LAST week, Cde Noah Mbira whose Chimurenga name was Cde Chemist Ncube narrated the sad story that saw him being sucked into the Nhari-Badza rebellion after the shoot-out at Cde Tongogara’s house in Lusaka. He ended his narration chronicling how together with Cde Badza and other comrades they were captured at Kaswende after being betrayed by Frelimo.
In this interview with our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike, Cde Chemist narrates the near-death torture that he was subjected to after the capture. He maintains that Zanu’s High Command failed to handle the Nhari-Badza rebellion properly revealing for the first time that the rebellion was caused more by tribalism at the rear in Lusaka than by the field commanders like Badza and Nhari.
In chilling ways, he narrates how as they were being driven to meet their death, he was miraculously saved by Cde Chigohwe. He says the other comrades about 20 rebels who were in the same car “proceeded and that was the last time I ever saw them because they were killed by other comrades.” Read on . . .
SM: Cde Chemist you spoke about being captured at Kaswende. Tell us exactly how you were captured?
Cde Chemist: We were sitting in that poshto after having our meals. I think around sunset or so. We heard someone shouting that we were under arrest. It was me, Badza, Chimedza and Shebba Gava, not Fox.
SM: Who captured you?
Cde Chemist: Some comrades who were under Cde Robson Manyika. They were called the Gukurahundi team. There was also Cde Mupunzarima and I can tell you it was quite a scenario. Despite my visible injuries I was butchered. Some of the comrades in this Gukurahundi had come through me while I was at the front but they butchered me. As they were beating us up, I just asked myself, ndiyo hondo yacho here iyi? I don’t want to begrudge these comrades who beat me up because like I said I have no apology to make I was in it whether by default or whatever. We were beaten up despite our appeal to Frelimo for dialogue.
When we were arrested, we didn’t resist. There was no resistance at all. Yes, I know the leaders could have been offended but they should have handled the situation much better. Remember I told you when I arrived at the rear with my injuries, I wasn’t received well. I was ill-treated by Cde Gava. He should have sat down with me because he had the authority over me. But like I said, Frelimo didn’t handle our request well.
SM: So in a way, you think Frelimo betrayed you?
Cde Chemist: Yes, they betrayed us. If I recall very well, there had been some demotions. I think Cde Badza and Cde Ceaser had been demoted. These were provincial commanders but they had been demoted before these problems. Whatever problems Badza had, I think it was wrong for the High Command to demote him and let him mingle with the junior commanders and cadres. You see, a person who has tasted power and a person who many people saluted, I think it was a wrong decision to demote him.
I know the High Command could have been hurt by whatever had happened, but they should have handled this issue sincerely.
You see, I had been at the war front for three years, I was at the forefront in opening the Madziva area and I knew the challenges at the war front. Those challenges meant life and death.
I don’t and won’t forgive the High Command for the action they took. If you are in position of leadership, you get problems, you don’t answer them, you get problems you don’t answer them. You are faced with numerous problems and in the end you protect yourself.
What I am saying is, whatever problems were at the rear, this was compounded by the High Command’s decision to demote Badza and let him stay at the grassroots.
SM: Reports say the rebels under the Badza-Nhari rebellion murdered many people as they were marching from the war front to the rear in Zambia. How far true are these reports?
Cde Chemist: I don’t know. I was at the rear. Even the capture of Cdes Josiah, Chimurenga, Ndangana and others I wasn’t part of that.
So we were captured and we were driven to some place quite some distance away. We were interrogated and taken to separate areas.
SM: Who was interrogating you?
Cde Chemist: It was Cde Tongo and Cde Manyika. The first to be taken for interrogation was Cde Badza, then after sometime it was me. A question was thrown to me – ‘newewo Cde Chemist?’ That was Cde Tongo asking me. He said this because of my track record. Cde Tongo knew who I was and my contribution to the struggle. I didn’t mince my words.
By saying ‘newewo Cde Chemist’ Cde Tongo was trying to saying I shouldn’t have been part of this group. I didn’t mince my words.
The days I was in Lusaka, after the shoot out at Cde Tongo’s house, they told me a story. I responded to Cde Tongo saying ‘comrade, aren’t you aware of your situation between MaKaranga and Manyika?’ Cde Tongo was taken aback. Cde Manyika had other ideas. He wanted to resume beating me but Cde Tongo pushed him aside. He asked me ‘comrade what do you mean?’ I said ‘this is how things have been developing.’ I told him about our meeting with Cde Santana, Cde Mutambanengwe and Cde George. As far as I knew, I had not seen Cde Santana in the High Command except the news that he was part of the early groups to cross Zambezi but thereafter, he was not part of the High Command.
I threw back a question to Cde Tongo saying wasn’t he aware of the situation? He then said, ‘ahhh, how did you know?’ I told him that those three guys were enough for me to know what was going on. I threw back another question asking him why he had demoted Badza and let him stay with other ordinary cadres? Wasn’t that a bad decision? I added that ‘yes, the reception I had got at the rear with my injuries and trying to meet him and wanting to discuss the situation at the war front, what was wrong with that? Coming to Kaswende and how they managed to capture us, we thought we could sit down and talk. I said despite all the problems, we should have sat down to talk.
The High Command had its share of the cake in terms of blame and we had our share of the cake also.
I also told Cde Tongo that he was part of that first meeting with Cde Badza and others and I wasn’t part of that meeting. I told him that by this time he should have known what was going on. I told him that I was not sorry that I was in it because it was a situation beyond my control. If I had relatives in Lusaka, I wasn’t going to be at Number 93 on the day these comrades came. I knew nobody in Lusaka unlike these members of the High Command who had families.
You know I remember one day some Frelimo comrade saying to me, ‘the problems you are having now will never end even if you enter into a free Zimbabwe.’ This was sometime in September 1974. These comrades were analyzing our situation.
SM: So were you saying the High Command had let you and other comrades down?
Cde Chemist: I had drafted a letter with Badza asking chairman Chitepo to intervene in the situation and get people together to sort out the problems. Later we were supposed to meet Cde Nhongo and up to now I don’t know why Cde Badza chose to meet Cde Nhongo but it tells me there must have been a rapport between them. I don’t know why Cde Nhongo on seeing me accompanying Cde Badza he produced a gun.
Let me put it this way, if you are a leader and you let problems mount when one day they come to you they come as a bombshell. The High Command should have listened to the commanders who were at the war front. Like I told you, we wrote reports from the war front to the rear periodically.
SM: In one of your responses to Cde Tongo, you spoke about the Karanga and the Manyikas. Where was this coming from?
Cde Chemist: Its not a secret that the appointment of commanders was based on tribal grounds.
SM: Like which commanders?
Cde Chemist: I won’t mention.
SM: No, comrade you need to qualify your statement?
Cde Chemist: Look at the composition of the High Command, except for Ndangana and Chauke and maybe Chinamaropa, the rest were Karangas. It wasn’t a secret.
SM: Who was making these appointments?
Cde Chemist: Thats not my bone of contention.
SM: We are asking this because this issue about tribalism comes up quite often so we would be grateful if you can elaborate your point.
Cde Chemist: If we are to look at merit as a criteria for appointments, Cde Badza as I pointed out as the provincial commander to come as far as Madziva at the war front, didn’t he fear for his life? Most of these provincial commanders withdrew from the war front when the Rhodesians intensified the war. This should show you Cde Badza was a brave commander. The war front made men out of men.
Cde Cephas was a Manyika but he also showed his courage. I spent lots of time with these comrades at the war front. Even with Cde Chimedza.
You know today when I rewind to these days I become very angry. Why not? If someone becomes a meal for the gun, those three years how would you have felt yourself? I got injured at the war front but I remained at the front soldiering on. Don’t you have any sympathy? I have already explained how difficult it was to get any help when I got to the rear in Zambia. So say what you want but I am saying with real conviction that like a man who had been out there for the liberation of Zimbabwe, I am justified to look back and get angry.
Do you know that Frelimo didn’t have what we as Zanu called a rear? The rear was where the war was.
But in our situation, you got somebody who had a home in Lusaka and all the luxuries. I was at the war front for three years. War is not a joke guys. The Rhodesians were ruthless but we soldiered on. They called us the boys in the bush. The ill-treatment of these boys in the bush started then and continues up to this day. You have no sympathy about all this?
SM: Are you implying that there was lack of appreciation from the leaders at the rear of the efforts by comrades who were at the war front?
Cde Chemist: Up to this day, I don’t mince my words, we are treated like third class citizens. The Rhodesians are better treated than us. They got higher pensions. Mistakes were made but those mistakes were part of the war. We learnt our lessons as the war progressed and the leaders were supposed to address the challenges we brought to them. Remember I am talking about a time when I was around 21-24 years. You face that torrid situation and 40 years later you smile at it? I don’t think so. It’s not fair. I could have gone to school. I left my family in a deplorable situation. I come back and find them still in that same situation. I am a prisoner.
The High Command let us down. The unfortunate thing is that most of the comrades who were involved in this are no longer with us.
SM: I can see clearly, you are angry comrade. Now let’s go back to the time you were captured and you were now being interrogated by Cde Tongo and others. Take us through what then happened.
Cde Chemist: After the interrogation I was put at some place on my own. Later that night we were taken to Chifombo and whatever happened I don’t know. I was now a captive. The following day, in my tattered clothes with blood all over from the severe beatings, all the comrades had been called and Cde Tongo asked me to address the comrades.
SM: Which comrades? You mean the comrades who had been arrested?
Cde Chemist: No. All the comrades. That was a big thing at Chifombo. I gathered my guts but I cried before I spoke. (Tears rolling down his cheeks) I then said ‘Takawira mukono wehondo, wakaenda asi tese tichatevera.’ The whole place erupted as the comrades started singing. Cde Tongo quickly stopped the comrades from singing. I then said ‘comrades I am sorry. Whoever knew me from the front, I am sorry for this situation. Its beyond the comradeship we used to enjoy at the war front we gave everyone any appetite to want to join the war. It was in this spirit that many comrades crossed into Zambia to join the war. Yes, hondo inofiwa macomrades but this is the sad situation now facing us. I got injured at the front but soldiered on hoping to continue until we freed our country, but I never imagined things would get to this.’
I explained that the problems seemed to have started at the war front but the truth was that the problems were at the rear. I explained that to me this was all about the fight for leadership positions between MaKaranga and Manyika. I was asked to stop my address. I was then taken back to my poshto, this time with Cde Chimedza and Cde Ndanga. From Kaswende where we were captured and interrogated, I don’t know what happened to Cde Badza.
Yes, there are stories that, Cde Badza and others were killed. My question is: If we had taken positions that we were going to oust the High Command, at Chifombo, could they have come to Chifombo? We felt that whatever had happened the situation could have been resolved. That’s why we went to Kaswende.
I want to call a spade, a spade – when you revolt against the leadership you get what is due to you, but to me this was never a revolt.
After this address, that night, there was Cde Tsuro and Cde Chigohwe – they took us to the Zanu farm. Uummmmm (laughs) They were under the command of Cde Rex Nhongo. That night I just said to myself, is this the end of my life? And should my life end in this manner? I then said no. Ndakashevedzera kuti ‘vanhu itai zvamuri kuita but remember takasiya vabereki vachitambura. I don’t think mudzimu yeZimbabwe would allow this sort of thing to happen. Just carry on the way you want.” By this time the beatings are so thorough such that all the pain is gone.
SM: What were these comrades doing to you?
Cde Chemist: Kurova nemupinyi chaiko. After my cry, these comrades stopped beating us. Takanga tangorukutika. What pains me most, are the commanders who had been pulled into this. Some were just rounded up at Chifombo for no apparent reason. They were young people. Very committed to the liberation struggle.
One of the issues that was raised by the High Command was that takanga tavakuunza vakadzi from the front. Of course Cde Cephas and a few others had brought their wives from the front. The accusation was that vakanga vasisaiti zvehondo, vakanga vava kutsvaga vakadzi.
But let’s pose a bit and look at life as it is supposed to be. For three years someone operating at the war front, what did you expect? These were people in love. Cephas’ wife was already pregnant.
Now look at the High Command – they had homes and families at the rear in Zambia. Chifombo had its own stories about the treatment of women there. There were clashes for women at Chifombo, particularly among the High Command.
SM: Who are some of these commanders who were fighting for women?
Cde Chemist: Ahhh, haiwawo. Its not a secret but for now that’s enough. I am very lucky that I didn’t being any wife. It was my belief that I will get married in a free Zimbabwe. I remember one time after my address at Mudzengerere, one of the villagers stood up and asked. ‘Hameno mwanangu ukandibvumira zvandiri kuda kubvunza?’ I said amai taurai henyu. She then said ‘ahh, zvinotyisa.’ Ndikati kwete amai, taurai henyu ndiri mwana wenyu. She said ‘takanzwa kuti imi munopihwa mapiritsi ekudya kuti murege kuda vakadzi uye hamudyi munongofamba mudondo.’
I then explained that I was just like any other normal man adding that ini ndikatora mwana wenyu ndoenda naye kuma poshto edu mutoro unosarira imi nekuti isu tiri vana zienda nenyika. Imi ndimi munosara muri mudambudziko nemasoldier. I said I don’t know kuti chikomborero chamwari here kuzvibata kwandiri kuita.
As for food, I explained that isu hatina minda imi vabereki ndimi munototi bikira.
SM: We have been told many times that Mbuya Nehanda before the war started in earnest warned against sleeping with women. Now you are telling us of comrades going to the rear with wives and the fight for women at Chifombo. Was this a total disregard of what Mbuya Nehanda had said?
Cde Chemist: Kurara nevakadzi during the war wainge watozviworesa. But there were many people with different characters. And also exhaustion was taking its toll on the comrades at the war front. Some comrades vakanga vasisa kwanisi kuzvibata.
When I refer to the chaos at Chifombo, rakanga rava dambe tambe. There was no war at Chifombo.
SM: Do you think this affected the waging of the war?
Cde Chemist: Yes, some of the problems emanated from these issues.
SM: After the beatings and the untold torture by Cde Tsuro and Cde Chigohwe, what happened after that?
Cde Chemist: After this ordeal, I felt death creeping in. The following morning we were bundled into a car takaita kunge masaga. After driving for quite a while, the car stopped and we saw Cde Chigohwe speeding towards us in his Peugeot. He stopped his car and said ‘Chemist arikupi? Ngaaburuke. He is wanted by the Zambian government.’ I was taken out of the vehicle as the other comrades proceeded. That was the last I saw these comrades. (Long pause)
SM: Who were these comrades?
Cde Chemist: Cde Chiridza, Cde Tedius, Cde Zindoga and many junior commanders. I think there were about 20 or so junior commanders. Like I said very promising junior commanders.
SM: They went and you never saw them again?
Cde Chemist: (tears rolling down his cheeks. Long silence) Yes. (Pause) These were the very base of the success story at the war front by this time. These were the comrades who were at the forefront executing the war leading to the release of the political prisoners in 1974. They had spent three years fighting the mighty Rhodesians. This is how these brave comrades were rewarded.
Remember by this time we were still very few comrades – Cde Mao in Chipuriro, Cde James Bond, Cde Bonzo in Madziva, Cde Vhuu in Rusambo and Cde Cephas at Nyombwe. I was in Chiweshe but based in Nyombwe between Mavhuradhonha and Karuyana.
So basically we were seven leaders but in total we were around 45 to 50 comrades. These were the comrades who made the difference that forced the Rhodesian government to release the political prisoners and start maneuvers to engage in dialogue with the freedom fighters.
I am not saying what happened before is immaterial. No. I am saying whoever contributed to the liberation struggle contributed to the attainment of independence.
SM: Now, let’s go back to your story when Cde Chigohwe said you were wanted by the Zambian government. What happened thereafter?
Cde Chemist: I was taken back to the farm and the medical team started checking on me. (Laughs) I was given some tablets and injections. After a few days, I was able to walk on my own but I had problems with my hearing capacity. Up to this day I still have that problem.
I don’t think I should be sitting in front of you guys telling this story. I should have died. I was being driven to meet my death when Cde Chigohwe came.
SM: You said when you were taken back to the farm, you never saw these other 20 or so comrades. Where do you think they were taken to?
Cde Chemist: Hanzi vakaenda ku materiel. What that meant was death. Patakakwidzwa in this car, kwakatonzi haiwawo chingozvitumirai kumateriel. That meant death and like I told you I was together with these comrades being driven to meet our deaths. I don’t know how I came out of this situation just like I don’t know how I came out of other situations during the war. Ndongotendawo mudzimu yangu and my Lord.
The way I tortured, the nature of the torture after the capture, I should have died. I tell you some people today get scared to face me. I should have died.
That’s why I talk of Animal Farm. There were better comrades, there were Mr Ox and so on. For example, they demoted Badza one or two times. Why didn’t they think we have punished this person enough? He was a brave commander that one. He came all the way to Madziva when all of them were scared. Yes, he made mistakes but why not send him for further training or something? To them the only solution was punishment. Why didn’t anyone pose to think of our age and what we had gone through? Why? The rear composed of people we considered our elders. They had been there for quite a long time.
Now they sent all these comrades to materiel meaning to their deaths? Was there any legal representation to see how each one of them was involved? The High Command became a law unto themselves.
The Nhari rebellion can be explained in many aspects, but people should know that these were very youthful people, adventurous who needed guidance. Takanga tiri vana, vanana.
Just look at what the youths of today are doing. Its characteristic of the youths and we all say they need guidance.
Despite my young age, ndaipfunyirwa maoko by elders in Mt Darwin. Kupfunyirwa maoko meant kuti uri saimba but I wasn’t married. It was the way I carried myself but we were not all the same.
SM: Looking back now, if you had not been sucked into this rebellion unknowingly would you have participated in it anyway?
Cde Chemist: Let’s not talk about ifs. This situation required proper handling of contradictions. That’s my story.
SM: From what you are saying, we get the impression that you are saying if the High Command had on some occasions gone to the war front, they would have understood and solved the the Nhari rebellion in a better way?
Cde Chemist: Yes. Why not go to the war front and see things on your own? Unotuma Badza to go out there ega and later wochema naBadza. Why? The High Command became too comfortable in Lusaka.
I don’t think the issues with Badza just started from nowhere. I am sure there was a big story behind it. The High Command should have known this situation earlier.
SM: Let me put it this way. After all you have said, were you part of the Nhari rebellion?
Cde Chemist: Uuuummm, I think I told you that everything has got its own beginning. As far as I am concerned the Nhari rebellion was not an issue from the war front. It was a political situation at the rear.
I don’t even know how I should directly answer your question. I was a simple boy who left home to join the liberation struggle and did my best at the war front.
There were things that were beyond me. My relationship with Badza and these other comrades was mainly because we were together at the war front for quite some time. I got involved in the Nhari rebellion only because when it happened I was at the rear after being injured. I repeat, things were beyond my control. I didn’t initiate this.
The story was that the rebellion was started by Nhari and Badza but the true story is that there must have been a lot more at the rear. Take for example in 1971, the creation of Florizi, who were the people at the forefront? It was these leaders who were in this chain of disunity. They influenced upcoming cadres. The issue of disunity had not been resolved from the early days of our politics and I can tell you the problems persist up to this day.
So asking me whether I was part and parcel of the Nhari rebellion is missing the whole point.
SM: So your direct answer is what? No?
Cde Chemist: Comrades, you are asking questions which don’t exist in real life situations. What brought me from the war front to the rear?
Cde Chemist: So where did I plot to overthrow the High Command. I was just sucked into other people’s plans and I had to do what I could as a military man. But whatever situation I got into, I am not apologising. I have no remorse. Those were things beyond me.
The few days after the shoot out at Cde Tongo’s house and the people we met told me that the problem was at the rear not at the war front.
SM: So when people say Chemist was part of the Nhari rebellion which comprised comrades who wanted to overthrow the High Command, does that offend you?
Cde Chemist: No not exactly. Some comrades don’t even know what this was all about. After the attainment of independence, I was called in by Martin and Phil Johnson. They asked me the same question when they wrote the book, The Struggle for Zimbabwe. They said to me the leaders of the Nhari rebellion had met the Rhodesians and I told them my story. I actually don’t even think Nhari and Badza met the Rhodesians. When and how could they have done that?
SM: Let’s go back to your story after you had been treated.
Cde Chemist: Like I said I was given a few pills and some injections. After a few days I was taken by i think Cde Chigohwe to Ilanda where Cde Rugare Gumbo and Cde Shamhu were staying. Ndakangosiiwa ikoko and I was doing nothing except kuswera ndichitaura namechanic ainzi Murehwa. I think I was dumped there because these comrades knew that I didn’t know anyone in Lusaka. Cde Dabulamanzi also came to that house often.
In February 1975, I was taken back to Chifombo to repeat my story until my capture. I was just given orders to repeat the story again. I did exactly that and I remember this was during the night. Some people shouted asking why i was spared death.
SM: How much do you think Cde Chitepo knew about all this that was going on?
Cde Chemist: I don’t know. I had never met Cde Chitepo. After this address I was taken back to Ilanda until the death of Cde Chitepo. When this happened, a few days later we were rounded up by the Zambian police and put in detention.
The ordeal after the Nhari rebellion really affected my health. Up to this day, I feel the pain.
I am really glad I have been able to tell this story. Idzi hadzisi nyaya dzangu. Inyaya dzenyika. Dzine varidzi vadzo that’s why I asked vadzimu venyika to guide me. This is a story that really pains me. This was no joke. People died. My fellow comrades were killed by fellow comrades. Macomrades angu eropa. I will never, ever forget.
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