Crocodile Gang: How the name came about

LAST week, Comrade Shadreck Musari Gatula, born 16 February 1940 narrated his early days as a youth in the National Democratic Party, moving to Zapu and eventually to Zanu in the early 1960s. He narrated how the famous Crocodile Gang was born in Ndola, Zambia and how it was deployed into Rhodesia.
This week Cde Gatula continues his story with our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike where he narrates how the name Crocodile Gang came about and why the gang had a very short life in Rhodesia.
Cde Gatula, who says he was a “hot head,” during the early 1960s, also tells an interesting story, for the first time, about how Zanu got its first guns from the forests in Congo.
We pick up his narration from the time he had been arrested in Birchenough Bridge and was now under interrogation at Rhodesia Central Charge Office. Read on …
SM: Let’s go back a bit to put things into perspective. Comrade can you narrate how your interrogation started and how things went from there?

Cde Gatula: Like I said, the interrogation continued in Harare. Ipapo ndipo pandakazo rohwa zvekubhendesa chess yemusana. It was really, really bad.

After the intense interrogation I was put in a dark cell. While in the cell kwakauya detective sergeant Ross. He knew me from my several arrests in Harare. So when he came into the cell, he switched on his torch and said “Gatula you are here again. Now you gonna tell me all the truth.”

I remained silent. He walked to me and clapped me heavily. I stood up leaning against the wall. He said “I am gonna make you right today.”

I replied him saying, “if you do it again, I will retaliate.” He said, “what?”
Just as he was about to clap me again, I got hold of his neck tie and started pulling it. I could hear he was chocking. Takarwisana for a few seconds in the darkness then he started calling for help from other officers.

He was kicking and hitting me trying to free himself but I kept on pulling the tie. He was pulling me towards the door and I was resisting. When we got to the door, ndakaramba ndakadhonza tie as he tried to pull me out of the dark cell. Takadhonzana while he kicked and shouted.

About five police officers arrived and boy oh boy, I was beaten thoroughly. They chained me and took turns to beat me up. Ndakadzvurwa kwete mbichana. You can see here (showing a big lump at his back) Zibundu irori rakaita that day and up to this day richiripo and rinombondirwadza. Vakandirova till I passed out.

I was later taken to Harare Hospital where I spent about three weeks. While in hospital, I was chained to the bed and under police guard. I was later released and taken back to Central Charge office.

I don’t even know how long I was there. Ipapo ndakarohwa nenzara kwete zvekutamba. They would appear like they had forgotten I was there. No food, no nothing.

One day, the police just came and took me to court. Seated in court, I started asking myself why I had been brought to court in prison uniform? I then came up with a plan. Remember I had been arrested several times before.
As the magistrate started talking, I raised my hand saying I wanted to say something. I then asked why I had been brought to court putting on prison uniform as if I had already been convicted. I knew that police was supposed to take me to court putting on hembe dzandakasungwa nadzo.

The magistrate asked detective sergeant Ross why I was in prison uniform and he could not provide a good answer. The magistrate went ahead asking whether there enough evidence to prove that I was part of Ndangana’s group that had killed a white man in Melsetter and again detective Ross didn’t provide a good answer. I think they took me to court unprepared and so the magistrate said I should be released.

Of course I was never freed. They took me to my brother’s house in Mbare. After taking a bath and changing my clothes, the police took me to Mbare police station saying I was supposed to sign documents showing that I had been released. The officers left me there and in no time I found myself under detention again.

The next Monday, the officers came and took me to court again. The same magistrate was there. So I told him that I was never released. Once again, the magistrate told them to release me. The police then put me under restriction saying I was not supposed to leave Highfield. UDI was declared while I was still under restriction. The restriction was later revoked by Winston Field.

SM: Now, comrade let’s talk a bit more about the Crocodile Gang before you continue with your story. How many people were in this gang?

Cde Gatula: It was the name that people called us as we entered into Rhodesia. The 12 of us, we were called the Crocodile Gang. It was not only Ndangana’s group. It was the whole group of 12.

SM: Really, so where did name come from?
Cde Gatula: The story is that William Ndangana when we were in Lusaka, aigara with a long knife that he would put in his jacket. It was like a sword. Those ones used in karate. So whenever people asked him about this knife he would say “its a crocodile tail.” This knife was for his self defence and he carried it wherever he went.

SM: So who exactly gave you the name Crocodile Gang?

Cde Gatula: There is no one who stood there and said you are now called the Crocodile Gang. This name rakaita mukurumbira when we were now in Rhodesia. Wherever we went, we would drop flyers written Crocodile and it was Ndangana’s idea for us to do this. This was meant to show that we were around to instil fear into whites.
When we left Lusaka, we didn’t have that name. Very few people knew kuti vakomana 12 ava vavakuenda and kuti tiri kuenda kupi.

You see when we were in Zambia, Ndangana and Felix Rice Santana vaigara vachinetsana. So Ndangana would show him the knife saying ukada kuita anything topedzerana. He would brag about the knife saying usatambe nemutswe wegarwe.
These two comrades vaiva nehasha so they would clash many times. We used to enjoy their fights.
Coming back to your question, like I said, no one sat down and said you 12 comrades are now called Crocodile Gang.

Cde Tobias Chizengeni (with hat) and Hezvo Mpunga during the unveiling of Cde Felix Rice Santana’s tombstone about two weeks ago. Cde Chizengeni was one of Cde Santana’s best friends while Hezvo Mpunga is one of Cde Santana’s children. Insert: Cde Felix Hokoyo Santana Mpunga popularly known as Felix Rice Santana. Pictures courtesy of Simba Chizengeni son to Cde Tobias Chizengeni.
Cde Tobias Chizengeni (with hat) and Hezvo Mpunga during the unveiling of Cde Felix Rice Santana’s tombstone about two weeks ago. Cde Chizengeni was one of Cde Santana’s best friends while Hezvo Mpunga is one of Cde Santana’s children. Insert: Cde Felix Hokoyo Santana Mpunga popularly known as Felix Rice Santana. Pictures courtesy of Simba Chizengeni son to Cde Tobias Chizengeni.

When we left Ndola tiri 11 and then we were joined by Ndangana in Lusaka to make us 12, we spent a few days in Lusaka then we crossed into Rhodesia. The name just came from the way we would talk about Ndangana’s knife which he called Crocodile tail. In fact as we left Ndola, most of the comrades in the group had left Rhodesia years back, so I was the one who knew exactly where we were going.

SM: So how did the Rhodesians and the media start calling you the Crocodile Gang?
Cde Gatula: Ooohh, I see. Like I told you Ndangana whenever he did something when he got into Rhodesia, he would leave flyers written “Crocodile.” We also started dropping the same flyers as a way of instilling fear into the Rhodesians. The flyers made it appear like we were a grouped of trained soldiers and they made us look organised. Taiziva kuti the Rhodesians vaiva magwara. We dropped these flyers in Gweru after the blackout I told you about. We didn’t have machinery to print many flyers but the few flyers we left behind caused serious panic in Rhodesia. That was the strategy at that time.

We had to improvise. Remember none of us by this time had received any military training. Some of the flyers taitonyora in our own handwriting, but we also got assistance from some people who were working in some offices. These people would print the flyers but they couldn’t print many. It was very, very risky. Some of the comrades who assisted us a lot were Stanley Parerewa, Matute and others I can’t remember their names.

SM: Besides the incident where Ndangana’s group killed this white man and your group disrupted electricity supply in Gweru, what other sabotage activities did you carry out as the Crocodile Gang?
Cde Gatula: Kunyepa kwakabuda mufashion. Crocodile gang only managed to carry out those two major sabotage activities. In some instances we would just drop flyers to scare the Rhodesians. One of the main challenges was transport. Our movements were very restricted and the Rhodesians had very tight security. Their Special Branch was just something because they used blacks to spy on other blacks. When Ndangana’s group killed the white man in Melsetter, the situation in the country was just too tense. Killing a white man? That was unheard of and the Rhodesians wanted to make sure that would not be repeated. When Ndangana escaped back to Zambia with Dlamini and Mlambo having been arrested and I was also later arrested, the other comrades just dispersed. Some returned to their home areas. They gave up because of the situation.

SM: Don’t you think the party rushed to send you back to Rhodesia without any training and it seems there was poor planning?

Cde Gatula: Everything has got a beginning. And hapana chinhu chinotanga chichibva chanaka, especially in politics. When we started these activities in the early 1960s, we thought gore hariperi tisati tawana rusununguko. People were afraid of the Rhodesians but they were eager to fight in the war.

With Zapu preaching their slogan, “just by the corner,” many thought in no time, the Rhodesians would give in. The impression from Zapu was that they would talk the Rhodesians into giving us independence. They thought it was going to be easy just as what had happened in Zambia and Malawi, but this was not to be.

SM: What do you think were some of the mistakes you made during this time?
Cde Gatula: I wouldn’t want to call them mistakes. The biggest problem was that we didn’t have the material to carry out the intended activities. We were not able to smuggle in the material due to a number of reasons. Maybe let me take this opportunity to tell you an interesting story about how Zanu got its first guns.

You see, during this time, kwakanga kwaita hondo kuCongo. In September 1961, the then UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld was flying to Rhodesia to negotiate peace talks between the government of Congo and Moise Tshombe when his plane crashed, killing him. There was suspicion that his plane had been shot down.

Anyway, the point is, there was war in Congo. After long deliberations and when the situation was slowly becoming calm in Congo, Tobias Chizengeni (not Zengeni as reported last week), Felix Rice Santana and Stanley Parerewa went to Congo because there were reports that due to the war there, vanhu vaikwanisa kunhonga pfuti musango.

These comrades led by Felix Rice Santana were given a car and they drove to Congo. Indeed vakanhonga dzimwe pfuti musango then they bought some of the guns pamukambo. They brought the guns to Zambia. These were the first guns to be owned by Zanu.

On their second trip, if I am not mistaken, they got to the boarder and all the guns and the car were taken by soldiers from Congo. These comrades were arrested. Washington Malianga called the British embassy in Congo saying those comrades were from Zimbabwe and they had bought the guns in order to start their war in Rhodesia. He asked for the comrades to be released. Following several negotiations, these comrades were released, but the vehicle and the guns were confiscated.

SM: Comrade, are you telling us that one could pick up guns just like that musango in Congo?
Cde Gatula: You can ask those who came later and used the guns. This is exactly what happened. Remember Zanu had just been formed and we were relying on well-wishers. We had to come up with ways to survive.

When these guns were confiscated, Felix Rice Santana had smuggled some of the guns using other means. The first guns that Zanu owned zvimapepesha, it was Felix Rice Santana, Tobias Chizengeni and Stanley Parerewa who brought them from Congo.
Now when the guns were confiscated and with the situation with the Zambian government, we couldn’t smuggle guns into Rhodesia. The Zambian government was against Zanu because it supported Zapu.

SM: But even if you have managed to smuggle the guns, you had not yet received military training?
Cde Gatula: If there was a means to smuggle the guns, I think the party would have made arrangements to quickly train us. That wasn’t done because the party must have discovered that smuggling the guns was a non-starter at this time.

SM: Comrade, we want to take you back a bit. You gave us very few names of the comrades you are saying comprised the Crocodile Gang. You said as you left Ndola you were sort of like the leader then you met Ndangana in Lusaka. How come you only remember these few comrades?

Cde Gatula: Yes, I still remember Victor Mlambo, Dhlamini, Ndangana and myself. The other comrades, eight comrades I can’t remember their names.

SM: How come?
Cde Gatula: Comrade it has been long. Look I am getting old. I can’t remember some of the names. But now that I have spoken, if any of the comrades is still alive he will come and testify that this is indeed true.

We met in Ndola at the hall where we were asked kuti who are the volunteers to go on this mission. The 11 of us came from Ndola and Ndangana joined us in Lusaka. We came into Rhodesia via Chirundu until we got kumba kwaShamuyarira.
I may have forgotten the names, but I can’t forget mafambiro atakaita. If any of these comrades is still alive they may have forgotten my name but like me they can’t forget mafambiro atakaita. As we came from Ndola, I was assigned as the leader because most of the comrades were not well-versed with Rhodesia since they had been staying in Zambia for too long.

Also, the activities by the Crocodile Gang was short-lived that’s why remembering some of the comrades is very difficult. Takakurumidza kusungwa vamwe vachibva vangodzokera kumusha.
Can you imagine all I was telling you did not take more than six weeks? Takaparadzana in Harare with Ndangana’s group and within a few days, we got into action. In no time, some of us had been arrested while Ndangana escaped back to Zambia. The Crocodile Gang did not survive for long and like I said, besides kuuraya murungu by Ndangana’s group and disrupting magetsi in Gweru, this gang didn’t do anything else that was major.

Kusungwa nekutiza zvakauya panguva imwechete. After this the gang rakabva rafa. This is what I know.

SM: After your court case, you never thought of returning to Zambia or re-joining politics?
Cde Gatula: The government made me sign some document saying I was never again supposed to get involved in politics. Of course, I didn’t go back to Zambia but I continued politics underground.
Like I said I couldn’t go for military training because chess (back bone) yakanga yabhenda. I couldn’t even walk straight. Mapurisa akandiita kafira mberi. Ndakanga ndava murwere chaiye.

SM: Comrade, you were saying due to the fact that your involvement in politics and your sabotage activities took place way back in the early 1960s, you feel the role that you and your fellow comrades played is not recognised?
Cde Gatula: Yes. Zanu did not just wake up with trained soldiers. Zanu did not wake up with guns and everything. Before all this, there are comrades who had to improvise to keep the party going. We had to find means of keeping the party alive and sending a message to the Rhodesians that Zanu meant business. Maybe because we didn’t have guns, that’s why we are not recognised. But we played our crucial role.

Can you imagine during vetting of the war veterans, most of those who were given that responsibility didn’t know about us. I had to get assistance from people like Clarkson Mutema, Sam Manjengwa, Shadreck Chipanga and Shirihuru. I even got assistance from VP Mnangagwa informing those who were vetting of the role that I played. Unfortunately, after getting all this assistance, nothing really materialised for me.

However, I am very grateful of this opportunity to just narrate my story. It brings relief and zvinopodza moyo. You guys are doing a great job for Zimbabwe and its future.

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  • Officer

    hahahahah hapana hapana. mavakuda kudzinga Ngwena manje nenyaya dzenyu idzi


    I dont think the articles of such a nature are meant to change views or discredit anyone. If historical events are narrated by those who took part or by a second or third generation,(as long as they are accurate) they tend to fill in the gaps and like one contributor says most events are narrated from the 70s with a lot more that happened prior to that being missed. These old madala started what then become the impetus to the drive for war because they defied the oppression by the colonial regime by opting to take part in whatever could stir or drive many into an uprising. I this sense every contribution mattered. There are a lot of silent legends and heroes who have not had a platform to tell their story.This is one of those many that define history and the truth as it were. If any other from this group could be identified from the names in this two part article it would be great to knit such events together and have a comprehensive documentary of how many of these forgotten madalas suffered putting up a fight without guns vachiramba hudzvanyiriri. This is what this is about! And to the journalists I would say more research…these articles are a tip of the iceberg to the forgotten activists of this era!

  • maita

    You don’t need to be in the gang to be a Crocodile. I was called Gandarengwindi as I grew up but was never in a ngwindi gang.

    • HardMashonaType of Enkeldoorn

      But they were trying to sell us a story about ngwena having originated from the Crocodile gang…it failed to gain traction just like the helicopter downing lie….

  • brain

    we need more of these heroes coming forward to tell their story and experiences…….the Rice Santana story can go for a movie…wonder why his story and name just coming up now…