How Pres Mugabe survived assassination in Gutu

For the past four editions, Comrade Kenny Constantine Mabuya, whose Chimurenga name was Cde Kenny Ridzai, gave us his gripping story from 1972 when he joined the liberation struggle from Lusaka, Zambia. It has been a reverting narration.

In this last instalment, with our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike, Cde Kenny makes stunning revelations about their confrontation with the British authorities after they had been sent as the advance team for the Zanla delegation to the Lancaster House talks in London. He talks about deputising Cde Rex Nhongo as part of the contingent team that had been sent by Zanu to start ceasefire talks with Lord Soames in 1979.

He then narrates how President Mugabe narrowly escaped death in Gutu after some Rhodesian soldiers fired at him as he was addressing a rally. The drama as they escaped will make a blockbuster war movie. 

SM: Finally, we are reaching the conclusion of your intriguing narration Cde Kenny. We want to thank you so, so much for your time. Now, let’s continue your journey from 1977.

Cde Kenny: Thank you for this opportunity to record my history. I hope it will inspire future generations. I think around August 1977, some commanders who were at the war front were ordered to come back to the rear so that they could go for further military training. I was chosen to lead this group that was going to Nanking in China. We went to Nanking for about six months and came back in 1978.

We were about 50 comrades. We were now receiving training in using special weapons like anti-air machine guns, how to operate tanks and so on. By this time, we knew that hondo yakura and anytime tinogona kuenda kumusha. This was a sort of a commanders’ course. After this training, we came back to Mozambique and I continued my duties of receiving recruits from home and reinforcements from several training camps. The war had spread all over the country and kwese kwakanga kwazara magandanga.

By this time, some comrades were already thinking of coming to Salisbury. They wanted to come and fight the Smith regime right here in Harare. If you remember that’s the same time that those comrades came and destroyed petrol tanks in Salisbury.

In 1979, that’s when we heard about the Lancaster House talks. As someone who was in the security department, I was chosen to be among the first advance group to go the Lancaster. Our task was to choose the places of accommodation for our Zanu delegation.  We were seven in this advance group.

SM: Do you remember the names of the other comrades?

Cde Kenny: Umm, I can’t remember them. When we got to London, our first option was that the Zanu delegation would stay at Castro Hotel but we later discovered that it was not appropriate. The set-up was just not good. For example, on your way to your rooms you would pass through the dining-room and we said this was not safe. We started looking for accommodation somewhere but the British insisted that our delegation should stay at that hotel. We told them of our security concerns but they remained adamant. I think ipapo they had arranged to kill VaMugabe. That’s my thinking.

SM: Why do you say that?

Cde Kenny: So many things that were happening at that time got me worried. For example, after they insisted, we came up with another route that the leaders of our delegation could use to go to their rooms without passing through the dining-room but they refused. They insisted that our delegation should pass through the dining hall munenge makazara vanhu. Aiwazve, munhu anopfurwazve. There were silencers during that time and we were afraid VaMugabe or other members of the delegation could be shot. Even if you read the book, “See You in November”, there is confirmation that there was a plot to kill President Mugabe.

They knew he was the die-hard among the leaders. We told our leaders of our concern. We stayed in that hotel for just a week. We even refused to eat the food from the hotel. There were so many Zimbabweans living in London who would bring food but the hotel staff said we could not eat the food inside the hotel. We even told the hotel staff that VaMugabe vanoda sadza ravo remhunga or zviyo and so on but they insisted kuti hazviiti. There was a big fight over the issue.

Takabva tatsvaga dzimba dzemasupporters emusangano. I remember there was Cde Gwanzura, Cde Frederick Shava, Witness Mangwende, Kombayi and others who had properties in London. We identified some house which was secure tikati President vanogara pano. We said tinobva tese from this house going to Lancaster House.

SM: While the President was staying at this house, where were you staying?

Cde Kenny: Taipinda neyedu.

SM: Tell us how the situation was when President Mugabe arrived with his delegation.

Cde Kenny: Umm, it was quite something. There was a big crowd because many people wanted to see Mugabe wacho akaita sei. Despite the big crowd, tiri seven kudaro we would push people away. We would push some people vachiwira kwakadaro uko. We had to do that otherwise the delegation would not go anywhere. Of course, we got assistance from the British officers. So President Mugabe stayed at this house until the end of the Lancaster talks. After the Lancaster we came back and started preparations for ceasefire.

Cde Tongo and President Mugabe then said there must a contingent force that should be go into Rhodesia and start working with Lord Soames. I was part of this force and I remember our secretary was a lady called Linda. We went to Beira and we were addressed by President Mugabe. He said ndiri kutumira my first contingent yeZanla kuSalisbury to go and work with Lord Soames. He said the team was to be led by Rex Nhongo with Kenny Ridzai, meaning me as his deputy. I know Webster Shamu still has this cassette when President Mugabe was making this address. He was in the publicity department. After this address, we left Beira around 3pm. The arrangement was that our plane was supposed to land in Harare before the Zipra plane. However, for some reason ndege yedu yakambonzi haimhari so takambotenderera mudenga. That unsettled us but after a while we got assurances that all was well. The plane carrying the Zipra comrades landed then we followed.

SM: How was the situation like at the airport?

Cde Kenny: Umm, panga pakaipa. There were just too many people. Pakanga pane mabhazi akawanda zvisingaiti. Vamwe vakakwira pamusoro pemabhazi vamwe papi. It was just chaotic. Paiva nemapurisa anembwa but you know vanhu vaibaya imbwa nemapanga just to see us. Pakaitika nyaya on that day. After landing, I was the first one to come out of the plane ndakasimudza AK47 and waving flag yeZanu. Ahh, the people went wild. Povho yakaita kupenga chaiko. They destroyed the whole fence at the airport and killed many police dogs. I think we spent about two hours from the airport to Mushandirapamwe Hotel before going to the University of Zimbabwe. There were cars and people everywhere. The excitement was just too much. The welcome was just electric.

SM: In this excitement, were you not afraid that the Rhodesian soldiers could put you into some trap?

Cde Kenny: Ahh, we were ready for them. Takanga tine pfuti dzedu and we were ready. Even when we were at Mushandirapamwe, pfuti taigara takabereka. We were there for about two weeks. Even though we carried our guns, we were very disciplined. Hapana kana one day rekuti takamboridza pfuti. Some comrades vaidhakwa mumabhawa but there was no incident yekuridza pfuti.

From Mushandirapamwe, we went to the University of Zimbabwe. That is when the talks started nana Lord Soames and Peter Walls. We had a feeling that Walls was up to no good. His soldiers had surrounded us at the University. One evening we sneaked out tikaenda kunotora pfuti hombe getting ready for war. We then mounted our guns right round the University just to show him that we were ready for anything. Sometimes the Rhodesian soldiers would drive convoys towards the University and appear like they were taking positions. We would also take our positions to show that we were not afraid. We were staying at the University with our Zipra comrades but not using the same residence. They were staying with other side of the University. Lord Soames was staying at State House.

When the talks started, that’s when we really travelled a lot going to Assembly Points and so on. We would go and talk to comrades to go to Assembly Points. Sometimes some comrades would resist and we would talk to them kusvika vanzwisisa. Kumwe vaitorova hondo chaiyo and we would go to investigate. Dzimwe nguva taitoramba kuenda nemahelicopter because taitya kuti some of our comrades would shoot at the helicopters. Towards the end of 1979, maShef akatanga kuuya into Rhodesia. They were staying at different houses in Salisbury. During the evenings, mabhunu aifamba nemudhudhudhu vachikanda grenades into these houses. They would first shout “you bloody son of …” then throw the grenades. Cde Kangai ndivo vakaita zvekuridzirwa bazooka chairo pamba pavo rikapinda nepahwindo. Akatiza akapinda muwardrobe. When I arrived, ndakatowana arimo muwardrobe akahwanda. After attending to this attack, that is when I was moved by Cde Nhongo from the army to lead the group of comrades that was providing security padzimba dzemashef. When the President came, ndakabva ndaiswa to be part of his motorcade. I was part of his security and we would go together to all the rallies, including in Masvingo kwatakaridzirwa pfuti.

SM: What exactly happened?

Cde Kenny: Pakaridzwa pfuti and President vakatora cover. We were at a rally when this happened. Before this incident, we had received information that there were some suspicious people roaming around. So we had gone to Dzapasi Assembly Point and came with some reinforcements. We planted some of the comrades mumakomo around the area. I think pane pamwe patakasiya and I don’t know takapasiya sei. Ndipo paiva nevanhu vaida kupfura President ipapo. So as the President was speaking, we just heard gun- shots coming in our direction. Aah, patoipa, President pasi.

SM: You mean President Mugabe taking cover?

Cde Kenny: Yes, ivava President Mugabe. Vakaburuka pastage tikati shef let’s go. We were kwaGutu. This is different story from the story inotaurwa kakawanda yekuti he was in the Benz. That one was in Masvingo. I am talking about the attack kwaGutu. Pfuti dzakarira tichitori parally chaipo. Chop-chop tatora cover, Cde Mnangagwa was there, paita commotion yeye what what. Tapinza President mumota. We had left our Dakota near some airstrip that was nearby. We decided against going to the Dakota and we left Gutu for Masvingo by                                                                  road.

We said let’s leave Dakota because these people vanogona kuridzira Dakota racho. President vachingopinda muBenz it was wasara-wasara. The driver then was a comrade, Cde Shumba. Ahh, munhu airova mota iyeye. When we got to Masvingo ndipo patakati Dakota ngaitevere ikoko. That day it rained heavily and the Dakota couldn’t land in Masvingo. It flew to Salisbury, tikati inozodzoka the next day.

Cde Mnangagwa then assigned me and some comrades kuti Cde Kenny go kwaGutu and investigate what exactly had happened. When we got back to Gutu we discovered that some of those comrades we had taken from Dzapasi Assembly Point are the ones who saved us. While in their positions mumakomo they saw where the enemy fire was coming from and they fired towards the enemy position. They actually killed two Rhodesian soldiers.

There was a nearby Integration Camp where the different armies – Zanla, Zipra and Rhodesian army – where being merged into one army. This is where these soldiers had come from. When we went to the camp, we found Zanla comrades vachivava zvakaoma. They wanted to attack the Integration Camp. They had carried these two Rhodesian soldiers to the camp and they were demanding answers who was behind the attack. Other Rhodesian soldiers said hativazivi and this is where the problems started because these dead Rhodesian soldiers were dressed in army uniform. We got there and calmed things down. Nyaya yacho yakangopera like that. I stayed as part of the President’s security until 1982. I went back to the army.

SM: What a journey? When you look back at your contribution during the liberation struggle, do you have any regrets?

Cde Kenny: Not at all. I went to liberate the country and we did exactly that. I never thought I would come back alive but here I am. I didn’t even have plans kuti kana nyika yasununguka tichaita this and that. I was fighting to liberate the country.

SM: When you came back from the liberation struggle, did you conduct any ritual?

Cde Kenny: Yes, I did. We did with my family. I went kumusha and said ndadzoka because kunonzi munhu anogezwa. So pakabikwa doro, vanhu vakawungana vakapembera. Ndakatorwa ndikayendwa neni kusango ndikanogezeswa ikoko.

After this I later went to that family yandakambogara nayo during the war. You know up to this day number dzangu dzechitupa it appears like ndiri wekwaMakuni. I said I want to go and see that old man. I bought some groceries.

Grocery rakawanda stereki. I was saying I really want to thank that person because he saved my life. You can imagine Rhodesian soldiers vaimubaya nepfuti vachiti iwe mudhara taura gandanga riri kupi but he never sold me out. He said gandanga handirizivi ndine vana vangu chete pano.

Unfortunately, ndakawana mudhara wacho ava netwo years ashaya. But his wives and those two boys were still alive. They were surprised to see me.

Vakawunganidza vanhu and I told them my story. Vanhu vakachema. I also cried. Mumwe mukomana wacho ndakawuya naye ndikatomutsvagira basa. It really was a touching and emotional moment.

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