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The recruits who challenged the Zipra leadership

29 Sep 2019 at 12:25hrs | Views
SEVENTY-THREE-year-old Tapson Ncube passes for just another villager in the Inyankuni area in Umzingwane District, but when one goes down memory lane, the man whose pseudo name was Makhula Thebe during the country's armed struggle was or is still as controversial as they come. Ncube's armed struggle history is punctuated with a lot of controversies, starting with challenging the way recruits were being handled in Botswana by the Zapu or Zipra leadership and ending with him throwing his much loved AK-47 assault rifle at a member of the ceasefire monitoring force at Mike Assembly Point (St Pauls) in Lupane and walking out of the facility.

This week our Assistant Editor Mkhululi Sibanda (MS) traced Ncube, a self-taught and avid reader of the liberation literature and geo-political content as well as a student of Marxism who displays ideological beliefs and wears a long beard which has now turned grey so that he could give an account of his history in the armed struggle and he did not hold anything back. The old warrior was firing from the hip. Below are excerpts of the interview:

MS: Who is Tapson Ncube?

Ncube: I was born on 5 January 1946 in what was called Essexvale, which is now Umzingwane District in Matabeleland South Province. I was born from the Malungwane part of the district where there is now Inyankuni Dam, one of the dams that supply the City of Bulawayo and the surrounding areas such as Esigodini. In grew up there. As for my education I started off at Madende Primary School where I went up to Standard Three. For Standard Four I was at Senga as Madende only had classes up to Standard Three. However, I could not go beyond Standard Six despite the good grades I had as my step-mother profusely refused that the family sell some of the cattle so that I could proceed with my education at Hope Fountain Mission where I had been offered a place to do Form One, but that did not hold me back as I had the appetite to read anything that I came across. Even now I read a lot from newspapers to books. All along my favourite publication has been the Southern Times. I liked the publication because it carried a lot of stories about the political and economic situation in our region.     

MS: How did you get into politics?

Ncube: I started political activities when I was still at school. My father, Bozani used to work at a nearby farm where they were paid just impondo (which was $2) and that pained me a lot. Then when Inyankuni Dam was under construction, my elder brother, Nduna got a job from a company that was doing the work there, Steipmovich. He got involved in politics during that time and when he moved to work for Davis Granite he brought home a Zapu card he had bought, my interest in politics grew. Seeing the card I pleaded with him to buy one for me as well, but he refused and said I was still too young for that. All those things made me want to be participate in politics, I development a strong resentment for the white colonial government. The urge for politics grew further when my father bought a radio set and we could listen to news read by Amon Maqhulayibambe Nyamambi and Collet Bahlangane.

MS: You are talking about getting an interest in politics, what political activities were you doing at that time?

Ncube: When Ian Smith declared UDI in 1965 I went on a solo mission of vandalising fences at the nearby farms. I went around cutting down the fences and I derived a lot satisfaction from that. Maybe I thought of that because I was an active hunter, I used to hunt down amabhalabhala (kudus) for consumption and I was very good at it. I was once arrested for poaching, which to me was not poaching because the animals were our resources and for my troubles I was slapped with a fine. Then after failing to continue with my education I left my rural home for Bulawayo and that was in 1967. I got a job at Shankleton, a plumbing company. I worked for that company for about six months, doing plumbing work at St Bernard's in Pumula, a Roman Catholic Church  facility as you know that now houses a church, a primary and secondary school. St Bernard's was under construction then. It was during my stint there that I became an interpreter for a white boss who had come from Britain. However, I left that company as I was not happy with the working conditions and got another job at Cotton Printers, which was manufacturing bed sheets.

MS: Then take us through the political situation at that time.

Ncube: When I got to Bulawayo I moved deep into politics. I was now part of the political leadership of Zapu at branch level. I was a member of the Mpopoma Central branch where I was the deputy secretary in the youth wing. In 1969 a leading Zapu official in Bulawayo who was also a resident of Mpopoma. The late Enos Mdlongwa who after independence became the Mayor of Bulawayo called us as the leadership of the youth and took us to Mathonisa Grounds where he introduced us to two men who identified themselves as freedom fighters coming from Zambia and were on a mission here in Bulawayo. Those two charmed us as they spoke about the need to intensify the armed struggle, they also told us that Zimbabwe was endowed with a plethora of natural resources such as minerals and so as young people we should see that we leave the country and join the armed struggle. Their talk fired us up, but I did not go and join the armed struggle immediately after that as I continued with my task of organising the party. Then in 1972 my political activities went a gear up during the visit by the Pearce Commission and at that time I was working for F Issels, a steel company.

MS: What did you do during the Pearce Commission?

Ncube: As you might be aware the Pearce Commission was a British government initiative conducted by British Judge Lord Pearce. It was meant to test the acceptability of the 24 November 1971 Constitutional Settlement signed between Smith and Douglas-Home. If the terms were to be accepted then they were to be incorporated into the Rhodesian constitution before the British finally granted the colony its independence. Lord Pearce came to Rhodesia and went on an outreach programme across the country to find out the views of the people regarding the settlement proposals. Among the proposals was to have an independent commission to study racial discrimination and make recommendations to the Rhodesian government. There was the issue of the Rhodesians to commit themselves that they will not evict Africans from some white-designated areas. So the people were supposed to vote in that referendum for or against, the Yes or No vote. The nationalists campaigned for a No vote. On an individual capacity I personally wrote a 30-page document detailing the problems we were facing as black people and giving the reasons why we should reject the Pearce Commission. I took my document to the commission's offices, which were situated at York House and gave it the authorities there. I was happy with what I had done. I didn't care whether they would respond to me as an individual, I was content with putting across my message to the colonisers.  

MS: You were now deep into politics.

Ncube: I was. Then in 1973 I transferred politically from Mpopoma to New Magwegwe as I had found new lodgings there. I then started working closely with the now retired regional magistrate for Bulawayo, Johnson Mnkandla who was the district chairman for Bulawayo whose secretary then was Paul Themba Nyathi, yenalo oweMDC. The whole of Bulawayo was politically a district, not a province like now. It was in Magwegwe that we formed Mhali Branch, which was chaired by Marko Moyo from Matobo, the secretary being Gwisi, a man from Silobela. In that executive I was chosen as the organising secretary. It happened, the year was 1974 that we called a youth meeting where we took the youths to a bushy area where there is Pumula East Beer Garden today. The whole area was a bush as there were no houses. During that meeting we vigorously urged the boys to leave the country and go and join the armed struggle. We were sold out, resulting in Marko and Gwisi being arrested. The situation was heating up and it was time for me to jump the border and leave Rhodesia. Indeed the time had come to go.

MS: You then left. Take us through what happened.

Ncube: I delayed a bit as my wife had delivered our second born. Then in August 1975, to be precise on the 9th I left Bulawayo. I had spoken to a workmate, Innocent whom we shared the surname Ncube and was from Ngwanyana in Mangwe District. That is the person I left Bulawayo with, he gave me cover as there were many roadblocks along the Bulawayo-Plumtree Road. The trick was for him to say I was his younger brother when questioned by the police and our plan worked. When we got to his homestead I spent a night there and the following morning he accompanied me for short distance, showing me the way towards the border. I eventually crossed the Botswana border without any incident. When I was a distance from the border I changed direction and walked towards the main road to Francistown. When I was in the Tsetsebe area I stood by the road and started flagging down cars, looking for a lift to Francistown. A Motswana eventually stopped and when I told him that I was coming from Rhodesia and was on my way to join the struggle, he asked me to look closely at the vegetation, which looked to have been charred by the fire. He said I was lucky because that area where I had been was liked by the Rhodesian security forces and it was believed it could have been within that vicinity that the then Zapu chief of intelligence, Ethan Dube who was abducted by the enemy forces in Francistown and a Zanu comrade were killed. I was shocked. Finally I got to Francistown where I was interviewed by the Special Branch. When it was time to take me to the prison for safe keeping, as it were during those days, it was discovered that it was full, so I was told the same situation was prevailing in Selibe-Phikwe.

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