COMRADE Florence Mudzengerere whose Chimurenga name was Cde Pronica Mabhunu voluntarily joined the liberation struggle in August 1973 when she was 13 years old. She left without saying goodbye to her parents and even dropped out of school as she was in Form One at Ruya Institute. As they walked the long journey from Mt Darwin to Chifombo, she saw many comrades dying in several battles but she never looked back.
Cde Pronica in this interview with our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike narrates how along the way to Chifombo the situation became so dire that they had drink their urine to survive. She narrates how one of the brave commanders, Cde James Bond would shout at Rhodesian forces while firing back during a battle. She also narrates how sometimes, some comrades would wake up in the morning to discover that there were sleeping side by side with huge snakes. Read on …
SM: Cde, thank you for your time. Tell us, how exactly did you join the liberation struggle?
Cde Pronica: What happened was that one of my brothers, who was at St Alberts Mission had been taken by some comrades to join the liberation struggle. This was time when many students at St Alberts Mission were rounded up by some comrades and forced to join the liberation struggle. After this, the Rhodesian forces came in full force hunting for the students. Along the way, some students managed to escape and came back to St Alberts Mission. So this brother of mine was among those who managed to escape and came back. When he came back home, he narrated what had happened and I got excited. This was during the holiday. After about a week, another group of comrades came to our area and I decided to join them together with 11 other students. Of the 11, now tangosara tiri three – Cde Handirote Hondo, Cde Mbune and myself.
When I told the comrades that I wanted to join them, they said hakuyendwi nevana vadiki but I insisted. I was the youngest among this group so they tried to discourage me but I told them that handisi kusara. Finally, they agreed.
The other thing, although I was young, when the colonial regime brought nyaya yemakandiwa (madhunduru), they forced it on the people and it was like slavery. Nyaya yemakandiwa was a good idea but the colonial regime introduced it in a very bad way. The people were forced kuita makandiwa in a very short space of time. It was like a punishment. On the other hand, our parents were forced to pay lots of taxes, mutero yemombe, hut tax and so on. For example, the colonial regime had this policy that blacks should not have more than five cows. My father had many cows and when he was told that he could only keep five cows out of his many cows that really hurt. I heard him several times talking about how painful it was for him to lose his cattle. So when the comrades came, I said this is my chance to go for military training so that I could come back and fight this repressive system. Also, when the comrades came, they gave us political orientation. They told us how the whites had colonised us and that the only way to free ourselves was through war. They told us of the Zanu ideology and I really got excited.
SM: Do you remember the names of some of these comrades who recruited you?
Cde Pronica: Yes, I remember some. There was Cde David Tondlana (Cde Crispen Mataire), Cde James Bond who was the commander, Cde Zindoga, Cde Blackson, Cde Harrison and others.
SM: Did you tell your parents that you were going to join the liberation struggle?
Cde Pronica: Not even. My parents didn’t know. When these comrades came, my parents had gone for a funeral kwaMurehwa and I said chance given. I was really excited as we started the journey but later as we were walking, that’s when we discovered that this wasn’t going to be easy. You know, two days after we left home, kwakaita hondo yakafa vanhu vakawanda. Pakafiwa nevabereki, macomrades and even mabhunu acho. I had never seen munhu akafa and this was my first time — so many dead people. I think someone had informed the Rhodesian forces that pane vana vatorwa and they tracked our group down. This battle happened very close to Mt Darwin where the Rhodesian forces had set up a camp. We suddenly saw many helicopters and reinforcements. A fierce battle ensued as the comrades tried to make sure that they escape with us. This happened at a place that we used to call Pakasimbwi. One of the female recruits actually died during this battle. This battle started around 12:45pm and went on until around past 5pm. By this time, some of the comrades had gotten information kuti ndiani akanga atitengesa. So after this battle, takaenda nekumba kwemunhu akanga atitengesa ainzi Mambo Chakoma. When we got to his homestead, the comrades did not even waste time. They shot him dead. We then proceeded walking towards Mozambique. After about three days takasvika kune imwe nzvimbo inonzi kwaMauswa near Mavhuradhonha Mountain. We camped there for some days and were later joined by other comrades. These comrades briefed each other about the situation. We were told that we could not proceed in the direction we wanted to go because there were Rhodesian forces around that area. So we spent about two weeks tiri mugomo. Povho yaitivigira chikafu and taigara in small bases of about three or four people.
SM: Clearly the situation was not as you thought. You had seen people dying during the battle at Pakasimbwi and now you were staying in mountains. Were you not regretting?
Cde Pronica: Things were tough but by this time, ndakanga ndatopinda mazviri. I was not even thinking of going back home. However, after another battle taburuka Mavhuradhonha, ndakambofunga kumba. This battle was also very fierce. When they discovered that the Rhodesian forces had come in full force, the comrades said hatichakwanisi kuenda nemi so tavakumbokusiyai mumisha kuno nevabereki. When they told us this, I got scared thinking some of the parents could sell us out to the Rhodesians. That’s when I thought about kudzokera kumba. We didn’t know anyone from this area and this scared us a lot. But the comrades explained kuti don’t worry, we trust the povho around this area. So takangoita zvekudyarwa kuti iwe unogara nababa ava, iwe neavo. We were supposed kuita sevana vana baba ivava. We stayed with these families for about two weeks and these parents actually told us that isuwo tine vana vedu vakaenda kuhondo. They told us kuti musatye henyu, you are very safe with us. Indeed, they looked after us very well. One evening the comrades just came and said we are proceeding with the journey. We crossed Mukumbura Border, between Zimbabwe and Mozambique. However, some of the comrades hatina kuzocrosser navo this border. They went back to the war front. When we crossed into Mozambique, there were thick forests and we would only walk during the night because remember Mozambique by this time had not won its independence saka the Mozambicans, Frelimo were at war with the Portuguese.
SM: In these thick forests didn’t you come under attack from wild animals?
Cde Pronica: Not even. You know pasi pano panenyoka kwete zvekutamba. Very big and scary snakes. Masango aya akatakura. We saw even lions, elephants and many animals but we were never attacked by these wild animals. I think macomrades vaitanga vasora nzvimbo dzatinenge tichifamba. You know, you would wake up and discover kuti wakatorara side by side nenyoka. Hatina kana kumborumwa. Taiwudzwa kuti tikasangana nenyoka, chisikwa chamwari chakafanana newe saka siyana nayo. We got to one of the bases and we met a group of comrades who were coming from Tanzania. We were also joined by about four female recruits from Chesa area. There was Cde Josiah Tungamirai, Sekuru Chipfeni who was a spirit medium and others. Cde Josiah Tungamirai, Sekuru Chipfeni vakabva vatitora then we walked towards Zambezi River navo. We spent about three months walking to Zambezi. We crossed Zambezi River using zvimwadiya, small boats zvaigadzirwa nemuti. These small boats could take five people only. We could not cross Zambezi during the day because the Portuguese and the Rhodesians would patrol the area along the river. So we crossed during the night. The story about these Mozambicans who helped us to cross Zambezi is never told but I have to tell you this, without these Mozambicans, we would have managed to cross Zambezi. We should acknowledge the crucial role these people played. After crossing Zambezi we went to a base called Padongo paJustin (Cde Justin Chauke). I later asked why this base was called Padongo paJustin and was told that Cde Justin Chauke once fainted at that base. When he fainted, vakaponeswa nemacamaradha vakavagochera mabanana. That’s how it became Padongo paJustin.
SM: As you were walking, what stories did you talk about?
Cde Pronia: All the way, the comrades were politicising us. It was mainly politics and why tiri kugara musango. The comrades told us of our history and they told us kuti Mbuya Nehanda vakasiya vataura kuti mapfupa angu achamuka. So the comrades said tisu mapfupa acho amuka to fight the colonial system. After crossing Zambezi that’s when it dawned on us kuti uku hakuchadzokwi. There was no way of going back again.
SM: You were accompanied by male comrades along the way. You were young girls — were you not abused along the way?
Cde Pronica: Thank you for asking this. Kukutaurirai chokwadi vananguka, it was taboo to do all that. Mweya wakanga une macomrades during this time was something else. The male comrades treated us like their sisters. As we walked, they told us the Zanla rules. They told us of the three main points of attention. One of the rules was hatiiti cheupombwe. Remember the song, “Kune Nzira Dzemasoja Dzekuzvibata Nadzo”. That song told us kuti hatiite such things. It was taboo. Wainzi once you do that, know that watova target rebullet remuvengi — you will die. Pakangoita surprise attack, the first bullet will come to you. Remember also taifamba nemasvikiro, ana Sekuru Chipfeni. They would always warn us kuti zvevarume hazviitwi muhondo.
SM: What exactly was the role of these spirit mediums?
Cde Pronica: These spirit mediums would guide us. Everyday they would wake up vachikumbira kuvadzimu kuti tifambe zvakanaka. They would say; “Ndimi makati mapfupa angu achamuka. Honai tine vana musango muno. Chitivhurirai patinenge tichifamba. Tinzvengesei kune muvengi. Itai kuti tisvike navo vari zvavari kuitira kuti hondo yenyu iwane masoja.” I was coming from a Christian family and we didn’t know zvevadzimu but when I joined the liberation struggle, that’s when I discovered that indeed vadzimu exist. I will explain later what went on to happen in my life with regards kumudzimu. That will make you understand and believe that indeed mudzimu iriko. From Padongo paJustin we went to another base called Kambototo. We camped there for a while then proceeded with the journey to Chifombo. On our way, takakwira gomo raityisa zvisingaite, we used to call it Kwirawadya. We then got to another base called Kapiripiri. From Kapiripiri we then got to Chifombo base. After two days at Chifombo, my legs were swollen. Chifombo base was near the border between Zambia and Mozambique. While at Chifombo that’s when I discovered that there was actually a group of spirit mediums who were also staying at the base. These spirit mediums asked macomrades kuti tiri kukumbira mwana wechidiki anopota achiticherera mvura. They were saying mvura yavo inobatwa nemusikana asati ava kuenda kumaperiods asati avakuziva murume. I was then chosen kunogara kubase kwaiva nana Sekuru ava doing chores for them.
When I was chosen to go and stay with them, like I told you I came from a Christian family and so I kneeled down and prayed. Ndakati “mwari izvi handizvikwanise ndibatsirei Jehova.” You know in a bid kuti ndibviswe kugara nanaSekuru ava, during my first days ndaibika sadza mbodza and ndaipunza zvirongo zvekucheresa mvura. After three days, vana Sekuru vaya complained kuti this child you have given us cannot even cook. Together with other young female recruits, we were then taken to the Zanu farm that was near Lusaka. That’s where I met Cde Loveness and other comrades. Two months down the line, we were told that we were going for military training at Nachingweya in Tanzania. This was in March 1974. We were 74 female comrades and we were the first female Zanla comrades to receive military training. Two of the comrades later dropped out tikasara tava 72. One of the comrades got sick and passed away while the other was discovered to be pregnant.
SM: Comrade, Pronica, as you were narrating the journey from your home area to Chifombo, you didn’t really show us how difficult it was. Briefly tell us how difficult it was for you?
Cde Pronica: Ummm, I can’t really tell you in words. Zvimwe zvacho zvinotyisa kutaura. You see this is many years after the torturous journey saka some of you may think haaa, comrade Pronica is just exaggerating things. Remember we were walking at night in thick forests. Some of the areas kwakanga kusina kumbogara vanhu since mwari akasika nyika. There were think forests dzekuti just a few meters waitorasika. There was no time yekugeza. Taimwa weti yedu and sometimes we would share weti yeanenge aita. We would walk for like two weeks no mvura, no nothing. Sometimes taisangana nepane mvura, but we would realise that the water has been poisoned by the Rhodesians. So we would not just drink any water.
SM: Comrade Pronica, how can one drink urine? Weti inovava comrade?
Cde Pronica: Zvekuti inovava zvinotaurwa neanemvura. Inoimwa weti kunge irikubva mufridge. Kana zvinhu zvakashata weti haivavi. Kana weti yako yapera, waimwa yeumwe. Weti haiwuraye. As for food, we would only eat when we got to some bases. Like I told you povho would bring us food. But the food was just enough to keep one going. As we walked, we would while up time talking about our time at school, the hardships people were facing back home and sometimes we would talk about what we would do after receiving military training. We would say ini kana ndadzoka I want to use this and that gun the way comrade so and so uses it. This way, we shielded ourselves from the pain and torture along the journey. You know environment plays a big role as one develops. The environment that we were living was yekugara musango semhuka and we got used to it. Many of us were impressed by Cde James Bond. He was a brave and strong commander. He was fearless and vainakidzwa nehondo. You know during a battle, he would stand there firing back and you could see Rhodesian forces retreating. Vachiridza pfuti vainge vachishaudha varungu vachiti “musatanyoko, muchaenda kumusha kwenyu varungu. Ndinonzi James Bond OO7! Ndakadya majaravanda ehondo! Muchayenda chete! Vakomana ngatichaye pfuti bhunu ritize! Pfuti ngadzirohwe vakomana! Murungu ngaarohwe!”
SM: This Cde James Bond was quite some character because many comrades talk about his bravery. What kind of a person was he?
Cde Pronica: Cde James Bond was a giant guy and strong. He would say handidi kapfuti kadiki. He would fire vakabata two guns. He was indeed like James Bond from the films. He was a sharp shooter. Vainanga murungu semurungu. Vaiti kana vapfura murungu votuka, “musatanyoko! Ndichakusvuurai mese! Varungu mese muchapera!” Hondo yaibva yanakidza kunge rugare.
SM: Who are some of the comrades that you also admired during this time?
Cde Pronica: Cde Tongo and Cde Rex Nhongo. You know Cde Rex Nhongo hapana situation that he could not get out of. I remember during one of the battles, with Rhodesian forces in hot pursuit, vakasvika pamunda and saw this old man achirima. He quickly took this oldman’s jacket vachibva vabata gedyo. Mudhara uya achityaira mombe. Rhodesian soldiers arrived and asked them “wonile gandanga? Cde Rex, stammered saying, ahhh, ahhh hatina kuwona gandanga. The Rhodesian forces then left. After a while, Cde Rex started walking in a different direction.
Cde Tongo was the chief of defence (COD). He was a militant like Cde Samora. Vaiti ndikati comrade run, I mean exactly that. His command yakanga isina nhetemwa. Cde William Ndangana was fearless and whatever he did, he did it to perfection. Cde Mayor Urimbo was a good political commissar. I later was assigned to the commissariat department, teaching people the Zanu doctrine. We made sure people knew the Zanu bible. Kuti munhu wakavingei kuno. This was not a diner party. War is not a dinner party. I did this later, so tichasvika hedu ikoko.
SM: As female recruits, how would you deal with the issue about your periods?
Cde Pronica: Before tagadzirwa naMbuya Nehanda and as we walked to Chifombo, some of the female recruits who were older than me were already going for their periods and to be honest, munhu aiyenda kuperiod kusvika apedza pasina chaaisa. You would be lucky if we got to a river that’s when one would clean herself. However, after a while, some comrades advised these female recruits that they could use gwati remuti unonzi Mudzanga. Vaitora gwati remuti uyu voenda naro paruware vaita kunge vari kuriwacha. After a while gwati iri would become soft then votoisa kuvhara ropa. That gwati was the soap, the towel and the cotton. But then Mudzanga uyu was not found everywhere. So this really was a big problem. But like I told you after sometime, most female comrades stopped having their periods after the ritual by Mbuya Nehanda.
SM: Let’s go back to your journey. So you went for military training at Nachingweya?
Cde Pronica: We were accompanied to Nachingweya by two commanders from Zanla, Cde Elias Hondo and Cde Joseph Khumalo. We were told that as the first female comrades to receive military training, after the training we were to become instructors with the responsibility to train other female comrades. Nachingweya was a Frelimo camp. On our way to Nachingweya, we got to Mbeya where we met Cde Pedzisa and other comrades. At Mbeya that’s when we discovered that one of our comrades, Cde Tichahwina was pregnant. She was vomiting most of the time along the way. She was ordered to go back to Lusaka.
SM: You told us of Nzira Dzemasoja Dzekuzvibata Nadzo. What then had happened to Cde Tichahwina?
Cde Pronica: Pane vanhu hapashaye ane musikanzwa. The person responsible was Cde Rex Nhongo (Cde Solomon Mujuru). So when we got to Nachingweya, we were given some instructors from Frelimo — one female instructor and three males. The overall commander was Cde Samora Machel. This was a very big camp and there were many comrades here. Our training was from March to September 1974. Our pass-out parade was during the first week of October.
SM: Tell us briefly about your training?
Cde Pronica: We received military training. The instructors never looked at us as women. We were being trained to be fighters and to be trainers. Takadzidziswa pfuti dzese. We were taught how to defend ourselves in the battlefield, tactics to wage a war. This is what Cde James Bond meant when he said “takadya majaravanda ehondo.” Majaravanda ehondo were tactics to fight a war. The training was rigorous. Sometimes, we would be driven many kilometres away from the camp and we would be dumped right in the middle of thick forests. The instructors would say, toonana kucamp and leave. We were supposed to know how to walk and fight ourselves back to the camp. We were taught cover and crawl. We were taught kuti kana uchimhanya to take cover haungomhanyi. Unomhanya zvine military art. You don’t just crawl. You crawl with a set target. You were supposed to use tactics that suited the terrain you were in. You had to calculate your time, know the type of tactic to use in order to reach the other point. We were taught what to do in case of a surprise attack and how to plan our own attack. We were also given lots political orientation.
SM: No one among you gave up?
Cde Pronica: Giving up going where? There was no time for that. Remember we were in the middle of a thick forest so there was nowhere one could escape to. Cde Samora would occasionally come to monitor our progress.
SM: What kind of a person was Cde Samora Machel?
Cde Pronica: He was a militant person. He would not beat about the bushes when solving an issue. Akanga asinganyengereri. He was very straightforward and tough. We now understood a bit of Portuguese. Like when you want to say tinotaura you say, tinofarari. Farari mpokadhinya (kutaura zvidiki) or farari mazhi (kutaura zvizhinji).
SM: After training where were you deployed?
Cde Pronica: After training, we came back to Chifombo. Our first role was to carry materiel to Zambezi River. Under the commissariat, one of our roles was to compose songs to keep comrades motivated. We would sing; “Ndinofunga nezveropa, rakadeuka! Mumakomo, mapani nemunzizi!” We would compose the songs according to the situation that we would be facing at that particular time.
SM: Did you compose any song?
Cde Pronica: We composed songs in groups.
SM: What was your favourite song?
Cde Pronica: After finishing training, we would sing: “Tinofa tichienda, kuZimbabwe! Kudzamara tiyambuke munaZambezi! Kudzamara tinosvika muZimbabwe! (tears rolling down) Humambo hwedu huri muZimbabwe! Haufanane nehumambo Biritiana! Haufanane nehumambo Biritiana!” I used to enjoy this song.
SM: Why the tears Cde Pronica?
Cde Pronica: Ndiri kudzamirwa. I am visualising the situation (more tears). Dai taimboenda kuChifombo kwacho so that you really understand the war. This wasn’t easy so ndinodzamirwa zvakanyanya. We left many comrades musango. They come in my eyes. After carrying materiel until 1975, then came détente. This was also the time that Cde Chitepo passed away. Many of our leaders, the planners of the war were arrested and the party was destabilised. There was breakdown of communication and coordination.
The comrades at Mgagao didn’t know what was happening at the war front and those in Zambia didn’t know what was happening at Mgagao and those at the war front didn’t know what was happening at the rear. Some comrades actually came back from the war front to the rear. I remember that’s when some comrades including Cde Gwindingwi wrote a letter to the Tanzania government saying our leaders have been arrested but we want to continue the war. That is when the song “Yakange yaoma, kuTanzania! Hondo yakange yaoma!” was composed. The Tanzania government understood our situation and hondo yakaenderera mberi.
We had divided the areas. There was ZZ which meant Zambia-Zimbabwe. It meant operating from Zambia into Zimbabwe. There was MMZ — Mozambique- Malawi-Zimbabwe. From 1976, the war spread to Manicaland to Gaza. The war was now everywhere and many people were joining the struggle. That’s when those comrades came to destroy fuel tanks in Harare.
Next week, Cde Pronica will continue narrating her story. As one of the female comrades who were later deployed to the war front, her story is just too reverting. Don’t miss The Sunday Mail next week.
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