How we walked into a trap in 1977

Comrade Chrispen Tapfuma Mataire (born February 24, 1945 in Chivhu), whose Chimurenga name was Cde David Todhlana tells our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike of his misgivings with the way Cde Tongogara handled issues during the liberation struggle. He even says he “celebrated” when Cde Tongo died in 1979.

Is Cde Tondlana not a bitter man saying bad things about Cde Tongo because he was part of Zanla commanders who walked into a trap in Beira? Read on. . .


SM: Cde Todhlana can you shed more light on Cde Tongo and your relationship with him?

Cde Todhlana: I had misgivings with Tongo. In 1973, Zanu used to have bi-annual conferences in Zambia. After every two years, there would be an elective conference. I didn’t attend this particular bi-annual conference but I heard from many who attended that conference that the way it was run was unheard of. Apparently, before this conference the other conferences were attended by povo in Zambia. The commanders did not attend such conferences.

But this was now 1973 and we had started the war in 1972, commanders were asked to attend the conference. When they came they participated in terms of voting kuti vaipinda mudare reChimurenga ndivanani. Most of these commanders didn’t know much about the party leadership and when they were told to vote, who do you think they voted for? They came up with this Bereka Mwana Concept. Munhu aiyenda kunomira kumashure kwemunhu that he or she supported. We are told that vanaCde Tongo would direct the fighters kuti iwe enda unomira kumashure kwemunhu uyo and uyo. Remember Tongo was very popular with the forces and they did what he told them to do. Tongo was popular not because he was good hearted or that he was a good planner. He was popular because he was always with the fighters. Ainge ainesu. Kutraining, it was Tongo, kuwar front it was Tongo.

You know William Ndangana was the chief of defence while Tongo came second as chief of operations. This was before 1973. The tables were then turned when Tongo became chief of defence. William Ndangana went to foreign affairs. The fighters didn’t know Ndangana so they supported Tongo. Ndangana never visited us at the war front and as fighters we didn’t know him even though he was chief of defence. This is how Tongo took over the reins of the defence portfolio. This is what I heard and from that perspective I was not happy.

Another thing was the death of Badza and Nhari. Following this conference, things were not well in Zanu. There was some measure of tension. Those who were preponderant before this conference were the Manyikas. They held most of the influential posts in Zanu. Chairman Chitepo was a Manyika, Mutambanengwe and others were all Manyikas. MaZezuru nemaKaranga vakanga vari vashoma. Now in 1973, people like Rugare Gumbo got into Dare ReChimurenga. He was coming from school in Canada. Who voted him? Aimuziva ndiani? Ko Kumbira Kangai apinda chirudzii? These were activists who had been turned into Zanu representatives in countries where they were studying. How did they find themselves into Dare?

SM: How did they manoeuvre?

Cde Tondlana: This is the million-dollar question. Gumbo and Kangai came at the same time. My suspicion is that it was Cde Tongo who was manipulating the system. Rugare Gumbo is Karanga and Tongo was a Karanga. Kangai was half-Manyika and half-Karanga. Handiti aiva wekuBuhera? This is my suspicion. I however, don’t have concrete evidence that this is what exactly happened.

SM: Let’s go back to the story of your arrest.

Cde Todhlana: After Geneva Conference flopped, everybody came back. We held meetings with Cde Tongo as commanders. During the meetings I suggested that the Zanla High Command should change. I was making my contribution during discussions. Cde Tongo vakagara apo. We were discussing. I suggested that lets increase the number of the people in the High Command from the current 18 to 24 or more. I said this would increase the efficiency of the High Command. As I was suggesting this, I had something behind my mind.

SM: What was that?

Cde Tondlana: I was saying in my mind, I don’t hold in high esteem members of High Command yaTongo. Some of them were semi-illiterate.

SM: Like who?

Cde Tondlana: Like Joseph Chimurenga. Rex Nhongo was Standard Six? Elias Hondo, I think Grade Three? Chinamaropa, Chauke like the whole lot of them. None of them could boost kuti ndakaenda kuchikoro. Even iye Tongo had gone as far as Form 2. I could see that these comrades could not embrace and understand the ideology that I wanted to push.

My wish was to take the commander from Tete Province into the High Command, then commander from Gaza province, commander from Chibavava, commander from Nyadzonya and others to them six. I knew all these comrades had passed through Wampua College. So I wanted the number of the High Command to be increased not that they were few but because I underrated them.

SM: Don’t you think you were being over-ambitious?

Cde Tondlana: Hooo, that’s your judgement?

SM: No, I am just asking. We want to know because look, you had a history of coming from Zipra. Now you wanted to change things in Zanla High Command. Weren’t you being too ambitious?

Cde Tondlana: (laughs) I really don’t know. So after this discussion, Cde Rex held me by the hand. He led me into a nearby orchard. He then said; “Cde Davie, I appreciate what you want to do. I really appreciate what you are trying to do, but Cde Davie you are better off fighting from within.” He then said; “food for thought.” He walked away.

I later realised that Rex was giving me a warning that Cde Davie you are better off fighting from within meaning usadzingwe from Zanu. So the message was play it cool. Lie low.

SM: Why was Cde Rex Nhongo giving you this advice?

Cde Todhlana: Rex was my cousin brother. We come from the same area. Takasangana kuhondo tikazivana. So we established a good relationship. He also knew sincerely that Cde Davie vanoda zverevolution. His message was usadzingwa from Zanu.

SM: Is there any other person who was in support of your idea?

Cde Tondlana: I never sold it to anybody. I just spoke about it in that meeting. This was a preliminary meeting at Chimoio. The final meeting was to be held in Beira. This was just a meeting of the commanders and the fighters. After this meeting, we were told that we would finalise issues in Beira. A driver was dispatched to go Tembwe and take Cde Sipho Ncube. Even some field commanders were invited to this meeting. We went with them to this meeting in Beira. We thought we were going to find solutions to our challenges in Zanu. Unknown to us, the Zanu leadership had made up its mind.

SM: What do you mean?

Cde Tondlana: This Beira meeting was just a decoy. The Zanu leaders had made up their minds to arrest the Zanla commanders in Zipa. They could not arrest us in our camps because we were popular with the fighters. So the idea was to take us away from the fighters and Frelimo would assist the Zanu leaders.

When we got to Beira, Cde Mugabe gave the opening speech. He used a polite way of saying mumusangano mune vanhu vapanduka. Cde Mugabe then said, we are breaking for lunch. He instructed that Zipa commanders were to use one exit door. The High Command which was in Zambian prisons and members of the Central Committee were to use another door.

Once we got out through the exit door, we were arrested by Frelimo soldiers who were armed. We were put in a truck and were taken to Karidoso Hotel. We were kept there under heavy guard by Frelimo.

SM: Do you remember some of the comrades who were also arrested?

Cde Tondlana: There was myself, Muchechetere, Chaitezvi, Webster Gwauya and others. We were 25 in total. There were only two female comrades. One of them later became Muchechetere’s wife. I want you to take note of something here. Cde Dzino was arrested briefly but was later released. It later turned out that Cde Tongo wanted to use Cde Dzino to go and silence fighters at the different camps. Cde Tongo had spent two years in prison in Zambia and these new fighters didn’t know him. These new recruits didn’t know many in the Zanu leadership. For example when Cde Mugabe was taken to Teresera Base, he would take his plate vachinomira muqueue just like everyone else. The recruits couldn’t recognise him and no one had told them who he was. It was only after we arrived from Mboroma that we started educating our recruits about our leaders. VaMugabe would come to the camps once in a while, like I remember one time he came to Chimoio and we introduced him to the fighters.

SM: Let’s go to that hotel where you were under heavy guard.

Cde Tondlana: I need to tell you that Cde Rex Nhongo was the overall commander of Zipa, but he was also not arrested. We spent about five days at the hotel. We were then flown to the Mozambican border with Tanzania. It was more like kachitsuwa. No one up to this point has explained to us why we had been rounded up.

After independence, others went to Number 88 Manica to plead with Zanu kuti tiregerereiwo, but I said I am not going to plead to anybody because I didn’t do anything wrong. I am convinced that the level of understanding of the revolution differed. The winner does not only take it all. The winner tells the story.

What is am saying is, after they arrested us, vana Cde Tongo had the opportunity to tell the fighters their side of the story. We couldn’t defend ourselves. If we had the opportunity we would refute the claims that we were sell-outs. Disagreements are not equal to being a sell-out. My understanding of a sell-out is that he or she is someone who stands in the way of a revolution, someone who diverts or impedes. Differences in approach or ideas does not make me a sell-out. Ukanditi sell-out ndinochema.

SM: You were not a sellout?

Cde Tondlana: I am an ultra-revolutionary. That’s why up to this day I am calling for Zanu-PF to have the Liberation Fighters’ Wing just like the Women’s and Youths Leagues. I have been calling for the party to set up the Chitepo College. Wampua College after I left was later called Chitepo College.

SM: Let’s go back to your arrest. What happened after you were taken to the border between Mozambique and Tanzania?

Cde Tondlana: We stayed there and practically we had nothing to do. No means of communication. Nothing. The only thing we could do was kuchera mbeva. Ini handidye mbeva but ndaidzichera zvakaoma. In 1978, we were then joined by another group that comprised people like Rugare Gumbo, Crispen Mandizvidza, Hamadziripi and others. These comrades had their own misunderstand with the leadership. We were arrested in January 1977 and this group joined us in 1978. I didn’t embrace these new comrades.

SM: Why?

Cde Todhlana: I didn’t look at them as my colleagues. Our orientation was different. They were not revolutionaries. They were potential bourgeoisie.

You see, the national democratic revolution is a stage of our struggle where everybody participates. The main issue here is national liberation. So both the rich and the poor participate in this national democratic revolution. The idea is kuti titore nyika yedu tigoita zvatinoda.

But I was anticipating going beyond this national democratic revolution. I wanted to transform the national democratic revolution to a socialist revolution.

SM: Don’t you think you were being too idealistic?

Cde Tondlana: When I look at it now, the situation has drastically changed. You can’t put the socialist revolution on the agenda today, but back then it was the ideal thing to do.

So anyway, we were in captivity until the British sent a plane that took us to Rhodesia at independence. We were then taken to Skyline Motel. While at the motel we started discussing whether to go back to Zanu or join other parties.

Myself, I said, Zanu zvayandiramba, I go back to Zapu. So I went back to Zapu. We were taken to Gweru for military training so that we could be integrated into the national army. Word got to Gweru that we could not be integrated into the national army. It was myself, Parker Chipoyera, Tendai Pfepferere and others. We were instructed to go and see Cde Mnangagwa. We were flown to KG6. Cde Mnangagwa told us that we could join any arm of the government but not the armed forces.

Cde Mnangagwa instructed me to go and see the then Minister of Transport. I was then deployed to the Harare International Airport until 1982. I later worked in other ministries in government.

SM: If you look back at the role you played and some of the things you did during the liberation struggle, like you said you killed sellouts mercilessly, do you have any regrets?

Cde Todhlana: No, not at all. I went to war and played my part. Of course I had misunderstandings with the leadership in Mozambique in 1977 and I got arrested, but I don’t regret. All that happened because people didn’t know what was happening exactly. It was not vaMugabe and Tongo who orchestrated our arrest. This was a Frelimo arrangement. You remember I told you that we went for the meeting where they forced some of our comrades to go to Geneva? I told you that at that meeting they called me a KGB agent? That was Samora Machel.

The other thing, when Badza and Nhari were arrested, they were arrested by Frelimo. Those comrades were rounded by Frelimo and handed over to Tongogara.

What I am trying to tell you is that if it wasn’t for Frelimo’s plan, as Zanu we could have found a better way to solve our issues.

SM: But surely Frelimo could not just arrest you without conniving with your leaders?

Cde Todhlana: Physically, Frelimo is the one that arrested us but yes our leaders were behind the plan. Our charge was insubordination – that you are called by the leader of the party in Geneva and you refuse to go. I believe that this charge of insubordination actually came from Samora Machel. He is the one who advised our leaders. I think he agreed with leaders like Tongo to arrest us. . .You know when Cde Tongo died, I celebrated.

SM: Why?

Cde Todhlana: I said to myself, vaMugabe will now breathe a sigh of relief because dai taenda kumusha tina Cde Tongo, this was going to be another Idi Amin. This was going to be another Idi Amin. In my thinking kungadai kusina Mugabe izvozvi. Tongo was ambitious and ruthless. I am sure he could have staged a coup de tat. Anything could have happened.

SM: But Cde Todhlana, this was a fierce fighter who was loved by many comrades?

Cde Todhlana: Kuti fierce fighter ndiko kuti chii? (laughs). Remember I said he was popular kumacamps and not kuwar front. This is my own understanding and my own projection. The way I knew Cde Tongo, dai independence yakasvika tichinaye, possibly dai vaMugabe kusisina.

SM: Are you not saying all this against Cde Tongo because you are bitter he got you arrested in 1977?

Cde Todhlana: Bitter about what? I have no bad feeling against anybody. I remember around the 1980s, some people would say vanaDavie vakatengesa. I would ask such people, do you really understand what happened? Kutengesa how? Don’t just sing a song yausingazive who composed it and kuti malyrics ayo anoti chii.

There was difference of approach and difference of opinion, full stop. I never did anything to favour varungu. That is being a sell-out to me. But like I told you, the one who wins in a contest tells the story.

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  • We Shurugwi

    Cde Todhlana, kana shungu dzenyu pamusoro pegamba Cde Tongo dziriidzo chete dzamataura, kana musina kusiirira zvimwe, hamuna nyaya. Zvinotigwadza isu hama, shamwari naana homeboy va Cde Tongo kuti munhu mukuru semwi mutaure mashoko saamabwereketa awa. Dai masiyana negamba redu razorora murunyararo.