Cde Soul Sadza: The Zimunya battle relived

FOR months, our Deputy Editor Munyaradzi Huni has been researching to find out how one of Zanu’s member of the High Command, Cde Soul Sadza, born Cde Arther Magaya was killed in a battle by the Rhodesian forces in 1976. With assistance from Cde Bethune, we managed to track down Cde Noel Shambakumanja (born in 1958) whose Chimurenga name was Cde Encos Chipangura, a survivor from the battle in Zimunya where Cde Soul Sadza was killed by the Rhodesian forces.

In this interview, Cde Shambakumanja who comes from Mt Darwin under Chief Dotito narrates how three Rhodesian helicopters suddenly appeared from nowhere, putting them in what was then known as the “killing bag.” He narrates how they managed to down the three helicopters only for more reinforcements to come and encircle them. With tears filling his eyes, he narrates how he saw “hura hwaCde Soul Sadza hwava panze” after he had been hit by a bullet.

This sounds like a movie, but many comrades perished on this dark day in Zimunya. Finally, we are close to cracking the 40-year mystery surrounding the death of Cde Soul Sadza.

Cde Shambakumanja, who joined the liberation struggle at the end of 1974, begins his story from the days they were deployed in Munhumutapa sector under Manica province. Read on …

MH: To put events into context, can you describe how you were deployed in Zimunya area and who were some of the comrades you were with at that time?
Cde Shambakumanja: Thank you. I think there were three or four groups that were deployed at that same time to open war zones in this sector in Manica province. This province had three sectors – around the Chief Rekayi Tangwena area, that used to be called Tangwena sector. Our area which covered areas such as Zimunya, Mutambara and Chimanimani, Odzi and Marange was called Munhumutapa sector while the third one around Chipinge was called Musikavanhu sector. These three sectors, Tangwena, Munhumutapa and Musikavanhu combined together were known as Manica Province. So each sector had its sectorial commander and overally there was a provincial commander. I cant exactly remember who was the provincial commander when we were deployed.

It was not easy to walk from the border post in Mozambique until we got to the villages in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) due to mountains like Vumba and Tsetsera. We didn’t know our way so going up and down the mountains was like serious torture. We spend about two days navigating the mountains to get to the villages in Rhodesia. You know when we got to the villages due to hunger, we were unable to swallow sadza. We almost choked because our throats were now only used to water. I was based in Zimunya with my section commander, Thompson Gwanetsa. The other group was led by Cde Tapson Mombe. We also used to call him Zaire or Zvimhingamupinyi. Cde Simbi Chinembiri (now known as Cde Aaron Nhepera) was the commander of the other group.

MH: When you say you opened a sector, like in your case Munhumutapa sector, what exactly does that mean?
Cde Shambakumanja: We were the first comrades to start operating in Munhumutapa area. Tisi takatanga kuenda kunosangana nevabereki, telling them about the war and telling them that we needed their support. We first politicised the masses because most people in the area had never experienced war. They were just hearing that there was war in Mt Darwin so we were the ones who introduced the liberation struggle in earnest in Munhumutapa sector. By this time, war zones in Tangwena and Musikavanhu had already been opened so Munhumutapa was the last sector to be opened.

Around 1976, before pfuti dzatomborira in our sector, that’s when Shefu Cde Soul Sadza (born Arthur Magaya) joined us. I really don’t know kuti vakauya nani. By this time, that section commander I spoke about Thompson Gwanetsa was no longer there. Cde Soul Sadza joined us around Zimunya area.

MH: What did he do when he arrived?
Cde Shambakumanja: He was introduced to us as a member of Zanu’s High Command. When he arrived in no much time, we went on a mission to ambush some Rhodesian soldiers who had gone in trucks to Birchenough Bridge coming from Mutare. We were around Zimunya area. Unfortunately, these soldiers did not drive back from Birchenough Bridge as we were waiting to ambush them. But maybe before I talk about this ambush, let me go back a bit. There is something that happened that I really want to talk about. Ndanga ndamhanya mberi too much.

Before we even met Cde Soul Sadza, pane imbwa yatakafamba nayo yaiva yeblack chimukono mutswe wayo kwekupedzesera was white. We don’t know where this dog came from but we just realised that it was following us wherever we went. I remember we actually crossed into Mozambique before Cde Soul Sadza came and it followed us until we came back to Zimunya again.

This dog was with us until Cde Soul Sadza arrived and it continued following us. In our group I was now the quarter master, meaning I was responsible for food logistics. Pandiri ndipo paisvikira sadza and so naturally this dog used to stay close to me because I was the one who gave it food. In the evening while we were asleep, this dog would from time to time go round our base and return back where I would be sleeping. All this time as we walked with this dog, it would not bark even if other dogs in the villages barked at us. So on this day we went with this dog for the ambush and pakaitika chishamiso. While in our positions waiting for the ambush near the road, it was in the evening, that dog started barking. It barked for quite some time running around. Our sectorial commander now was Cde Machipisa and his deputy who was responsible for security was Cde Percy Chabarara.

MH: So as a member of the High Commander Cde Soul Sadza was way too seniour that all these people you are talking about?
Cde Shambakumanja: Yes, he was way, way up there. Vakanga vari munhu mukuru. People of his rank did not usually come to the war front because if the Smith regime got to know about it, they would do everything to either kill or capture these people. Cde Soul Sadza was responsible for finance under ZIPA (Zimbabwe People’s Army) which was a joint military team comprising Zanla and Zipra comrades as we tried to resuscitate the war after the death of chairman Herbert Chitepo in 1975. I think the Rhodesian forces knew that Cde Soul Sadza was in the area. I will explain this later.

So as we were waiting for the ambush, this dog kept on barking until Cde Machipisa started shouting saying “pfura imbwa iyo! Pfura imbwa iyo hey! Ndiani akati imbwa inojoina hondo? Pfura imbwa iyo!” I said to myself, he wants us to shoot this dog when we don’t even know where it came from? This dog then stopped barking and rushed to my hiding position. I was putting on a very big jacket and so when it came to my hiding place, I covered it with this jacket.

Like I said, the Rhodesian soldiers who had gone to Birchenough Bridge didn’t come back as we expected. Instead we saw a truck belonging to Swift come from Mutare going in the direction of Birchenough Bridge and we stopped it. This truck was carrying foodstuffs like biscuits, tinned food and so on and we knew these were supplies that were being brought for those Rhodesian soldiers. We took some of the foodstuffs and ordered the driver to get out of the vehicle. We then hit this truck with a bazooka, setting it alight. After this I vividly remember that Cde Soul Sadza is the only one on this day vakaridza pfuti mudenga. Vakaridzira mudenga that AK 47 kuti kakakakakaka kakakaka mabara achimwayiwa mudenga.

MH: Why was he doing that?
Cde Shambakumanja: I am not really sure but I think it was a sign that we are in the area. After this we went back to our base. The next day as we were about to leave this base, we were joined by another group led by Cde Tapson Mombe. What we didn’t know was that after shooting the truck, we had been followed by some Rhodesian soldiers. These soldiers later clashed with this group after we had left. As we were taking positions at our new base, takanzwa dzarira kwatabva kuya. We even saw helicopters going in that direction as the fight was on. We actually lost quite a number of comrades in that battle but our group was some kilometres away. But we saw that one of the helicopters was hit and it fell down.

I had forgotten to tell you that as soon as we left this ambush where we hit the Swift truck, that dog disappeared. We don’t even know where it went. We never saw it again. After I think two or so days, when we were at some base, we received some clothes. They were blue jeans, jungle shoes and some t-shirts. There was also a radio, a five band radio with an aerial. I was too junior to know how these clothes got to us and all I know is that I was given my pair of jeans, jungle shoes and a t-shirt. In this case, it was obvious that Shef Soul Sadza was the one to be given the radio. I actually think this radio had some tracker device or some time bomb. It’s only now that I am beginning to think that those jeans were meant to show the Rhodesian soldiers the group where Cde Soul Sadza was. All the other comrades the next day put on these jeans but I said to myself, uummm no, these blue jeans were too bright and so they could expose us. So ndakapfeka these jeans and t-shirt but on top ndakapfeka my khaki uniform that I had been given by Cde Rex Nhongo before I was deployed to the war front. So it meant I was the only one putting on something different from all the other comrades.

While at the base, Cde Soul Sadza said we should go to Mutambara because one of the comrades there, Wemutsoka was tarnishing our image to the masses. So Cde Soul Sadza said Wemutsoka should be arrested and taken back to the rear so that he would be disciplined. As we started walking to Mutambara, we met one of our groups. They had heard that Cde Soul Sadza was around and so they had come to greet him. We actually spent the night with this group. The next morning we left this group at this place, we used to call this place paHighfields because povho in that area yaitibata zvakanaka stereki. Vaibika mafat cook ainaka stereki. So we left this group at this base, but we left this base a bit late and so we walked in daylight something we were not supposed to do. So we got pabook rekwaDzingirai still in Zimunya on our way to Mutambara.

MH: Did you switch on this radio that you had been given?
Cde Shambakumanja: Yaitorira and Shef Soul Sadza would use it to listen to news and so on.

MH: Can you briefly explain, before we go further, what kind of a person was Cde Soul Sadza?
Cde Shambakumanja: From the little time we were together, I saw that Cde Soul Sadza vakanga vari munhu wevanhu. He never showed that he had such a high rank. He would mix and mingle with us. You see in our bases we would stay in a war formation and he would be at the commanding post, which was always at the centre of this formation. Once in a while he would leave his post and go to chat with some of the comrades. He would be so relaxed asking about the war and son on. I think his mission at the war front was to see how the war was going on as there was ZIPA during this time. I think after a while he was supposed to go back and give a report at the rear in Mozambique.

MH: Was he happy to be at the war front?
Cde Shambakumanja: Yes, very, very much. I forgot to tell you that he is the one who gave the order that we were supposed to go for that ambush and when he fired several shots into the air, that was a sign of happiness. He was a very purposive person with lots of determination to execute the war. You know some of the comrades who were at the same rank with him were afraid to come to the war front but he was not afraid at all. It was very rare for members of the High Command to come to the war front. I am sure that while Cde Soul Sadza was sent to Manicaland, two other members of the High Command were sent to Tete and Gaza provinces respectively. Their mission was to assess the war situation and go back to the rear in Mozambique. Their ranks were too high for them to be sent to operate for long at the front.

MH: You never got to know where these jeans and the radio had come from?
Cde Shambakumanja: No, I never got to know.

MH: Was there a way of vetting where such things would have come from?
Cde Shambakumanja: There was vetting but that was done by our seniors. As juniors we just received the jeans and we couldn’t question where they had come from.

So when we got to this Dzingirai village around past 8am, we were instructed to go and tell povho to cook food for us. We found our base mukakomo that was between other big mountains including Himalaya mountains. I cant remember exactly how many we were at this base but we were above 10 comrades. So we rested in our base as the povho was preparing food for us. While waiting, we got information that there was a villager akatengesa this base where we were. Before us, there were other comrades who had passed through this base and that’s when this villager informed the Rhodesian forces about this base. Our commander Cde Machipisa instructed me and two other comrades to go and bring this villager. His homestead was close to the road from Mutare to Birchenough Bridge. We went and brought this old man to our base and some comrades interrogated him while his hands were tied at the back. I think around 1pm, I remember this because paradio pakanga pakuitwa zveKwaziso, ndipo pakauya ndege dzakatevera karwizi coming from the direction from Mutare. The helicopters were flying very low so that we could not hear their sound. We suddenly saw three helicopters hovering above us. We wondered what had happened and what was going on. I shouted kunana chimbwido who had brought us some food saying asikana vharai maplates. As they were doing this, one of the helicopters yakanga yamira at one place clearly showing that takanga taonekwa kare. Ndege iya yakaita kanenge kakudzika mbichana and I could see the gunman in the helicopter aiming his gun towards us. I shouted, tawonewaaa! tawonewaa! I think they quickly spotted us because of the plates. Our commander Machipisa shouted saying ‘hapana anotiza macomrades, mirai, mirai! Shef vari kugeza mirai macomrades!’ By this time, Cde Soul Sadza was busy getting dressed. So we took cover under the trees holding our guns.

MH: As you were doing this, where were those girls who had brought you food?
Cde Shambakumanja: They took cover with us. I was the one who was close to them and in that tense situation I said to them ‘vasikana, mufunge zvenyu hondo yauya. Kufa kwauya. Hameno kuti zvichafamba sei? Ndiyo hondo yacho’. That’s what I said to them from my hiding place. The helicopters had taken positions above us.

After a while, Machipisa shouted again. ‘Macomrades handeyiiii!’ That’s when we came out of our hiding positions. I think we took the pilots of the helicopters by surprise.

They never thought we would come out to face them. Vakatiridzira vari kumadokero as we were trying to dash to the next cover which was towards a river stream. But then before getting to the stream, paiva nekainge kamunda that we had to cross. The helicopters started firing at us as we ran for cover. As they started firing, munhu wandakaona akapfurwa ndichiona was assistant waCde Soul Sadza. Akarohwa musoro from the left uchibva wamwauka the other side kwakabuda nebullet. Akarohwa musoro chaiwo chaiwo achibva adonha pasi. Ndakatanga kuchema nechemumoyo. I was still very young and I had never seen this. I said ‘amaiii, amaaiii, amaiii ndava kufa kani!’ When this assistant was shot, our commander Machipisa shouted again. ‘Macomrades miraiii! Miraii macomrades! Pfuraiii, ndegeee! Rovai ndegeee!’ Murume iyeye akazhambatata. We then started firing at the helicopters, ndege dzese kusaoneka nemabara. We had one of the comrades who had an RPG 2, he took some position and fired his bozooka hitting one of the helicopters. That helicopter caught fire and fell down in a ball of fire. That whole area was covered with thick smoke. Up to this day if you talk to the villagers who were close by they tell you kuti kwakaita rima masikati.

We managed to down the three helicopters. In this confusion and when the fighting had subsided, those girls quickly ran back to their homes. That old man we had brought to the base was somewhere still tied. No one really cared about him. This was time for survival.

We ran towards that stream I spoke about but in no time four helicopters came. Ndipo pakauya ndege manje. There were several helicopters and tuma vampa then a dakota dropping parachutes in the direction where we were trying to go. In that dakota we could hear someone shouting saying, ‘vanhu vekwaZimunya, vanoshanda nemagandanga, zvichakonzera kufa kwemagandanga nhasi! Iwe munhuwo zvako, usabve pamba pako ungangofungidzirwa kuti uri gandangawo!’

Just as we were about to get to this stream, the helicopters started firing heavily towards us. Isu kuti tichidzorera fire, it was now not possible because there were now too many helicopters and the fire was just too much. We were defeated because we had been circled. Ndipo pandakaona Shef varohwa padumbu, hura hwavo hwese hwava panze. Pandakatarisa kudai ndakaona kuti Shef varohwa. Vakada kuzama kumhanya but I could see he was struggling and it was not possible for him to run. Hura hwavo hwese hwakanga hwava panze. I couldn’t do anything, but dash into the stream. Of all the comrades, hapana akakwanisa kubuda out of that stream. Munhu wandakaona akamhanya kumuda from the stream on the other side achitiza ndichinyatsoona kuti comrades uyu aenda was Cde Percy Chabarara. But then the direction he was running towards ndiko kwaikandwa maparachutes. He didn’t survive because ndakanzwa pfuti kurira in that direction after a shot while.

While in that stream ndakaenda paiva negomba on its banks and the gunman in one of the helicopters had spotten. So as he was firing, ndaihwanda kumucheto kwagomba iri and change positions if the helicopter changed its position. I could see the bullets hitting the ground very close to me. After realising that he could not hit me, the gunman threw a hand grenade who fell a few metres from where I was and exploded. That when I was hit on my forehead by the shrapnels from this handgrenade. I was almost buried under heavy soils and I think that is what saved me because the helicopter then flew to another position. I think they thought they had managed to kill me.

MH: As this was happening, where were some of your comrades?
Cde Shambakumanja: From that position, I could see them lying dead in that stream. Many comrades were shot dead while in this stream. I could see bodies all over the place.

I don’t think there is any other comrade who managed to cross that stream other than Percy Chabarara. There were bodies all over the place. It was a sorry sight. Ndakachema nechemumoyo.

MH: You said when you turned before getting to this stream that’s when you saw that Cde Soul Sadza had been hit?
Cde Shambakumanja: Yes, Shef vakanga vatorohwa kare and hura hwavo hwese hwaiva panze. Like I said he tried to run but it was just not possible. Panoperera my memory yekuvaona alive ndipapo because I was battling for survival also.

After a while I started crawling along the stream. By this time the helicopters had gone. I knew there was ground force somewhere so I had to be very, very careful. I crossed another stream and dashed to another thick forest that was nearby. Ndakawona gomba rekuhwanda and I went in for cover. Nearby pakanga paine mombe yakanga yapfurwa yatofa but its blood was still flowing. I quickly took some leaves and covered myself because I could hear there were some Rhodesian soldiers talking nearby. After a few seconds I saw them walking towards me and I thought they had seen me. I closed my eyes so that if they were to shoot me, I would not see it. These soldiers walked and came very close to where I was hiding and from nowhere, they changed direction. They started walking in another direction and ndakafema ipapo. Ndakabva ndazokotsira ipapo.

MH: As all this was happening, where was the radio?
Cde Shambakumanja: One of Cde Soul Sadza’s assistants was the one with that radio. I don’t really know what happened, but pataimhanya pese apa, yaitorira karwiyo kaya keKwaziso kekuti ‘Aphiri anobwera…’ I could hear this song as the fighting was on. Up to this day I hear that song playing in my mind.

While asleep, I dreamt ndiri kumusha. I flew from this hiding place ndikadaidzira ndava kumusha kuti ‘hey, huyai mindione, ndasvikira kugarden kwenzimbe.’ So I think all this time when I was asleep, vadzimu vangu took me away from this battlefied and protected me ndiri kumusha kwedu. I think I slept until around 7pm because when I woke up it was now very dark.

MH: How long did this battle take?
Cde Shambakumanja: I can’t exactly remember but it was a long battle. So I woke up and started walking during that night. Ndaifamba serwaivhi chairwo because I wanted to be sure that no one could hear me. While walking I passed through some dip tank and I discovered that this is where the ground force was based because I saw lots of opened cans and many other things. I almost bumped into another group of Rhodesian soldiers but I quickly took cover and they walked past me. I started walking but didn’t know where I was going. My idea was to walk towards Mozambique but after a while I decided to go up one of the mountains. I went up one of the mountains and slept in a small cave. I started dreaming ndabatwa nemasoja and I started screaming. That’s when I woke up. It was now early in the morning. I remained in this cave. I spent the whole day hiding in this cave, but around 7am, I saw some helicopters and a dakota. From the dakota I could hear someone shouting, ‘Vanhu vekwaZimunya, vanoshanda nemauto, zvakakonzera kuworaiwa kwemagandanga nezuro! Huyai muzowona magandanga awunganidzwa paChimenga Township! Tiri kuona mumwe ari kumhanya nesango! Iwe! Iwe! Unowuraiwa nemauto!’ I started crying thinking they had spotted me.

After a while many people gathered at the township to see the bodies of my fellow comrades. The people were made to line up and view the bodies. I could not see exactly what was happening because I was up the mountain, but from the voice from the dakota I knew they were displaying my fellow comrades at the township. What happened to these bodies after being displayed at the township, I don’t know. To me this is where the story about the death of Cde Soul Sadza ends. This battle happened on June 1 1976 and the bodies were displayed the next day. I think I am the only comrade who survived in this battle. In respect of my Shef Cde Soul Sadza and my fellow comrades who perished in this battle, at my homestead June 1 and June 2 are holidays. Chisi and we don’t work to honour these comrades.

Now that we know how Cde Soul Sadza was shot and killed by the ruthless Rhodesian forces, next week The Sunday Mail will take you on a journey to Zimunya to find out where exactly his remains are. The villagers in Zimunya swear that some of the comrades whose bodies were displaced at Chimenga township by the Rhodhesian soldiers were not from this battle where Cde Soul Sadza was killed. In the midst of these revelations, the Magaya family was suddenly told about the remains of some comrade up the mountains in Zimunya. These remains were first discovered around 1985 and have remained a mystery since then. Unspeakable things happened when the Magaya family went to Zimunya to investigate whether these remains belong to Cde Soul Sadza. Don’t miss your Sunday Mail next week as this mystery continues unfolding.

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  • Very unlikely story that THREE Alouettes were downed in one battle! See my own account in Rhodesian Air Force Operations with Air Strike Log.

  • Mike Borlace was shot down twice in 1976 – the first time on 27 March, crewed with Mike Upton, with Alouette R7524. Second time was on 18 July, Alouette 5076, but did NOT crash, however, his gunner, Sgt Pat Graham was killed (see my Air Strike Log 404).