Chimurenga II Chronicles – Altena Farm attack: The retreat

Last week, Cde Lovemore Rugora whose Chimurenga name was called Cde John Pedzisa narrated how he together with a group of other freedom fighters hit Altena Farm farm in 1972, signalling the start of the sustained Second Chimurenga. After the attack, the Smith regime went on a massive manhunt for the group.
As his group was retreating, some of his comrades were shot dead while Cde Pedzisa was shot in the leg. In this interview with our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike, Cde Pedzisa narrates how he later managed to escape and how he was later appointed by Cde Tongogara to be the Zanu representative at Mbeya, in Tanzania.
Read on . . .

SM: So what happened after you took cover at this bushy area?
Cde Pedzisa: The next morning, the Rhodesian forces came back to the area with helicopters. I saw them loading something into one of the helicopters and I think when I returned fire, I killed one or two of them and they had come to collect the bodies. I saw it all from this position.
They then made an extended line to comb the area and they started walking in my direction. One of the soldiers had a sniffer dog but fortunately he was a bit far away from where I was hiding. I crawled further into the thick bush and they walked past. My heart was pounding.

I still had my gun and was ready to fire if they had discovered me. Ndakanga ndakakoka kuti ndofa nevangu.
I remained in this position the whole day. In the evening, I started walking along the river. I was in excruciating pain. In the morning, I took cover and rested. I would only walk during the evening.

On the third day, that’s when I saw some cattle and knew that there must be some villages nearby. I walked to the village and they first prepared porridge for me. I managed to eat three teaspoons of porridge. They started treating my wound and later gave me sadza. Ndakangoita musova mitatu ndikati ndaguta. You know ukanyatsoita nzara chaizvo, you won’t eat lots of food.
These villagers said they were going to look for my other comrades in the area and when they made this suggestion I said yes, you should do so but as you do that I will find somewhere nearby in the bush to go and hide.

These villagers were afraid to keep me for long because they feared someone could sell them out and the Rhodesian forces were ruthless to anyone who assisted us. I remember the Rhodesian forces at one time vakasungirira munhu mupenyu pahelicopter and they flew the helicopter with this villager hanging. By the time the helicopter landed, the villager was dead. So this instilled fear into the villagers. After a day, the villagers took me to my fellow comrades on a bicycle.

SM: You are talking about moving from this place to that place but we are talking about moving in thick forests here. How were you coordinating all this?
Cde Pedzisa: Like I told you, during training, the Chinese taught us that we were the fish and the people were the water. The povho made the co-ordination easy. They were our means of communication. So you see mvura iri kufambisa fish.
The teachings of Mao say that akabata pfuti mudiki kupovho. It meant that whatever we were doing, we were supposed to put povho in front. As freedom fighters, we were servants of the people.

So when I was taken to my fellow comrades, that’s when I started receiving proper medication to my knee. Unfortunately, mushonga wacho had expired and the needle yacho yakanga isisabaye zvakanaka. Vaindibaya vachiita zvekutsindira kuti ipinde. That’s why up to this day, you can see gomba riri paknee pangu. (Showing the knee with tears running down his cheeks). Kubaiwa zvekuita kunge pfumo. I can’t and won’t forget the pain.
Later, these comrades told me that they had a letter from Cde Tongogara saying I should return to the rear in Zambia. I was carried on a stretcher, we used to call it wachanja, and taken to Zambezi river then crossed into Zambia.

SM: When you got to the rear, what happened?
Cde Pedzisa: I was taken to Cde Tongo who told me that the Zanu representative in Mbeya in Tanzania, Cde Kuraowone had passed on and I was supposed to replace him. I first got treatment in Zambia and when I got better, that’s when I was taken to Mbeya to become the Zanu representative. This was now in 1974. I was in Mbeya till 1976. In 1976, that’s when Mgagao camp was closed and Nachingweya camp was opened.

SM: As the Zanu representative in Mbeya, what were your duties?
Cde Pedzisa: I would receive recruits from Zambia and facilitate all their clearance and logistics before they proceeded to Mgagao. I would also do the same for the comrades leaving Mgagao going for deployment. There was also an armoury at Mbeya and I liaised with the OAU officials for all the logistics regarding ammunition.

SM: Some comrades have told us that so many disturbing things happened at Mbeya between Zanu and Zapu cadres. Did you see this during your time there?
Cde Pedzisa: I didn’t see this during my time there but what I can tell you is that I was in good books with my Zapu representative at Mbeya. Its unfortunate I can’t remember his name. However, I don’t want to say nothing of that sort happened. It’s possible it happened.

Mbeya was a transit camp and it’s possible some bad things could have happened without us knowing.
From Mbeya, I went to Mozambique in 1976. I was later made Camp Commander at Doroi which was near Chimoio camp in Mozambique. At Doroi we would receive recruits from home and vet them to see those who had the qualities to be sent for military training.

By this time, thousands of people were joining the struggle and we had to vet them strictly.
Cde Tsuro was my security man. Machokoto was kueducation. There were others but I can’t remember their names. We had several departments, like logistics, medics and so on that were under my command.

We were given food by the OAU through the Mozambican government. I was at Doroi for just a year, that’s until 1977.
From Doroi I went to Tembwe until 1978. I was later made the commissar at Tembwe with Cde Makasha as the commander. In 1979, I was transferred to Maputo because of my seniority but still as commissar.
I need to tell you that it was in Mozambique when many recruits kept coming that comrades started falling in love. As commissar ndakatochatisa vakawanda.

SM: Really, how would you do it?
Cde Pedzisa: There was no rice and all that pomp and fun fair. The couples would come to me and I ask each one of them kuti iwe une chokwadi here kuti uyu wamuda? If they all say yes, yes, I would make them sign on paper and that was their marriage certificate. I would remain with this certificate.

SM: Briefly tell us of the role of the commissar during those days?
Cde Pedzisa: Commissar ndiye anodzidzisa gwara rechinhu chese chinenge chichida kuitwa. The main role was to politicise people and make them understand why and how the struggle was being carried out.
We would teach the comrades how to relate with povho, remember the song “Kune Nzira Dzemasoja”. It talks about how a comrade should behave and relate to the masses. The masses were never supposed to fear macomrades. A commissar convinces people through talking to them with respect. Zanu was formed to free the masses. It’s unfortunate that some comrades who were trained later didn’t receive proper political orientation leading to stories of abuse of povho. Hondo yakanga yakura so control was also now a problem.

SM: So after the liberation struggle, where did you go?
Cde Pedzisa: After the death of Cde Tongo, we were selected by Cde Rex Nhongo together with 11 other commanders and our deputies to come into Rhodesia to oversee our assembly points. Later, Cde Nhongo withdrew me from these commanders after he realised that I had an injury. My knee had not yet completely healed. I remained in Maputo.
We later came to Zimbabwe the day President Mugabe came back. Our plane was the first one to arrive then the one carrying President Mugabe later arrived.

We went and stayed in Highlands. I was later arrested after I addressed some Zanu meeting because police was saying we had not sought clearance. Some Zanu youths protested but I spent one week in prison. During this time, some people thought I had died because the Smith regime was secretly killing comrades during these days. I was later transferred to Masvingo still as commissar until elections, where I was arrested again and released after a week.
This was in 1980, and the Rhodesians were using intimidation to scare us from campaigning for Zanu.

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