Horror at Nyadzonya as comrades were butchered

COMRADE Juliet Chitsungo (born 8 August 1955) whose Chimurenga name was Cde Dadirai Wafawanaka was among the few female comrades who were deployed to the war front after receiving military training at Nachingweya in 1974. After joining the liberation struggle in November 1972, she was deployed to the war front together with a group of 30 female freedom fighters and rose to become a provincial commander in charge of female combatants.

In this interview with our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike, Cde Dadirai describes how she joined the liberation struggle and the horror she saw as Rhodesian forces slaughtered defenceless comrades at Nyadzonya and how she survived the massacre. Going to the toilet was the difference between life and death. Read on …

SM: Cde Dadirai, thank you for affording us this opportunity to talk to you. Can you briefly tell us about your life before you joined the liberation struggle?

Cde Dadirai: I was born in Chiwesha around the Chaona area. I went to school up to Sub B. My father then said it was not important for the girl child to be sent to school. We couldn’t do anything about it as children. Life was very difficult during those years because our father couldn’t afford to send even the boys to school. I joined the liberation struggle in November 1972 from Centenary.

SM: How did you join the liberation struggle?

Cde Dadirai: We volunteered to join the liberation struggle after a rally that had been addressed by Cdes Rex Nhongo, Badza and Nhari. They told us that if we joined the liberation struggle, we would be sent to school and we got interested. These were the early days of the struggle and this was one of the ways they used to recruit people. So we volunteered to join thinking that we were to be sent to school. The first born and second born in our family, Paul and Lameck had already joined the struggle. They were later arrested and subsequently died from the effects of torture by the Smith regime. So in our family, we already knew about the liberation struggle but when we agreed to join the struggle, we thought we would be sent to school.

SM: Who are the other female comrades you went with?

Cde Dadirai: I went together with Cdes Serbia, Matiwonesa, Angeline (she later got married to Cde Mayor Urimbo), Angela, Chipo and Letwin. I think from our area we were about eight girls. From Chawarura area we were taken to Chigwida where we met other recruits from Chiweshe Mukorekore. From Chigwida we were taken to Mukumbura around an area called Rutsito area. While in this area, the Rhodesian forces ambushed us. I think they had been informed kuti pane vana vatorwa to join the liberation struggle. We usually walked during the night and so on the third week as we walked, one night we suddenly heard gun shots. In total we were now around 300 people. We were being led by Cdes Zvinotapira, Tsonono, Badza, Nhari and others. When the shots were fired, there was pandemonium as people ran in different directions. We later regrouped but vamwe we never saw them again. After regrouping, we spent some days in the area hiding because the situation was still tense.

SM: After this ambush, didn’t you think you were making a mistake joining the struggle?

Cde Dadirai: I still thought I would be sent to school so I soldiered on. Also, by this time, it was no longer possible to say we wanted to go back home. The comrades would not allow this and the Rhodesian forces were already hunting for us. Our parents were already in trouble with the Rhodesian forces. Remember these were the early days of the struggle and so musha wega wega wakanga uine vatengesi who would provide the Rhodesian forces with information. After about a week, we continued with the journey, walking to Chifombo.

SM: When you arrived at Chifombo, where there any female comrades by this time?

Cde Dadirai: Yes, there was Cdes Steria, Sarudzai, Suzan and others. They had arrived at Chifombo a few days before us. The group of male recruits we had arrived with at Chifombo, later joined the group which comprised people Cde George Rutanhire to go for military training. When we got to Chifombo, that’s when we realised that the situation had changed. We realized kuti hapana kuchikoro kwatiri kuenda. One group comprising people like Cde Suzan Rutanhire was taken to the Zanu farm which was near Lusaka in Zambia. About 13 female comrades, including myself remained at Chifombo. While at Chifombo, we were taught how to assemble a gun, how to shoot and so on. We were also given political orientation and so we understood that we had indeed join the war. We continued carrying materiel from Chifombo to Zambezi River. From Zambezi, this materiel would be handed over to some male comrades who would distribute it to comrades who were already at the war front. We continued carrying materiel until 1974.

SM: We have heard so many female comrades saying they were carrying materiel from Chifombo to Zambezi. Was this the duty of female comrades only?

Cde Dadirai: No, no. There were some male comrades who also carried materiel but the majority of them were now inside Rhodesia getting ready to fight the war. For example, I told you that about 13 of us remained at Chifombo. So as we went with materiel, about two of us would remain at Chifombo. Among this group carrying materiel to Zambezi there would be about three or four male comrades whose main duty was to protect and defend us from the enemy as we walked. Mind you, as we walked from Chifombo to Zambezi, we passed through Mozambique and as you know there was still war in Mozambique. So these male comrades were supposed to protect and defend us from even the Portuguese forces in Mozambique.

Also while at Chifombo, myself, Cdes Mavis, Spiwe and Thandiwe, we were given the responsibility to guard the area which we used to hide our ammunition which we used to call kuMagazine. This kuMagazine was about 5km away from the main Chifombo base. We are the ones who would offload the ammunition from the Fiat trucks while some male comrades, Cdes Tawuya, Brigadier and Nehanda would come and take the ammunition into trenches. This was heavy ammunition and I tell you this wasn’t easy. You can imagine a seven tonne Fiat truck full of ammunition and we had to offload the ammunition? The truck would arrive maybe around 7pm and the whole night we had to make sure that we offloaded the ammunition while the male comrades took the ammunition kuMagazine. All the ammunition yaichererwa pasi kuMagazine.

SM: These were the first days of the sustained liberation struggle. Can you briefly tell us, as female comrades, how were you treated? Were there no cases where male comrades would ill-treat you or even abuse you?

Cde Dadirai: During this time, kwakanga kusina zvakadaro. Patakatanga kusvika isusu, it was early and zvemusikanzwa yekuti vanhu vadanane it started way later. Nekuneta kwacho nebasa there was no time of thinking zvekudanana. I think also our age, we were still young saka taisafunga zvevarume too much.

SM: We hear stories that you couldn’t carry materiel if you were on menstrual periods?

Cde Dadirai: From 1972 up to I think 1974, most female comrades vakambomira kuteera (going for menstrual periods). For me ndakanga ndisati ndatanga but I know most of my female comrades stopped kuteera.

SM: When girls meet today, they talk about their boyfriends, they talk about movies and they talk about fashion. During this time, as young female comrades what did you talk about during your spare time?

Cde Dadirai: We never spoke about mukomana wangu or love. No. Like I said maybe it was because of the young age. When we met as female comrades, we would talk mostly about our mothers back home. We would ask kuti “izvozvi kumba mai varikuitei? Vatobika sadza here and so on?” We would also talk about food because food was scarce during this time. We had no time for make-up and no time for looking good. Waiti ukawana vaseline unenge watova mambo chaiye during these days.

You see when people read about history, everything seems so easy because hauna kupinda mazviri. Ukapinda mazviri you really understand and appreciate many things we now take for granted. Life was very difficult, very, very difficult.

SM: We also here that as female comrades, there was a ritual that was conducted by Mbuya Nehanda. Tell us more about this?

Cde Dadirai: I remember Mbuya Nehanda vakatibikira nyama yehuku yakanga yakarungwa mushonga isina salt. All female comrades were ordered to eat this chicken meal. You know even when we carried materiel to Chifombo, taisasimuka tisina kutaurira Mbuya Nehanda. Before carrying the materiel we would say “Mbuya ndimi makati mapfupa angu achamuka. Tavakukumbira ruvhumbamiro rwenyu tiende nezvombo izvi tiende nazvo kune vamakatuma kuti vanorwisa muvengi.” There were some leaders who would conduct this ritual while the rest listened vachiombera nekupururudza. After this we would then carry the materiel and start our long journey.

SM: So from Chifombo you went to Nachingweya for military training?

Cde Dadirai: Yes in 1974, we passed through the Zanu farm where we were joined by other female comrades like Cde Suzan and others. When we went to Nachingweya, we were 76 but two of us had problems and we ended up tava 72. One of the comrades got sick and passed away while the other comrade, it must be Cde Tichahwina was found to be pregnant and was sent back to Lusaka. She confessed that Cde Rex Nhongo (Cde Solomon Mujuru) was responsible for the pregnancy.

At Nachingweya we spent six months. (She narrated the whole military training, sometimes speaking in Portuguese as some of their instructors were from Frelimo). From Zanu, our instructors were Cdes Elias Hondo and Joseph Khumalo. Food was still scarce but our morale was always high. We were determined to come out the best because we were being told that as the first female comrades to receive military training, we were going to be instructors.

During our pass-out parade, we were taken through the drills by former Mozambican President Samora Machel who told us that as instructors, if you don’t master your training, you are going to have many people killed at the war front. After the military training, we were deployed to many areas and camps. I was assigned to go to the war front.

SM: So you were deployed to which area at the war front?

Cde Dadirai: I was deployed in the area we used to call ZZ which was Zambia-Zimbabwe. I was with other female comrades such as Cdes Viola, Patra, Lydia and others. Cde Mationesa went with another group to MMZ – Malawi-Mozambique-Zimbabwe. I was the provincial commander for the female comrades. Cde Mationesa was the provincial commander for the female comrades in MMZ. I had 30 female comrades under me. Cde Mationesa went to the front and joined with the male comrades led by Cde Badza and Cde Nhari. Where I went from the male side there was Cde Ndanga. That’s why when the Nhari-Badza rebellion happened, my group was not affected. When the rebellion started, Cde Mationesa had joined the rebellion so I was withdrawn from ZZ to Chifombo. I think about two days after hearing about Cde Chitepo’s death, I was supposed to join the Gukurahundi group which had been assembled to go and quell the Nhari-Badza rebellion. While we were preparing for this, most of our leaders were arrested in Lusaka. At Chifombo, we were together with Cde Tongo who had come to make arrangements for the Gukurahundi group. So when the Zambians came to Chifombo to arrest us, I was part of the group that escaped going to Mozambique. This was now in 1975 and Mozambique had just gotten its independence. So walked from Chifombo to a Frelimo base which we used to call Kuchitima. We stayed there for about three weeks. The Mozambican government later instructed us to go to Tete province. We went to Tete and that’s where Cde Tongo, Cde Mayor Urimbo, Cde Justin Chauke and others were arrested by the Zambian regiments. They were being accused of killing Cde Chitepo. We remained at Tete then we were later moved to a base called Zuze, which was in Tembwe. Cde Hondo, myself and other comrades first went to inspect the area. The other comrades later followed to Tembwe. That is when we started military training at Tembwe.

SM: Let’s go back to the war front. Did you have an opportunity to engage in a battle with the Rhodesian forces when you were the provincial commander?

Cde Dadirai: No, we didn’t. I don’t want to lie. What I can tell you is that there was talk that if the Rhodesian forces knew that there were female comrades in an area, they would swam the area doing everything they could to capture the female comrades. But after military training at Nachingweya, we were very confident that we could fight the enemy.

SM: As female comrades, how were you received by povho at the war front?

Cde Dadirai: Like I told you, this was around 1975 and there were still very few comrades at the front. So our presence at the war front was not known by many people because we knew that they would inform the Rhodesian forces. Until around 1977-78, kwakanga kusina vakadzi kufront because of this fear that the Rhodesian forces would track the female comrades in a bid to capture them alive.

SM: Tell us as female comrades, how were you living when you went to the war front?

Cde Dadirai: We would put up zvima poshto nezvima handaki and stay under thick forests. We were staying at bases.

SM: As someone who had received military training, how did you feel being withdrawn from the front before any exchange of fire with the Rhodesian forces?

Cde Dadirai: Remember we were withdrawn from the front mainly because there was no one now who was supplying ammunition to the front. Most of the comrades were being withdrawn to the rear. Very few comrades remained behind at the front.

SM: So you didn’t have the opportunity to meet even the povho?

Cde Dadirai: A few days before we were scheduled to meet povho, that’s when we were withdrawn from the front following the Nhari-Badza rebellion.

SM: From your perspective, what really caused the Nhari-Badza rebellion?

Cde Dadirai: I think it was tribalism and nyaya yekuda hukuru. These are my personal views because paiita mashoko ekuti hatingatungamirirwi negroup inobva kwakati. So this Nhari-Badza group was led by comrades from Manicaland.

SM: But we hear that one of the reasons why comrades were given Chimurenga names was to guard against tribalism and so on.

Cde Dadirai: Yes, that’s true but some of these comrades had stayed at the war front for a long time and they now knew each other very well. That is when the issue of tribalism creeped in.

SM: So how was the Nhari-Badza rebellion dealt with?

Cde Dadirai: This group I spoke about called Gukurahundi dealt with the Nhari-Badza rebellion. This group came and crushed the rebellion and everything that it stood for.

SM: Now, let’s go back to Tembwe. What exactly where you doing there?

Cde Dadirai: At Tembwe we were training those who had been recruited while our leaders were in Zambian prisons. We were getting ready to be given orders to resume the war. As you know, when our leaders were arrested, the war at the front was suspended. So we gave these recruits political orientation nemabhindauko ehondo.

I was at Tembwe for I think six months. I was later assigned to Nyadzonya then I was taken to Chibavava. At Chibavava I didn’t spend much time because some comrades from Frelimo vaida vasikana too much and I was saying no. Instead of training female recruits, the Frelimo comrades had chosen some recruits who were now staying like their wives.

So I clashed with one of the Frelimo commanders called Matsinye and I was taken back to Nyadzonya. Some of the female recruits actually later got married to these Frelimo comrades. I would tell the recruits kuti kana wakauya uchiti uri kuenda kuhondo kuti tisunungure Zimbabwe, nyaya yekuti kuroorwa ngatimbosiyanai nayo. Let’s finish this task to liberate our country. I told them kuti even kumusha varume variko. Some listened and reformed. At all these bases, my job was to train the new recruits and command the bases. We had different tasks.

SM: You said while at Tembwe, you were training some comrades in preparation for the resumption of war. When did the war resume?

Cde Dadirai: I think in 1976. Our leaders had sent a message from prisons in Zambia that the war should resume.

SM: You are one of the commanders who were at Nyadzonya. Can you briefly tell us about the massacre at Nyadzonya?

Cde Dadirai: The day Nyadzonya base was bombed, I had actually left for Nyadzonya town. What I remember is that Nyadzonya was bombed on the day when we were commemorating the Chinhoyi Battle. I was chosen together with Cde Kaguri, Cde Suzan Rutanhire, Cde Emirio, Cde Martin Mucharanga and other comrades to lead the commemorations. The first day, we held our commemorations and everything went well. Cde Kaguri the next morning said he wanted to go to Sanduzi where there was a service station. He went in the morning and he was captured by Cde Morris Nyathi, that sellout and his group. So he didn’t come back to the base. We later discovered that he was actually killed by Nyathi and his group. Soon after having breakfast, I said to come Cde Suzan, let’s go and relieve ourselves. Tichienda kutoilet, kwakarira a whistle and many comrades thought this was a signal for them to go for parade. Others actually thought vauya kuzotorwa kuti vaende kutraining. But I was skeptical because a few days before, I was in Chimio and no one had told me anything about people going for training. We actually contemplated going back to the parade ground. From nowhere, takanzwa pfuti dzakutorira vanhu vachipfurwa. We started running to escape from the shooting. The shooting was merciless. Many comrades died trying to cross Nyadzonya River. This was a big river so many couldn’t swim across. Vamwe vakaita zvekutsikwa nemota vakarara pasi while those who moved vaipfurwa nepfuti. I will never ever forget that day. I survived, but zvaisiririsa (tears falling down).

SM: How did you know that Cde Kaguri had been captured by Nyathi and his group?

Cde Dadirai: As we were looking for survivors after the attack, we saw his car yakapiswa munzira. We instantly knew he had been killed.

SM: When Nyathi and the Rhodesian forces arrived at Nyandzonya, besides kuridza pito, what did he do?

Cde Dadirai: After aridza pito, Nyathi akadeedzera (weeping uncontrollably). He shouted achiti “yahh maizviti makangwara. Ndauya.” After this that’s when the Rhodesian forces he had brought started shooting the comrades. Some comrades vaitsikwa nemota vari vapenyu. Wainzwa munhu achiputika. Macomrades aichema trying to escape. You see we had taught the comrades that when escaping from a battle, you use cover and crawl. So most of them vakanga varara pasi thinking that after taking cover, they would survive. The Rhodesian forces then started driving their vehicles over these comrades. Taivanzwa kuchema. There was no alternative because vakasimuka vaipfurwa. Haaa (weeping) vanhu vakafa zvinosiririsa mhani. I don’t even know how many comrades were killed by mafiro acho akandirwadza.

SM: Why had Morris Nyathi, a fellow comrade sold out to the Rhodesians?

Cde Dadirai: I don’t know much about that but I know that Nyathi was the one who informed the Rhodesian forces that there were some recruits at Nyadzonya. He is the one who came with the Rhodesian forces. To be honest, Nyadzonya was just a refugee camp. There were no properly trained comrades.

SM: We see you keep crying when talking about the massacre at Nyadzonya. Tell us why?

Cde Dadirai: It’s just too painful kuziva kuti nhingi wawanga unaye has just been killed. Kutsikwa nemota kusvika munhu aputika. Just a few minutes before the massacre, like I told you, we had eaten breakfast tichitotaura nyaya. I still see the comrades vachitsikwa. I still hear them screaming. I still hear them vachiputika. Hazvikomborere. I still see these visions as if this happened yesterday.

SM: When this massacre was happening, where were you?

Cde Dadirai: At first, we were confused but we later took cover at the bushes that were close to the toilet. While hiding, we saw the Rhodesians killing the refugees. The sight was horrific. The killing was ruthless and merciless. The Rhodesian forces had driven all the way from Rhodesia to come and kill these defenceless people. Nyathi directed them to Nyadzonya. He even knew the routes to avoid Frelimo bases. I think there were more than ten trucks.

SM: After escaping, what did you do next?

Cde Dadirai: We came back to assess the situation. I can’t even describe what we saw when we came back. There are no words to describe that. We started ferrying some of the comrades to hospitals in Chimoio. Can you imagine despite this senseless killing, some comrades were still alive? Later, I was instructed to go to Chimoio. In 1978, I was then assigned to go to China together with Cde Mupunzarima and Cde Dauramanzi. We were in China for about two months sourcing ammunition to continue the war. From China, I was assigned to Mavhonde.

Next week, Cde Dadirai will continue her narration describing the famous Battle of Mavhonde in ways that will shock many. Make sure you get a copy of The Sunday Mail to read the full story.

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