How a Ndebele comrade joined Zanu

COMRADE Kenny Constantine Mabuya whose Chimurenga name was Cde Kenny Ridzai (born 1952 in Filabusi) up to this day speaks Shona with that Ndebele accent but in 1969, when he joined the liberation struggle from Lusaka, Zambia, he chose to join Zanu. He says during that time he could not even utter one Shona word, but he chose to join Zanu even though it seemed a given that Ndebele people belonged to Zapu.

Cde Kenny went for military training at Intumbi in Tanzania and was deployed to the war front at the beginning of 1972. In this interview with our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike, Cde Kenny narrates the journey from Lusaka, Intumbi, until his deployment to the war front. He speaks about how he was received by his Shona-speaking comrades dispelling the myth that Zanu was for Shona people only.

SM: Cde Kenny, thank you so much for your time. Can you briefly tell us how you join the liberation struggle and why?

Cde Kenny: My parents moved from Filabusi to Zambia, Lusaka, in 1954. They had bought a farm in Zambia. I did my primary and secondary education in Zambia. I, however, didn’t finish my secondary education. I joined the liberation struggle when I was in Form 2. That was in 1969. I joined the liberation struggle from Lusaka. My parents used to talk a lot about the colonial regime and how blacks were being ill-treated by whites in Rhodesia. Also I got interested to join the liberation struggle because my big brother, Shame Mabuya, the second born in our family, in 1964 had joined Zapu. So this brother of mine after joining the liberation struggle and going for training, used to come to my parents’ farm in Zambia and talk a lot about politics. He would come with other comrades from Zapu and they would be given maize and so on to feed the comrades. Sometimes they would come during functions and give lessons on political orientation targeting mainly the youths. They would always tell us “vapfana munofanirwa to join the liberation struggle so that you can free Zimbabwe”.

So I got hooked to politics and in 1969, during the third term of my Form 2, I decided to join the liberation struggle. Also, we were living in Zambia and I could see that it was not good living in a foreign country. On September 15, 1969 that’s when I decided to join the liberation struggle.

Like I told you, my big brother was in Zapu and when I decided to join the struggle, I went to Zanu. As you may know, I am Ndebele and during those days there was this thinking that Zapu is only for Ndebele and Zanu was for Shona people. I chose not to join Zapu because I knew that my big brother would say to me “go back to school”.

During that time I couldn’t speak any Shona. At first I questioned myself whether the Zanu comrades would not chase me away because I was Ndebele. I later decided to go and see things for myself. I went to the Zanu offices in Lusaka and was welcomed by Cde Felix Rice Santana and Bernard Mutumwa. Ndivo vakanga vari mashef at the offices at that time. They asked me why I wanted to join the liberation struggle and I told them that I wanted to fight for my country.

These comrades later took me to some house in Lusaka, we used to call this house number 93. I stayed at this house for two months with Cde Tongogara, Bernard Mutumwa and Santana. At the beginning of December in 1969, I was taken to Tanzania for training. We travelled the whole night until we got to Mbeya, which is in Tanzania. From Mbeya we went to Intumbi Training Camp. Around January 1970, the training started.

SM: Who were your instructors at Intumbi?

Cde Kenny: We were being trained by Chinese instructors. There was also Cde Kashiri and Cde Chimedza but the Chinese were the ones responsible for our training. Our training involved kuteya zvimbambaira, how to mobilise the masses so that they could support the liberation struggle and how to use different weapons. We received training until 1971.

SM: This is almost two years undergoing training?

Cde Kenny: Yes, almost two years. I think our leaders vaida kuti titange tawanda. During those days, four or five people would join the struggle then pomboita time pasina anyone who has joined. Maiti mukaenda to join the struggle muri about eight maitonzi haaa kwauya vanhu vakawanda. People were not willing to join the struggle during this time. At Intumbi we were almost 110 or something. So we had to spend almost two years so that the numbers at the camp could grow.

SM: You said you could not even speak Shona but you joined Zanu. How were you received?

Cde Kenny: I didn’t even feel that there was Ndebele or Shona. I am not even sure whether I used to speak good Shona or what but I managed to communicate with my fellow comrades. Everything seemed normal to me.

SM: Some of the Shona comrades didn’t laugh at you or mock you?

Cde Kenny: Haaa, not even. Sometimes they would correct my Shona but it was never done to mock me. I remember instead of saying “nguva” meaning time, I used to say “guva.” Of course, some comrades would laugh but they would correct me in good faith and I would tell them “don’t worry soon I will learn”.

SM: You spoke about the element that some people thought Zapu was for Ndebele people and Zanu for Shona people. Where did this thinking come from?

Cde Kenny: This thinking was very prevalent in Zambia. You also need to remember that during that time, waiti ukataura Ndebele you would be abducted and made to join Zapu and ukataura Shona you would be abducted and made to join Zanu. You know during this time, it was even difficult for a Ndebele person to marry a Shona person? This tribal element was always there but I brushed it aside and joined Zanu.

SM: Let’s go back to your training.

Cde Kenny: Ohh, ok. First, we were taught why we were fighting the liberation struggle. Fighting for what and who were we fighting? We were fighting to free Zimbabwe, but Zimbabwe yacho iri nyika yaani? What exactly did we mean by hundzvanyiriri? This was political orientation. After this that’s when we were taught how to use the different types of weapons. The instructors always told us that pfuti haibatwi nemunhu asinganzwisisi kuti ari kurwirei. The instructors would tell us that without proper political orientation you would either run away from the struggle or do wrong things at the war front.

After political orientation, we were taught how to use small arms like AK47 and bazookas. Since this was guerilla warfare, we didn’t receive training in heavy arms, those ones dzinodhonzwa nemota. We didn’t have vehicles and so our training was on small arms. We were taught how to use landmines and how to ambush the enemy. We were taught war tactics.

During training we received lots of support from the Tanzanian government through the OAU. They supplied us with almost everything. You know almost every day we would eat meat?

SM: Where did you go after the almost two years of training?

Cde Kenny: Towards the end of 1971, we started preparing to be deployed at the war front. Also at that time, Intumbi camp was being closed. Another new camp, Mgagao, was now being opened still in Tanzania. I didn’t go to Mgagao because we had finished our training. I think by this time at Intumbi we were around 215. From Intumbi we were taken to a transit camp called Kongwa still in Tanzania. Like I told you, we were getting ready to be deployed to the war front. We were at Kongwa for about three to four months. While at Kongwa, one day mota dzakauya zvikanzi get in tava kuenda kuhondo manje.

SM: You had gone for training for almost two years and now you were told you were going to be deployed to the war front. How did you feel?

Cde Kenny: I can’t express the happiness. We jumped around with joy. We had been waiting for too long and we were excited. Pakaita morari, kuita pungwe tichiimba.

SM: But Cde Kenny, you were going to war and during war people die?

Cde Kenny: We had been taught to be ready for all that. We knew that hondo is about kutsvaga munhu iye achikutsvagawo. Iwe with a gun iyewo with a gun.

SM: And also, the Smith regime was armed to the teeth?

Cde Kenny: We knew all that, that’s why we had been trained in guerilla warfare. Guerilla warfare tactic is to hit and run. This running away was not out of fear but it was because we didn’t have enough weapons and our weapons were inferior to the ones that the Smith regime had. After hitting the enemy, the tactic was to run away after maximum impact. You retreat to go and find mamwe mabara. We used to call it strategic retreat. We were supposed to hit and run because after hitting them, the Rhodesian forces would call for reinforcements. They would call for airpower and so on. So we had to hit and run. As you know taiita zvombo zvekuviga musango so after retreating totsvaga pane zvimwe zvombo since we could not carry lots of ammunition.

SM: As you were singing getting ready to get deployed, who were some of the comrades you were with?

Cde Kenny: There were many. I remember Cde Mhembwe, Museve, Danny Murimo, Charakupa, Cde Vhuu and others. Some of these comrades are still alive. So we were taken to Lusaka then Mozambique the next day. When we got to Mozambique, there were some comrades there already. These comrades had negotiated with Frelimo our passage from Mozambique into Rhodesia. I remember there was Cde Mayor Urimbo, Cde Chauke, Cde Tongogara, Cde Chinamaropa, Cde Chimurenga and others.

This was now around January-February 1972. The leaders chose this time because during this time, the terrain was favourable for guerilla warfare due to the green vegetation. We first went to Chifombo which was like a transit camp which was close to the border between Mozambique and Zambia. Cde Tongogara, Cde Rex Nhongo, Cde Tungamirai, Cde Dauramanzi were some of our commanders. At Chifombo that’s when we were put into groups. We were put into three groups. From Chifombo to Zambezi River we could walk for almost three to four days. Povho yekuMozambique would use zvimwadiya to help us cross Zambezi River. After crossing Zambezi River we would walk for another two days to get to the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique. So it was almost a week from Chifombo up to the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

SM: This was clearly a long distance and you were carrying weapons. How did you motivate each other?

Cde Kenny: We had comrades from the commissariat who would give us morari. They would urge us saying “handei macomrades, tisanete. Tinonetereyi, tichanoguta kumusha.” As you know, during this time in 1972, Mozambique was not yet free so it was tough because we now had two enemies – the Portuguese in Mozambique and the Rhodesian forces.

As we were walking in Mozambique, we met Portuguese soldiers and pfuti dzotorira ipapo. We were being accompanied by some Frelimo soldiers and so when we met the Portuguese, we would fight supporting our Frelimo comrades. During these fights we would make sure tarova the Portuguese because tikapedza mabara it meant going back to Chifombo again kunotora mamwe.

SM: By this time were you now able to speak Shona?

Cde Kenny: Ahhh, zvaingofambirana ikoko. Do you know if someone is to come here, let’s say a Chinese commander, if he comes here talking tough you will quickly understand what he will be talking about. I could speak some Shona but people could hear from my accent that I was not Shona.

After crossing into Rhodesia, we carried materiel to Mavhuradonha Mountain with assistance from povho. The Rhodesian forces knew that some guerillas were sneaking into Rhodesia so they mounted patrols along the border but we still managed to get into Rhodesia.

The Rhodesian forces were alerted by their Portuguese counterparts in Mozambique about our coming. During our battles with the Portuguese in Mozambique, the Portuguese soldiers could easily feel that these were not Frelimo soldiers. Tairidza pfuti zvakasiyana.

SM: We have heard from many comrades that Zanla comrades were better fighters than Frelimo comrades. Tell us more about this.

Cde Kenny: The differences started from our training. Our training was tough and intense. Mozambique had already started its war and so the Portuguese knew how the Frelimo soldiers fought. As Zanla forces, our motto was once we start a battle with the Portuguese, hatidzokeri kumashure. Hatitizi. So the Portuguese would see that these were not Frelimo comrades.

SM: Tell us briefly about mass mobilisation. Why was it important?

Cde Kenny: You see, before we crossed into Rhodesia, there was a lot of propaganda. The Rhodesians went around saying magandanda vanhu vakaipa, tuvanhu tupfupi tunowuraya vanhu. They told people that magandanga achakutorerai vakadzi venyu nezvipfuwo zvenyu. They spread lots of lies and propaganda. So through mass mobilisation our duty was to explain to povho that tiri vana vemuno we have come to liberate the country. The people could also see that during the mass mobilisation exercise, there were no tribal divisions like saying this was in Ndebele, Karanga, Zezuru or what. We were all united to free Zimbabwe. But the first thing we would ask was where the enemy was before doing anything.

SM: These were the early years of the Second Chimurenga and many people feared white people. How difficult was it to convince people to support the struggle?

Cde Kenny: The people in the rural areas were not that difficult to convince. Once we explained to them kuti tiri vana venyu tawuya kuzosunungura nyika. Varungu havasivo varidzi venyika what what. We would base all this to the words of Mbuya Nehanda and many people knew about Mbuya Nehanda. We told them kuti Mbuya Nehanda vakati mapfupa angu achamuka, tisu mapfupa acho.

Our biggest challenge was in the farming areas. Most blacks in the farming areas would say “you want to kill our bhasa?” Maibva manetsana ipapa. Most of these farm workers were not Zimbabweans. So it was a big challenge but they eventually understood what we were telling them. But still they asked kuti shuwa mungasunungure nyika netupfuti twenyu itwotwu? And munogara musango? Some would laugh at us saying asi munopenga? But once we saw that this was the attitude, we would then make sure that we hit whites in the area so hard to convince these workers that we were serious. Tairova varungu such that vanopfuura nepamba pemaworkers avo vachitiza so that the workers could see that we could defeat these whites. They would then say, haaa, these people vanorova hondo because ndakaona bhasa achitiza.

SM: Where you a traditionalist or a Christian?

Cde Kenny: Uko taitoita zvemudzimu, masvikiro. We went around with spirit mediums. We had been taught that when you arrive in an area, you don’t just start operating. You start by informing the chief. The chief would then tell us kuti svikiro in that area ndiani. This svikiro would tell us where to stay and how to go about our operations. And zvataurwa nesvikiro would always come true.

Do you really think Zimbabwe would be free today tichirwa tega? That was not possible. Without the spirit mediums? That was not possible. Anyone who tells you that it was possible to win the liberation struggle without the spirit mediums would be lying to you. The spirit mediums would tell us where to go and how to go there. They would warn us of impending danger and tell us how to escape.

So once we got to an area, we would go to see the chief who will direct us to the spirit medium. You know sometimes, the spirit medium would tell us that mudunhu mangu handidi ropa? Before tasvika pamasvikiro, we would leave a weapons and watches some distance away. We would walk kusvikiro barefooted. Tosvika towombera introducing ourselves. Tisu vana venyu tauya. Ndimi makatituma kuenda kunze. Tadzoka. Tawuyawo munzvimbo yenyu, tiratidzei kuti tinofamba sei and tinogara sei. Svikiro raibva rakupai mhiko. The dos and don’ts in that area. The spirit medium would tell us that zvombo zvamakatakura hazvisi zvekufara saka tevedzai what I am telling you. After this totora fodya yemumhuno towombera.

SM: You said some chiefs would say “handidi ropa in my area?”

Cde Kenny: Yes, some chiefs told us that. But we used to tell such chiefs that kana musingadi ropa in your area, make sure we don’t meet mabhunu in your area because if we meet them, we will kill them.

Next week Cde Kenny speaks about the several battles at the warfront and how he survived. It’s the kind of stuff that sounds stranger than fiction, but this was real.

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