Cde Obert Mazhandu, born somewhere between 1928 and 1929 but whose national identity say he was born in 1934, is not your ordinary freedom fighter. He was a member of Zanu’s first Dare ReChimurenga that was formed in 1964 and was in charge of recruiting freedom fighters during those early and difficult days.
He went to Lusaka, Zambia in 1960 after countless arrests in Rhodesia where he joined Zanu, a year after it had been formed. In this interview with The Sunday Mail team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike he talks about how the Rhodesian soldiers almost recruited him as an informer, he talks about Zanu’s recruitment policy during those formative years, he talks about the sellout comrade who leaked information to the Rhodesian soldiers about Chinhoyi’s Famous Seven fighters leading to their death and gives new details linking this same sellout comrade to the death of chairman Chitepo.
Cde Mazhandu had no kind words for his fellow Dare reChimurenga comrade, Noel Mukono and gives an insight into how regionalism was born in Zanu.
History is being re-defined. Read on …
SM: Cde Mazhandu, how exactly did you get involved in politics?
Cde Mazhandu: It’s a long story but let me say I got involved in politics from a long time ago around 1958. I later went to Zambia where I stayed with one of my relatives, Percy Ntini and was introduced to politics by people like Mark Nziramasanga.
In 1963, I came back home and was arrested on arrival. After the arrests in 1963, the Rhodesian government wanted to recruit me to be their spy in Zambia and they actually gave me some white contacts in Lusaka to relay information about the political activities by ZAPU and later Zanu. They promised me good money and for them to release me, I pretended I was in agreement with their plan. One of the contacts in Zambia was a whiteman called Hunt.
Stanley Parerewa, Morton Malianga and Peter Mtandwa were working at the Zanu office.
I was later sent to Tanzania in 1964 for military training and went together with seven other comrades. After one week in Dar es Salaam, there was a clash between the Zambian government and Stanley Parerewa and John Mataure in Lusaka. The two were removed from the office and chairman Chitepo and Noel Mukono assigned me to go back to Zambia to work in the Zanu office because I could speak the Zambian language.
SM: What caused this fallout?
Cde Mazhandu: The fallout was caused by the Zambian government which favoured ZAPU. People in ZAPU would call Zanu a sellout party and whenever Zanu recruited people to go for training, ZAPU people would rush to the Zambian authorities saying the sellout party is recruiting terrorists. They would say “chiZanu chemari.”
SM: Why was Zanu called a sellout party and chiZanu chemari?
Cde Mazhandu: It was propaganda so that people could not join Zanu. Zanu didn’t have money. I worked for Zanu till about 1967, I was never given even a dollar. Zanu didn’t have money. We survived on well-wishers in Lusaka. This was just propaganda.
Up to the 1970s, Zambian government didn’t like Zanu. When I came back from Tanzania, I became the Zanu acting chief representative in Lusaka. Zambian government didn’t want to associate itself with Zanu. The only people in the Zambian government who associated with us were people like Dingiswayo Banda, Grey Zulu, and Kapwepwe. Kaunda didn’t like Zanu.
One of my jobs in Lusaka was to organise meetings and rallies and recruit people to join the liberation struggle.
SM: How were you recruiting people during this time, seeing that these were early days of the struggle?
Cde Mazhandu: We would tell them that Zanu is a new party whose aim was to go and fight to liberate the country. We were emphasizing that Zanu is not about talking to the Rhodesian government. We wanted to fight the colonial system. We told people that some will die but eventually the country would be free.
SM: We hear that sometimes had to lie or kidnap some people?
Cde Mazhandu: This happened around 1967, 68 and 69. We were now abducting people. Kumanikidza vanhu chaiko because for OAU to support us we had to have a certain number of people in the training camps. Of course we would also tell people that they would go to school and some actually went to school, especially those who were very young. However, after political induction at the training camps, some would opt to join the struggle than go to school.
We recruited most people from areas like Mumbwa and Kabwe where there were many Zimbabweans. From Livngstone to Chililabombwe.
When head office of Zanu moved from Tanzania to Lusaka, that’s when Dare ReChimurenga was formed and I became the Chief of Recruitment in Dare.
SM: You spoke about the OAU. Some people say due to the pressure to impress OAU, many mistakes were made during these early years.
Cde Mazhandu: People can say that, but reality is that Zanu didn’t have many people in its training camps and we had to do something to get support from the OAU. We could see that Zapu had many recruits and we had to do something to increase our numbers.
We also resorted to recruiting door to door but we also relied on our branches and districts for recruitment. We also spoke about Zanu at rallies.
We had to use door to door recruitment after realising that some people were not forthcoming around 1967, 68 and 69.
SM: How far true is it that even the famous Chinhoyi 7 group was sent into the country ill-prepared just to make a statement to the OAU that Zanu was doing something on the ground?
Cde Mazhandu: I don’t agree with that at all. I am the one who sent those fighters into Rhodesia. I knew all of them by name. Even the second group we sent, I knew all of them by name. What happened is that we were sold out. Takatengesana tega tega in Zambia. Some people we recruited were not genuine. They were sellouts sent by the Rhodesian government. Those comrades were not supposed to die. They sneaked into Rhodesia zviri smart and they were not supposed to die.
Those comrades were sold out. Someone who was in Zambia who knew that the comrades had sneaked into Rhodesia is the one who sold out. Those comrades were well trained in Ghana. They were not the type that would walk into an ambush. No.
I suspect someone in Zanu leaked the information about these comrades to the Rhodesian government. There were some people we suspected.
These comrades were well trained in guerrilla welfare and they were a special group. We had sent some people for reconnaissance and this was done properly. This was not about sending comrades for slaughter just for publicity. No. Everything had been arranged to the last detail.
Those comrades were not supposed to be at one point as what happened. They were supposed to hit different targets. Pavakafira paya it was an ambush which was never supposed to happen. Their targets were right in town in Chinhoyi to signal to the Rhodesians that we were back to reclaim our country through the gun. Those comrades were cornered before they got to their intended targets.
When those comrades got into Chinhoyi, they stayed at some house for a few days studying their targets. Even in Lusaka, they stayed a few days but they were staying at different houses and they were never supposed to tell anyone what their mission was. Some stayed kumba kwaMushonga and some kwaChakabva in Lusaka.
SM: Before sending them into Rhodesia, had Zanu sat down to strategise properly?
Cde Mazhandu: We sat down with William Ndangana, Felix Rice, Bernard Mutuma, Mukudzei Midzi and Alfred Mutasa. These were some of the guys in the High Command. They are the ones who chose the comrades and told us that they were ripe to execute the mission. People like Tongogara were not yet in the picture. He had not yet gone for training but I think that’s the time he was beginning to get involved in Zanu politics.
SM: Who do you think sold out these comrades?
Cde Mazhandu: (long pause) Zvinonetsa. I wouldn’t know who exactly. These fighters came in a vehicle. We locked them at the back of a Clan transport vehicle in Lusaka. They were supposed to disembark somewhere close to Chinhoyi. Some contacts were already waiting for them with their ammunition. For me to know who exactly sold out its a bit difficult.
There were some people in the party who had been sent by the Rhodesians. Some of them even came into Zimbabwe after independence and held high posts in the CIO.
One of them was caught and after interrogation, he confessed that indeed he and others had been sent by the Rhodesians. This person later became chairman Chitepo’s bodyguard. Even the day that Chitepo died he was there. He was the first person to tell us that Chitepo had died after a car bomb. We came with this person into Zimbabwe after independence.
SM: What’s the name of this person?
Cde Mazhandu: Ahhh, uuuhhh, (pause) he became senior in the CIO. (Pause) This person became very senior in the CIO. Do you know (name supplied). He was the one. Very light in complexion. Akazongofa ava rombe. When Chitepo died, this person was in Chitepo’s house. He was a member of the CIO in Rhodesia. Later people like Tongogara, Ndangana sat down with him and did what they did. He said handifi ndakaburitsa information to the Rhodesians. He then started giving us information about what was happening in Rhodesia. That’s why after independence he became senior in the CIO. He was one of them and he is the only one I can tell you. He later died.
SM: But why did you send only seven comrades?
Cde Mazhandu: This was guerrilla welfare that’s why we sent those few comrades. Those fighters were still on their way to their targets when they were cornered after being sold out. They were intercepted.
Once in Chinhoyi, they were supposed to go separate ways and hit certain targets then regroup coming back. There was also a second group led by Horice Nyazika. They also failed to get to their targets.
SM: So there was another group. Tell us about this group.
Cde Mazhandu: Yes, there were two groups but all in the same year. The first group all of them perished. This second group, four comrades survived. This also happened in Chinhoyi. The first group had seven fighters and the second had nine fighters.
The second group crossed into Zimbabwe, nemusango with their ammunition. We thought tagona but still they were intercepted. However the second group rakatomborova and they exchanged fire with the Rhodesians because they were armed.
First group was led by Patrick Mandizha and the second group was led by Horice Nyazika. These were the commanders.
This group led by Horice, a few years ago, we invited one of the survivors in Harare and he stayed for about two weeks. He had been called by Cde Zvinavashe when he was still alive.
When the comrades perished, we were very hurt. Very, very hurt. Actually, pakatomboita time pasina munhu akauya kuno. We had to stop and rethink the strategy. We then had to engage masvikiro, our spirit mediums so that they could tell us tofamba sei.
Even our recruitment was heavily affected. Many people were now thinking once they go to the front they would die. We got very few recruits during this time. Morale was very low.
SM: Some reports say these attacks failed because you had not consulted the owners of the land?
Cde Mazhandu: That could be true because takanga tine madhara atakanga tinawo ikoko. People like Peter Chihota and Peter Mtandwa. This was their job and that’s why were keeping them in Lusaka. They are the ones who were supposed to ask the spirit mediums kuti tofamba sei. We had actually taken Peter Chihota all the way from Tanzania. Aitoita kunge svikiro, kunge n’anga. So we engaged them kuti what should we do? These spirit mediums were very useful later in the struggle because they would tell us to move comrades from certain bases and those bases would be bombed soon after moving the comrades away.
Of course, sometimes things would not happen as they would have said but on the majority, they were very helpful.
When the first group came, we had not consulted these spirit mediums. The second group, we had spoken to the spirit mediums and vakatopihwa fodya dzekufamba nadzo.
You see, during these early days, people like me, I was young then, so zvemasvikiro zvanga zviri kure nesu. We thought hazvishandi but we later saw kuti zvinoshanda.
SM: Besides these comrades who perished, during these early days so many comrades were arrested upon entering Rhodesia and some people are saying it was the poor strategy in the early days.
Cde Mazhandu: People can say what they want but the thing is that takanga tisati tanyatsovhurirwa mukana nemudzimu. The spirit mediums are the ones that guided us throughout the war even up to this day.
SM: Now let’s move away from this issue and talk about your role in Dare ReChimurenga.
Cde Mazhandu: Dare ReChimurenga was acting as today’s politburo. There was High Command and these two organs would meet regularly. Dare ReChimurenga dealt with administrative issues while High Command comprised commanders responsible for executing the war.
Dare ReChimurenga would source materials for the war from all over the world. This Dare was like some central government outside Rhodesia.
The people who were in Dare at that time include chairman Chitepo, Henry Hamadziripi, Noel Mukono, Simpson Mutambanengwe, Mukudzei Midzi, Obert Mazhandu and John Mataure (who acted like he was working for both organs).
I was Chief of Recruitment in Dare ReChimurenga.
SM: How were these people chosen to be in Dare ReChimurenga?
Cde Mazhandu: I really wouldn’t want to lie to you. I am not sure how this Dare was constituted. In Tanzania there was Cde Chitepo, Cde Mutambanengwe and Cde Mukono. Henry Hamadziripi was actually in Rhodesia. He later joined us in Lusaka. He was in the Central Committee of Zanu that had been elected in Gweru.
Dare ReChimurenga would coordinate its activities with those who were in prison in Rhodesia using letters that were smuggled into the prisons. We used women mostly to carry out these duties. I remember Mai Victoria Chitepo she helped us a lot in this regard. The leaders in prison would give us advice and instructions via the letters.
SM: What was Zanu’s policy of recruitment during these days?
Cde Mazhandu: We would tell the recruits that we wanted to stage a war and in a war some people will die. But if we survive, you the liberators will rule the country just as the Zambians were doing.
It was chairman Mao’s teaching that wherever you go, get the masses to understand your cause so that they can join you. So the comrades who were recruiting at the war front had our blessings. It was part of our strategy.
When the second group led by Horice Nyazika hit in Chinhoyi and some members survived, we got good publicity and some people voluntarily came to join the struggle. Actually, we faced transport problems because of the number of people who came forward wanting to join the struggle.
After this, we would send people like Solomon Hwekwete for reconnaissance into Rhodesia and they would spend up to three weeks checking and verifying the strategy before deployment. This comrade Solomon Hwekwete is still alive.
SM: When Zanu started getting large numbers of recruits, did the Zambian government change its attitude towards Zanu?
Cde Mazhandu: In a way yes but still they maintained their strong support for ZAPU. Zanu got most of its assistance from the OAU working with people like the late Brigadier General Mbita.
SM: What was the background of people who were coming to join the struggle during these early years?
Cde Mazhandu: There were some who were educated. We got some people from universities. We got people like Fay Chung from the university in Zambia. However, those who went for military training, were manly those with low education levels.
Isu taitofarira vasina kufunda because once such people came, they came with serious commitment.
SM: We hear stories of some people who had received some education who would mock others saying imi musina kudzidza chiendai kunorwa hondo kana mahwina tozouya toitonga. How far true is this?
Cde Mazhandu: Yeah, there are some people who said that. Even in Dare ReChimurenga we would have clashes among ourselves with some people saying manyanya kutora recruits from this and this area. Chimboendai munotorawo veku side iri.
You see there was this talk about regionalism. You know that Chitepo was Manyika. Hamadziripi was from Masvingo and Mazhandu was from Shurugwi. So you go and get 20 recruits and about 10 or more are Manyika, tomorrow almost the same. Some people in Dare would say ahh, you are recruiting too many people from Manyika. Why not take others from Chitungwiza? You know blood is thicker than water.
There was that kind of regionalism.
SM: Who used to clash on regional lines in Dare?
Cde Mazhandu: (laughs and long sigh) Ndeve chiManyika.
SM: So you mean Cde Chitepo or what because he is the one we know who was a Manyika?
Cde Mazhandu: No. You see, if that man Chitepo had survived into an independent Zimbabwe, there wasn’t going to be any nyonganyonga. Even the disturbances in the 1980s wouldn’t have happened. He was one person who didn’t identify people according to their regions.
He didn’t want people who identified themselves according to regions. He used to say we are one people. We are Zimbabweans.
SM: So who kuManyika was …
Cde Mazhandu: It was Noel Mukono. He was very vocal about this regionalism. There was Simpson Mutambanengwe and Mataure, they were both Manyika but they were never regionalistic like Mukono. This affected the recruitment exercise.
As we went on the recruitment exercise, our main target was those going to the liberation struggle.
SM: What other challenges did you face in the recruitment exercise?
Cde Mazhandu: It was mainly this regionalism by people like Mukono. These people would sometimes bring their people and their people would say we want to go to school instead of going for military training. Sometimes we would say chimbomirai kusvika tawana nzvimbo dzacho. Kana pasina mascholarships, we wouldn’t recruit these people. It created friction of course and things got to a point where I was actually attacked by some people who were accusing me of recruiting people in ways that they said they were not happy with.
I was attacked after addressing a rally and these people who had been seen with Mukono two days earlier even killed my dog that I called Tirivanhu.
When I was attacked, some people who attacked me blamed Mukono. Actually, Cde Chitepo set up a commission of inquiry and it showed that Mukono was behind it all. These people actually wanted to kill me.
After the attack I spent about five months in hospital. It was that bad.
SM: Sorry, what was this commission of inquiry all about?
Cde Mazhandu: To establish the roots of regionalism in Zanu. They wanted to establish whether there was regionalism in the recruitment exercise and in sending some people to school. It was discovered that indeed, there was regionalism in sending some recruits to school. There was nothing like that in the recruitment exercise.
It was discovered that many Manyikas were the ones benefiting from scholarships assisted by Mukono. Kuhondo kwainyanya kuenda maKaranga nema Zezuru. This is what Mukono wanted but Chitepo was against it. Chitepo was feared so after this commission of inquiry things died down a bit.
SM: As Zanu grew, are there people who crossed from ZAPU to Zanu and vice versa?
Cde Mazhandu: I don’t know of anyone who crossed from Zanu to ZAPU. However, there was quite a number of comrades who crossed from ZAPU to Zanu. People like Solomon Mujuru, who was Rex by that time.
There were problems in ZAPU. Some tribalism was beginning to take root due to fight for positions. Very few Shonas like Ambrose Mutinhiri remained in ZAPU at that time.
SM: Some people say things were well in Zanu until the crossing over of these comrades from ZAPU. What is your coment?
Cde Mazhandu: You are right actually. That’s when we started seeing nyonganyonga in Zanu. Maybe it was these comrades or yanga yava nguva yacho but some of these comrades brought all sorts of problems to Zanu.
Some of these comrades when they came over to Zanu they wanted to become the leaders, remember the Nhari rebellion? In Zanu, people were not obsessed with issues to do with leadership. All their focus was on fighting and winning the liberation struggle.
However some people Solomon Mujuru looked genuine, no wonder why he rose through the ranks. The ZAPU groups that came around 1970s, ndivo vanga vava kutyisa pfungwa dzavo.
SM: You spoke about chairman Chitepo showing that you were close. What kind of a person was he and what was his main message.
Cde Mazhandu: His message all the time was honesty, be yourself and be patriotic. Be a Zimbabwean asingatengeki nemari. Chitepo went around speaking vehemently against regionalism. That’s how people were just being given Chimurenga names that had nothing to do with where they came from. The names were meant to dilute issues about regionalism. That’s why comrades were told never to divulge their places of origin. It was to fight regionalism.
The names were also a disguise so that those who remained behind were not tormented by the Rhodesians.
SM: As someone you were close to, what do you think happened to chairman Chitepo? Who killed him?
Cde Mazhandu: A day before he died, I was with him. There was a man called Dr Harry from Malawi. His wife was from South Africa and this wife was very good friends with Mai Chitepo. This day, Chitepo came to my house. We drank a bit sevanhu vaimboti mwirei mwirei. They later left for home. The next day past 7, we got news that Chitepo had died in a car bomb.
SM: When you were with him on this day, what did you talk about?
Cde Mazhandu: Most of the times, Chairman Chitepo would come to my house if ever he had spare time. Taitandara talking about politics. Like many days, on this day chairman Chitepo was in a good mood. We spoke about politics and many other issues. Some people even thought I was related to Cde Chitepo. Taiwirirana zvakasimba maningi.
When he bade me farewell, there was nothing unusual that could make one think that he was going to die.
His death pained me a lot. I was really hurt. The struggle almost died. A few days after his death, the Zambian government started arrested Zanu members, especially those in the High Command.
SM: So what do you think happened to Cde Chitepo?
Cde Mazhandu: Chitepo akaseterwa bomb nevakomana veRhodesia. Chitepo was very vocal in denouncing the Rhodesians with authority and the world listened to him because he was a top lawyer. The only other person who I think speaks with such authority is President Mugabe. They were at par. Chitepo did not mince his words. He had this voice that commanded respect.
There was this sellout I spoke about earlier on who was in chairman Chitepo’s house when this happened. Some comrades in Zanu thought he had reformed but I don’t think so. We heard that he is the one who was used by the Rhodesians. He was now chairman Chitepo’s bodyguard. He is the one who came to tell me about Chitepo’s death. He spoke like someone losing his senses.
SM: Why do you think he was to blame?
Cde Mazhandu: We thought he was the one who was used. He came as a sellout and I don’t think he had reformed as he made some people to believe. When the Zambian government was arrested Zanu members after the death of chairman Chitepo, this person was not arrested.
This raised our suspicion. When people were being rounded up, I drove to Luangwa and Mbeya ndichitizisa some comrades so that they would not be arrested. I was with Fay Chung doing these trips. She had her car and I had my own car.
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