COMRADE Francis Komboni Gondo, whose Chimurenga name was Cde Elias Hondo has just too many fascinating stories to tell from the Second Chimurenga. As we continue his narration, Cde Hondo tells our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike how he would on the spot, demote or promote some commanders during the liberation struggle. He narrates how the first group of 74 female Zanu recruits were placed under his leadership together with Cde Joseph Khumalo.SM: Comrade, we continue your gripping story. Now, as someone who was responsible for sourcing war material, one of your responsibilities was to make sure that the weapons got to the war front. This was quite a sensitive issue that needed careful handling. How did you do it?
Cde Hondo: The OAU Liberation Committee would pack the weapons and load them into trucks. In Zambia, this Committee had an office that was manned by Simumba. So after loading the weapons into trucks, the committee had drivers and security personnel to guard the trucks. I would be part of this team. We would drive around the camps dropping what was allocated to each and every camp. We would spend about two to three days from Dar es Salaam to Lusaka. In Zambia, we would drive straight to their office. After arriving, I would go and report to Tongo that we have arrived. Tongogara would go and see Simumba to be handed over the weapons. After this, that’s when we were able to transport the weapons to Chifombo. We would take the weapons to Chifombo. The weapons would be handed over to the logistics personnel at Chifombo.
SM: Tell us which countries would give us what?
Cde Hondo: Most of the weapons came from China. Romania joined later. Countries like Sweden would give us medicine and clothes. People like Chitepo, Noel Mukono and Tongogara would travel to China to source the weapons.
SM: We hear stories about comrades being given poisoned clothes and so on. Did you vet some of the clothes and medicine you were given?
Cde Hondo: Those issues happened much later and it was orchestrated by the Rhodesians at the war front. Of course we would not vet the clothes and medicine because these countries at that time were very friendly to us.
My other duty was to go around the training camps to assess the situation. I remember one incident when Robson Manyika and other comrades were involved in an accident. Those who knew Robson Manyika will tell you that after this accident he started behaving weirdly. In that accident one of the comrades, Titus Mugwagwa died. We buried this comrade in Dar es Salaam. Manyika did not attend this burial because aitoita seava kupenga. These were some of my duties. We also buried Cde Kurauwone in Mbeya.
SM: You said one of your duties was to go around the training camps to solve problems that fellow comrades were facing. Which were some of the most prevalent problems?
Cde Hondo: The biggest problem was that most of comrades got injured during training. I would go there to establish the cause of the injuries and make reports to Cde Tongo.
I would try to establish whether the injuries were because of deliberate moves by the instructors and so on. Sometimes the comrades would call us saying vabata spy. We would go there to interrogate this alleged spy. I remember one day we went to Mgagao with Patrick Mupunzarima. This comrade later died at Mavhonde. When we got to Mgagao we found mukomana ainzi Levy Dzamatsama and some other comrades vakasungwa. The other comrades were saying tabata maspy. Vakanga vasungwa nanaDzinashe Machingura. I remember it was very cold on this day. I gave an instruction that these comrades should be given a cup of tea because they were shivering. I then asked them what had really happened and it turned out these comrades were not spies. I gave the instruction that the comrades should be released.
There were instructors who were cruel so we had to make sure people were treated fairly. Some comrades would actually die and we would bury them after making investigations.
Most of the times when we got to a camp, we would meet with the top five leaders at each camp. We would talk about all the issues, including sensitive issues.
Sometimes we would make changes to the command at the camps. We would take some of the commanders and send them to the war front. We would not say it openly that watadza basa here so we are sending you to the war front. We would say ahh, comrade you see mabasa emusangano anoda kupota vanhu muchichinjana so, its now your turn to go to the war front. I remember takabvisa Cde Pfumo tichiisa Cde Zimondi, mukuru kuPrisons now. Cde Pfumo came with records claiming lots of things.
He would say takaita ambush takaita this and that and we killed many Rhodesians. We knew how the Rhodesians travelled and we knew kuti mota dzemuvengi dzaifamba dziri 25 metres apart. So we would ask Cde Pfumo kuti mota dzamakapfura dzaive ngani? Cde Pfumo would say dzaive four. Ivo vaive section ine vanhu about 10. So we would make our calculations and see kuti comrade vari kunyepa. We would then ask, kana makauraya vese, pfuti dzacho dzamakabata dziripi? Otanga kudzambadzamba.
So we removed Cde Pfumo tikaisa VaZimondi, whose Chimurenga name was Cde Tonderai Nyika. We told Pfumo kuti chimbogara kuno kurear. Those were some of my duties.
SM: So you would demote some of the comrades?
Cde Hondo: Yes, there and then. Even members of the High Command or General Staff, I would demote them. I would say, ipo pano hauchisisiri. Or I would promote some of the comrades.
SM: Didn’t this cause problems?
Cde Hondo: We were the leaders and remember we were the ones who would have appointed them. Remember hapana anyone who would apply. We are the ones who made the appointments. We would say, from today Huni ndiye ava commander. Mototanga kumusaluter ipapo. There was no room to ask why. I will explain this more during the time when we formed ZIPA nanaVice President varipo ava.
SM: Weren’t there some commanders who kept grudges?
Cde Hondo: We maintained discipline. Those who got proper political orientation were never a problem. They would not carry grudges. The other thing was that before alerting us to some problems, some camp commanders would solve their issues. It was only kana zvaoma that we were called in. Most of the comrades during the early days were very disciplined. You know some camps we had about five thousand comrades and ndaiti ndikati nyararai, within a minute panenge pati zii.
SM: Were other comrades afraid of Cde Hondo? You sound like you were a no nonsense person?
Cde Hondo: Kuripo kutyiwa kune chiremerera. Umwe aityiwa kuti kwauyiwa. Umwe aityiwa zvekuremekedzwa. I can’t really say ndaidiwa or ndaityiwa. Those who worked with me are the ones who are qualified to speak about that. What I know is that I was a very jocular person. Some comrades would say mudhara wenyambo. You know Tongogara aityisa. I will also talk about this later so that you understand the full story.
SM: You also spoke about burying some comrades in Tanzania. These people vaiva vatorwa to you. Did you perform any rituals or what?
Cde Hondo: Look, munhu afa taingochera toviga munhu. Hapana kunamata or kureverera. Some comrades vaiitirwa magun salute. That was it. Remember we were never supposed to know kuti munhu ndewekupi so taidetembera sei? You know up to this day, I didn’t know kuti Cde Bethune vanobva kupi but I worked with him for many years during the liberation struggle?
SM: You also spoke about coming up with Chimurenga names for many comrades and you said sometimes you would come up with Ndebele names to balance the equation?
Cde Hondo: Yes, after coming up with too many Shona names we would say, ummm, let’s come up with Ndebele names so that hainzi Zanu yemaShona. So we came up with names like Khumalo, Ndlovu, Ncube and so on.
SM: So you were the liaison officer for how long?
Cde Hondo: From 1972 to 1974. I had been appointed as Zanu representative in Botswana. The representative who was there Dick Chikara, was moving to London. When I got to Lusaka, while waiting for Richard Hove to change my passport from the Tanzanian passport of Zambian passport, the first group of women recruits arrived in Lusaka. That was 1974.
The commanders said, we can’t just handover these female recruits to anyone otherwise they will be abused. These women were put under my leadership together with Cde Joseph Khumalo (Cde Mazhamba).
I was the head and Khumalo was my deputy. So these 74 women were handed over to us. We were instructed to go with them to a Frelimo camp in Tanzania which was called Nachingweya. This is where Samora Machel used to stay.
So we went to Nachingweya with these women. Before training, women recruits were examined first to check whether they were not pregnant.
This gripping story continues next week. Don’t miss The Sunday Mail to get history being recorded in proper perspective.
SM: Was this the first group of female recruits?
Cde Hondo. Yes and hakunazve another group. There was vana Cde Dadirai, Cde Georgina and so on. This was the first female group to go for military training. And this was the only group of female comrades that received proper military training. If you check these female comrades up to this day havadadi. Its because of the training they received which others later failed to receive. We, meaning me and Khumalo, took them through political orientation. Some other comrades taught them the drills and so on.
During examination, musikana ainzi Tichahwina akawanikwa was found to be pregnant. Akanga ane pamuviri paRex Nhongo (Mujuru). They had met in 1973. Tichahwina akabva adzoswa. So we were left with 73 female comrades. After going for a few weeks, another female comrade, Concilea akaita chirwere chemoyo. She was taken back to Lusaka and we were left with 72 female comrades.
You know as the leader of these women, I felt very proud as they went through their drills. They acted like men. Every morning we would go to inspect their parade and their commitment was just something else. Like I told you, this is where Samora Machel was staying. He was impressed. We were at Nachingweya for four and half months.
SM: You said Cde Tichahwina was found to be pregnant. What action did you take against her?
Cde Hondo: We didn’t take any action. We just instructed that she goes back to Lusaka. We didn’t even punish her. And the other thing, at that time we didn’t even know kuti nhumbu ndeyani. I think she was taken to Lusaka by Cde Gwitira.
SM: But this was not allowed to make someone pregnant?
Cde Hondo: We actually said “usaite cheupombwe.” Asi munhu wenyama anozviita. It was not allowed but this happened. There was a system in some instances were some commanders would just say to some of the female comrades, “iwe huya kuno. Watova wangu.” Zvino ini kusaziva ndakaita zvekunyora tsamba ndikarambwa. Some commanders abused their positions but this was later as the war unfolded, especially at the war front. Many commanders later did this. Anoti haana kuita those are blue lies.
SM: These were the first female comrades to receive military training. Tell us a bit more about their training. Was it different to the training that men received?
Cde Hondo: They were trained mainly by Frelimo instructors. Their training was the same with that which their male counterparts were going through. Like I said, these female comrades vakadadisa. Vaiti kana vofora vachiimba ivo vana Suzan Rutanhire ava, iweka iwe. Even the politics that we taught them was the same that male comrades were going through at Mgagao.
Like I said, this was the first group of female comrades to go for military training under Zanu. On their passout parade, chairman Chitepo came together with Cde Tongogara. I remember Samora Machel spoke highly about me and Cde Khumalo.
After the passout parade, Cde Tongo asked me to identify 12 female comrades that he said were supposed to be members of General Staff and were to become instructors. (Laughs) I had proposed to one of the girls netsamba akandiramba. She is the one I recommended first. She was called Andy Garikai. She told me kuti ndine wangu ari kuwar front (laughs).
SM: Do you remember the names of these 12 female comrades?
Cde Hondo: I cant remember all of them. There was Andy Garikai, Suzan Rutanhire, Revai, Vimbai (this one was later killed nguva yana Badza), Apronica Chinyandura, Loveness Chidhakwa, Cathrine Garanewako. Please forgive me I can’t remember the other names but there were 12. These 12 were the first female comrades to become members of General Staff in Zanu and they were the first female instructors. These 12 instructors are the ones who later trained other female comrades who included Joice Mujuru. Joice and these other female comrades received training for three weeks only. We used to call it Chimbi-Chimbi. People like Rugare Gumbo, Henry Hamadziripi, Kumbirai Kangai, Richard Hove and other went through this Chimbi-Chimbi training but the male comrades received training for male instructors. This camp was 25 miles out of Lusaka.
This Chimbi-Chimbi was meant to just introduce these comrades to some of the basic war tactics. Like I told you, the only female comrades who relieved proper training are these 72 who trained at Nachingweya. They were at training for four and half months. Ndivo vakadzi vakanyatsobikwa. From then on, most female comrades received short training. Just to know the basics.
SM: You said the character of these 72 female comrades was different from other female comrades. Briefly explain what you mean?
Cde Hondo: When some of these female comrades were deployed to the war front, vakanga vasinga paparike. Up to this day, those who are still alive vakadzikama zvikuru.
SM: Would you attribute this to the political orientation you gave them?
Cde Hondo: I wouldn’t want to say that because it will appear like ndava kuzvirova dundundu. I think takataura vakanzwa. Hameno. You said you spoke to them. Hope they told you why they are what they are.
When these female instructors finished training other female comrades like Joice Mujuru, they were later taken to Chifombo then to Mozambique. Their role was to train other women.
SM: After training this women, where did you go?
Cde Hondo: Like I said, I was supposed to go to Botswana. So after training these female comrades, in 1974, that’s when Tongogara mishandled situation yanaBadza and Nhari. This comrade you spoke to Cde Chemist akapona padikidiki. Akapona neburi retsono.
(This gripping story continues next week. Dont miss The Sunday Mail to get history being recorded in proper perspective).
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