An orgy of killings on Christmas

DURING the last interview, Comrade Gomba Midson Mupasu whose Chimurenga name was Cde Norman Bethune spoke about his deployment to the war front in Rhodesia.

In this interview with our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike, Cde Bethune continues his narration talking about the early Zanla war strategies. He talks about fighting Red Indians and Israelites who had been recruited by the Smith regime to join the Rhodesian forces as the war intensified.

Cde Bethune says “there was no Christmas because this was the day to get busy”. Read on to understand why…

SM: Comrade, let’s pick up your story as you were operating at the war front during the early years. Can you tell us where most of the recruits came from during these years?

Cde Bethune: We got most of the recruits from the areas where we were operating. From Chiweshe, Dotito, Chahwanda, kuna Ruya, Bindura, Chadereka, Chitsungo, Chapoto, Msengezi and Zambezi valley among other places we got the recruits from these areas during the early years. These were vakomana vakanga vabva zera. Chinodakufa and his group came from Chahwanda area. Recruits from urban areas started coming towards the end of 1973 because mukurumbira wakanga wavapo. People were talking all over that kuNorth East kwaita hondo. It was all over in radios and newspapers. At 7pm, there was a war communique from the Rhodesians. On our side we later had our radio station, Voice of Maputo.

SM: Can you tell us briefly about the terrain you were operating in during these early years?

Cde Bethune: The first thing I need to tell you is that we knew that hondo means death. The terrain was really bad because remember during these years, there were thick forests. But we were determined to fight and on many occasions we engaged in battles that we knew we could win. The only battle we could lose was that battle where we were ambushed. Every battle that we planned to fight we made sure tairova varungu. We could not win a surprise ambush muchifamba musingazive. Musango umu unenge usingazive kuti kwandiri kuenda uku, kana kuti kuseri kwemuti uku kunei. Unotozoona kuti pakanaka wapadarika. Paunenge usati wasvika or pawakatarisa, ichauya, chauya but we were always ready. We knew kuti tiri kufamba musango mune mumwe munhu anepfuti sesu ari kuti tsvaga ini ndichimutsvagawo. Mapfumo maviri aigara akatarisana nguva nenguva. That is why during war there was no time to relax. The moment you relax, that’s when you are killed. So we were alert all the time. We had been taught about all this during training. We were told that every second and every minute is important during a war.

SM: So there was no Christmas?

Cde Bethune: Ndiyo time yataitotsvaga nzvimbo dzevarungu dzekurova. This was the best time to attack the Rhodesians. Kutoita breakfast of killing varungu, especially Christmas Day and Zanu Day (8 August) we would make sure tarova varungu kwete mbichana. All sections knew this and they would make sure they found a target to hit. It was a must.

SM: During these early years, we are told that Zapu was still more popular than Zanu?

Cde Bethune: Zapu was popular but there didn’t have fighting forces on the ground.

SM: Why was it like that?

Cde Bethune: I don’t know. The former Zapu leadership should answer that. You need to know that as early as 1962 and 1963, that is when Zapu started sending recruits for training. When Zanu was formed on 8 August 1963 that is when it started sending recruits for training. They could send even one or two recruits at that time. When these recruits came back and were deployed into Rhodesia they became pioneers as they were given missions to accomplish until in 1966 during the Battle of Chinhoyi. That is when some of us later joined the struggle. When we joined the struggle, we supported the groups that had been sent earlier on. When we were deployed to the war front, we fought battles that gave Zanu lots of publicity worldwide. By this time we were still under the leadership of Ndabaningi Sithole.

By this time, Zapu was engaged in its own operations but they had not sent their military wing ZIPRA to the war front on the same scale as Zanu. There was only the Hwange Battle that had been fought by ZIPRA.

SM: Can you tell us briefly about the Zanla war strategies?

Cde Bethune: The war strategies changed according to the situation. It depended kuti how have you been attacked. The Smith regime was supported by the South African Defence Forces still under apartheid. They also got assistance from Red Indians, Israelites and mercenaries from across the world. The Israelites are the ones who taught Smith about bombing our bases. But we fought these outside forces and defeated them, especially Red Indians in 1973. Smith brought these outside forces in a bid to stop us front advancing right into Rhodesia over Mavhuradhona mountain but it was a waste of time. They thought they could contain the fight along Zambezi Valley. We knew this was their plan and we are hit them hard. The Smith regime would deploy lots of “stop groups” to ambush us, but even after the ambushes, it was forward ever.

Our plan was to get over Mavhuradhona mountain so that we could start our proper operations. The Rhodesian forces were operating from Mt Darwin and our idea was to get closer so as to plan properly. During these early years, the Rhodesian air force was operating from Thornhill in Gweru and Manyame in Harare. They also had small bases in Mt Darwin, Mukumbura, Bindura and around some white farms there were some runaways for small plans to take off. Later they set up a big base in Mt Darwin and from there they would use trucks.

These trucks would be driven in convoys and we came up with a plan to stop these convoys. We told villagers and bus owners that hakuchisina bhazi rinodarika paDotito or kubva Bindura going to Mt Darwin.

We started planting landmines along the road and we warned bus owners that kana bhazi rako rikarohwa nelandmine, you will compensate vanhu vafa kana kukuvara.

That is why Cde Herbert Shungu at one time akatora bhazi rekwaMusabayana kuChipinge while operating under Manica Province. We would warn the public in advance. We only started planting landmines after politicising the masses. We told the masses that even ngoro dzemombe musafambise mumugwagwa.

Do you know that most farm owners went for “Call Up” as the war intensified? They wanted to protect and defend their farms.

SM: What had caused this “Call Up?”

Cde Bethune: It was like a National Youth Service. Smith came up with the plan after discovering that we were advancing into Rhodesia and that we were oversmarting his soldiers. But then for us, this was a people’s war. We could not fight the war without the masses. The masses became our eyes and ears. Again we told the masses kuti kana masoldier aSmith awuya, tell them kuti vana mukoma vanga vari pano vaenda nekuku.

SM: There were some black soldiers in the Rhodesian army. How did you view these soldiers?

Cde Bethune: We knew that for these black soldiers, it was mainly just work. But of course there were some of these black soldiers aitomiramira chaizvo kuti awonekwe kuti anogona kurova pfuti. I have actually forgotten their names but I remember there were about two or three black soldiers vaitova namazita emadhunhirirwa nenyaya yekutirwisa. Vainzi vanogona kuroNato but still hapana kwavakaenda. AK47 silenced them.

SM: These were black soldiers and there were chances that some of them were your relatives…

Cde Bethune: Ahh, ahh, ahh, hama yakandinongedzera pfuti? A relative hunting me and wanting for kill me? To me that’s not a relative. Ndikanonoka kumurova he will kill me. There is no such a relative. You know when Chimoio was attacked, after the liberation struggle I remember there was a soldier called Njini, he is now a Retired Major, who was in the RAR (Rhodesian African Rifle), he commended me saying as I was the overall commander at Chimoio, I made their reconnaissance before the attack very difficult. He was among the group that was sent by the Rhodesian forces to come for reconnaissance before attacking Chimoio. He told me that the patrols that we conducted at Chimoio, we used to call these patrols “360 degrees” made their reconnaissance very difficult. This comrade we were now all under the Zimbabwe National Army and as we were just discussing the war he told me his story. These patrols were only known by me as the overall commander and Cde Kenny Ridzai who was in charge of security. Kenny Ridzai and myself tisu taiziva kuti security yepaChimoio yakamira sei.

The comrades at different bases would not meet frequently for security reasons, but I set aside Thursday as “Bongozozo Day” for all of them to meet and have some fun. Otherwise the security was tight. This is what this comrade was commending me for.

SM: Many comrades were killed during Chimoio massacre. When you saw this comrade who was working for the Smith regime during this time, how did you feel?

Cde Bethune: That massacre really hurt me. Up to this day I won’t forget that dark day but the war was over and we had been taught reconciliation. There was nothing I could do.

SM: Now, comrade tell us how and why you were later recalled from the war front to the rear in Lusaka?

Cde Bethune: I operated mainly around Chahwanda area and after some time, I became sick. Our gathering base yanga iri paseri peKaranda Hospital. First we had a fierce battle around Gwetera in March 1973 together with comrades such as Cde Chemist.

After this battle, muviri wangu just started kudzikira. It was later discovered that ndakanga ndaita cerebral malaria but it was not yet severe. Some comrades suggested that I should go back to the rear but I refused until towards the end of that year 1973, that I when I was ordered to go to the rear.

SM: Why were you refusing to go to the rear?

Cde Bethune: The war front was more enjoyable because maiti mukarova hondo yenyu zvakanaka zvainakidza. After a victory you would get inspired and think of planning another attack. Chinhu changa chakashata kuhondo was kugara for three or four days without engaging the enemy. That would create fear in some comrades. Maida kungodzinzwa dzichirira.

Also I didn’t want to go to the rear because kurear kwaiita ukanganwe hondo. But we were also taught through principles of Mao that when you are asked to go to the rear, it means the younger generation has gotten enough training to be able to come to the front to fight. I understood also that I was supposed to go to the rear to teach some of the recruits the practicalities of the war.

This was protracted war and we had no idea when it was going to end. The recruits at the rear were in need of political orientation.

I also need to tell you that up to 1974, there were no recruits going to Mozambique. By that time we had no bases in Mozambique. Even the operational areas from the Mozambican side were opened at the end of 1975 following détente. Détente had failed to stop the liberation struggle.

SM: Who gave you the orders to go back to the rear?

Cde Bethune: It was Cde Cuthbert Chimedza. So I first went kwaDuhwa in Mozambique which is North of Mukumbura. Later I went to Chifombo where I stayed for two days then proceeded to Lusaka. In Lusaka, I thought I was going to the offices but I was taken to Nampundwe Farm, which was one of our bases where I was appointed as the overall commander.

The system at Nampundwe was that all recruits would first pass through the security department for vetting, then come to the political department for orientation. We were also into agriculture at the farm after Zanu managed to secure two tractors. This is also the base that those injured at the war front would be brought for treatment.

Those coming from Tanzania after training also passed through Nampundwe because this is where they got their uniforms. From Nampundwe these trained comrades would be taken to Chifombo before deployment into Rhodesia. This farm had 50 hectares but arable land was 45 hectars.

Our main focus was maize production. The idea behind the farm was to encourage self-reliance as maize from this farm was taken to the war front to feed some of our comrades.

To be continued next week

 

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