to 37. Among some of the recruits I had were Lethen Sibanda, Reason and Lipson. Then came the time when we were driven to Morogoro in Tanzania for training.

MS: It looks like the numbers were very low, so you were just 37?

Ndlovu: Not many were coming forward to join the armed struggle then, yes our group was made of just 37 comrades.

MS: Who were your instructors?

Ndlovu: The camp commander was Sam Mfakazi and as for instructors, most of them are late now. Among the few surviving ones one is Retired Brigadier-General Tjile Nleya (Ben Dubhu Mathe), who if my memory still saves me right was the chief of staff then. Other instructors were Gedi Ndlovu (late Colonel Richard Dube), national hero Stanley Gagisa, Dubhu himself and Eddie Sigoge, among others.

MS: As for the training how was it?

Ndlovu: Hehe hehe, kwakunzima laphana (It was tough). First we were taken through political orientation with presentations made by the instructors charged with doing commissariat. As for the military side of things we went through hell, we were taught armament that is big arms and small, guerilla administration, topography that drilled recruits on things like inland navigation-movement on the ground that involved things like crawling and so on. You were supposed to learn to move on your stomach like a snake and futhi uhambe ngokuyizibunu kwakho lokho (move with your backside).

Topography and ground movement we were taught by Brig Nleya while the uncompromising Sigoge took us for physical training and armament. Sigoge was a khathazile (troublesome), very tough but he made one a proper soldier. As for Stanley Gagisa he was very agile, he could do anything with his body during demonstrations. Among other things he taught us medicine how to treat wounds in a war situation. Gagisa was an all rounder. There was also Jack Mpofu (Makhetho Ndebele), uDaki. When we got to Morogoro one of the senior instructors there, Enoch Tshangane (Jevan Maseko) had been sent to the Soviet Union for specialist training. Our training was six months but we were made to do an extra four months as we were being turned into commandos.

MS: What happened to you after training?

Ndlovu: I was immediately deployed to the instructor's pool, I became an instructor on the recommendations of those who had been in charge of us as recruits. From the group of 37 recruits, six of us were made instructors. People might ask why I was made an instructor. The reason is simple, I had done well during training, I was determined, very fit physically and I believe I was gifted with a brilliant military brain. In military set-ups I have always been a lion.

To be continued next week

Source - sundaynews
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