LAST week, Comrade David Todhlana (born Chrispen Tapfuma Mataire on February 24, 1945 in Chivhu) shocked many when he narrated how they mercilessly killed sellouts during the liberation struggle. In this interview with our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike, Cde Todhlana explains why they had to kill the sellouts mercilessly.
He talks about how he was injured during one of the battles and walked 17 days to Mozambique as the Rhodesian forces were looking for him. He narrates how he was later withdrawn from the war front and was sent to Mgagao and how 14 Zanla comrades were gunned down at Mboroma by the Zambian Regiments. As the overall commander at Mboroma, he saw it all happen before his eyes …
SM: Comrade Todhlana, let’s continue with your fascinating story. Do you think your strategy of killing sellouts mercilessly during the liberation struggle really worked?
Cde Todhlana: Yes, it really worked. Let me repeat myself here. The strategy was to instil fear into the common people then later transform the fear into support. It would be very strong support. Support born out of the understanding that has been brought by fear. Remember we were only about five to nine comrades. Sometimes wearing rags. When people saw us, they didn’t sympathise with us.
You know some people called us vanhu vekuZambia? Also remember vanhu vedu vaitya varungu. So we thought we should instil an equal measure of fear. This person that I said we blew into thin air using grenades was actually a woman. She had sold us out to the Rhodesians saying “ndaona magandanga ari mumunda maMachipisa.” So we said to the people this is what happens if you mess around with us. This was the reality at that time and we had to do it otherwise taipedzwa isu nekutengeswa. People can say what they want today because vagarika but we had to do it. We later transformed this fear into genuine support and it really worked.
SM: How long did it take you to transform this fear into support?
Cde Todhlana: Unfortunately, I did not stay long at the war front. I was quickly withdrawn in December 1973.
SM: We will get to that. You said during these early days of the liberation struggle, your other main task was to recruit people. Who are some of the comrades you recruited?
Cde Todhlana: Ahh, many. Vakawandisa. When our group of 45 was deployed to the war front, think there were less than 35 recruits at Kongwa Camp. This was the whole Zanla team at that time. We recruited youths from the Dande area. It was not very difficult to recruit these youths because they knew about the war in Mozambique and so they understood when we told them that we also wanted to fight for our country.
Some of the recruits we actually had to force them to join the liberation struggle. In my group I was with Everesto Nhamo, he is now in Glendale. I recruited him in Dande, just after Mavhuradonha mountain.
After recruiting him, he became our guide in that area. In my group, we didn’t need to use force to recruit comrades, but I know the group that took students at St Alberts Mission, they had to use force. That was abduction and it was necessary at that time.
SM: You told us that you were shot in one of the battles, tell us more about this battle?
Cde Todhlana: We had attacked some farm and killed the farm owner and his white visitor so we retreated. This was a guerilla strategy that after attacking, you had to move away as far as possible from this area of operation because murungu achauya. So move away about seven to ten kilometres.
So we camped along Ruya River trying to rest. I was very early in the morning. We camped in a battle formation. On my extreme right was Cde Tsanangura who was my deputy commander, on my left was David Mukuyi who was in charge of logistics, after him was Nyika who was the commissar and then the rest of the comrades. My instruction was that iwewe uri kuextreme out you stand guard for one hour. After one hour, you wake up the next comrade to stand guard.
Unfortunately, everybody got fast asleep. As I was asleep, I just woke up. Handidi kuti nditi mudzimu or ndezvekudenga. Hameno, it just happened that I woke up and asked David Mukuyi kuti sekuru mune fodya here? As he was trying to open his bag, I suddenly saw white Rhodesian forces. Vaifamba mumashure memombe kuita kunge vaifudza mombe dzacho. I said sekuru Davie, Tsanangura, varungu avo. They were walking towards us. So we came up with a retreating plan, where Mukuyi and others would fire towards the Rhodesian soldiers while I together with other comrades we retreated. After a while we would start firing to give Mukuyi and his team time to retreat also. This was also another guerilla tactic.
As I was retreating, I got to some ravine. As I was trying to jump over the ravine, that’s when I was hit in the leg. After falling on the other side of the ravine, I tested to see whether the bullet had hit any of my bones. Fortunately it had not. So I ran and joined my colleagues. As the commander, I had to be in front of this retreat. This was around 11am when this battle took place. We managed to get out of danger and rested. We remained under cover until around 4-5 pm when the movement of the Rhodesian soldiers was reduced. They spent the whole day searching in that area but they couldn’t find us.
I then instructed the other comrades to cross into Mozambique so that they could re-strategise from there. As for me, I told them to go see Sabhuku Chaka. He was one of our contact persons in that area. We had approached him and he had accepted the teachings of Mao. I told the comrades to go and tell Chaka to organise my evacuation because I knew that the next day the Rhodesian forces would be all over the area. The Rhodesian forces were aware that they had shot one of us because as I was retreating I was losing a lot of blood.
As these comrades were walking to the village to see Chaka, they discovered that some Rhodesian soldiers were already in that village. They were waiting and they knew kuti tichasvika chete. After a few minutes when my comrades left, ndakanzwa dzakurira from my hiding place ndikabva ndaziva kuti hee, vasangana nazvo. I then came up with a plan to walk away from this hiding place because I knew that the next day I would be in serious trouble. Ndakabva from this hiding place ndokupinda mumunda. Vanhu vakanga vatorima. Ndakaenda pachuru to hide. Around 2pm the next day, I made a decision that I had to go kwaChaka on my own. My leg was now swollen but I had no choice but to wobble until I got to Chaka’s homestead. On the way, I met some people but no one wanted to assist me. The Rhodesian forces had terrorised the people and there was a lot of fear. I later got to Sabhuku Chaka’s homestead on my own. He was not there but his wife was there. She told me that he had gone for a meeting kwakanga kwadaidzwa maSabhuku nemaDzishe nemasoja. The meeting was to talk about our battle and they were told kuti pakati penyu we know pane ane gandanga raari kuchengeta. Please bring that gandanda here.
I then told Chaka’s wife that ndavakuenda kuchikomo uko. Kana baba vauya vatevere ikoko. Before leaving, mai Chaka gave me a big cup yemahewu. I could not drink mahewu because I had lost lots of blood. I later forced myself to drink so that I could get some energy. After walking about 20 metres, I fell to the ground. Ndakanga ndichiri mumunda wepamba apa wepayard. Mai ava pavakazouya kumunda around 5pm, she was shocked to see me ndiri mumunda mavo. I told her I had no strength to move.
Later in the evening, Sabhuku Chaka came together with his wife. They wanted to take me kundiisa muhozi yavo and I said no. Ndoda pano panze pekuti varungu vakauya, ndinofa nevangu because I still had my gun and bullets. So I stayed mumunda imomu vachindivigira chikafu. Kwainaya ndirimo mumunda imomo. I could not even move my leg and the pain was excruciating. To relieve myself, ndaingochera gomba ipapo ndozvibatsira. I would try to light exercises, stretching the leg on my own.
SM: You were in this field for how long?
Cde Todhlana: I stayed in this field for about three weeks. One day Sabhuku Chaka told me that he was suspecting that someone knew I was in the area. He said Rhodesian forces kept on talking about someone hiding a gandanga. I told him that I was prepared to leave. But first I sent him to buy me five loaves of bread and mazowe. Mukadzi waChaka akandikuyira dovi. The next day I started walking towards Mozambique looking for one of our bases called Kapiripiri. This base was on the confluence between Zambezi River and Msengezi River. I walked for 17 days to Kapiripiri base.
At Kapiripiri I found Cde Tongo and other members of the High Command. They had come with reinforcements who had been trained at Mgagao. Cde Rex Nhongo was also there. They told me that they had been told that I had either been captured or killed. I told them my full story. Cde Tongo then said they were going to take me to Lusaka for recuperation. I told him that I wanted to go back to the war front because vandipfura before I did much. Cde Tongo then said to me, “Cde Davie, hondo haisi yako wega. It’s for everybody.” I however insisted and Cde Tongo then said, ok, we give you this reinforcement to go back with. My leg was still giving me problems but I was now much better. So I was given this new group.
SM: Who were some of the comrades in this new group?
Cde Tondlana: There was Sam Chandawa, Chinodakufa who we later recruited at the front, Mutsoka and others. I think we were about 20 comrades.
SM: Cde, we are amazed by the way most of you comrades remember the names of your fellow comrades and so on. How do you remember all this?
Cde Todhlana: This was a lived experience and our lives depended on each other. There was no way you could forget a comrade next to you. This is not just a story. We lived through what we are telling you. During the first deployment I would be operating in Centenary and Chiweshe Mukorekore area. Now this time I was sent to Nyombwe area, near the border with Rushinga. I also operated in Chesa which was a native purchase area. When we got to Nyombwe that’s when I recruited Wemutsoka and Chinodakufa. Chinodakufa aiva vatezvara vaWemutsoka. These became our guides in this area. Before attacking anyone, we started mobilising people to support the struggle.
One day Chinodakufa said he wanted to give me some advice. He told me that in the area kwaiva nesvikiro raSekuru Chaminuka. He said Sekuru Chaminuka vakanga vatotaura about our coming to the area and had said kana tasvika before engaging in any operation we were supposed to see him. Remember, I am an atheist. I however agreed to go and meet this Sekuru Chaminuka. This Sekuru Chaminuka vaisvika pamukadzi. She ordered me kuti macomrades angu should go into a line. After this, vakafamba vachiisa tsvimbo yavo pahana pemacomrades angu, voti iwe enda uko, iwe enda apo. She was selecting macomrades vaiva nehana dzakasimba. She chose 11 comrades that she said vakanga vane hana dzakasimba. I joined these comrades to make us 12. I ordered the other comrades to walk back to Mozambique. Chinodakufa was part of the 12 who remained. He was responsible for guiding us and telling us kuti kwanzi chii nemasvikiro.
Sekuru Chaminuka then said machinda, nyika ino yakasungwa munaGwetera. Takanzi isu basa redu was not to fight varungu but kunotora mapanga akasunga nyika munaGwetera. Masvikiro took us to this thick forest zvikanzi pano ndipo pakasungwa nyika nana Sekuru Chaminuka. We were told kuti Sekuru Chaminuka vakanga vakagara padombo iri, Sekuru Mabweadziva vakagara padombo iri. So taifanira kushumira zvechivanhu kuti tiwane mapanga acho akasunga nyika.
SM: As an atheist what did you do?
Cde Todhlana: I didn’t want to create any friction with my comrades. I was their commander so I joined them. Tichiimba tichidzana. Mangwana futi same thing. On the second day around 3pm, varungu vakati vauya. They came using helicopters and they started attacking us from the air. Someone had sold us out. We quickly took cover and no one of us was hurt. We later walked kuenda kwaChamboko. When we got kwaChamboko, we met another group of reinforcements that included Cde Dakarai Badza. This is where I received a message from Cde Tongo that I was supposed to go to Mgagao. I was supposed to go to Mgagao and become one of the instructors there. The commanders at Mgagao were well versed with theory so Cde Tongo wanted me to join them because I had experience at the war front.
Badza was my senior because he was a provincial commander and I was a sectorial commander. Badza then said, Cde Davie, before you go to Mgagao, let’s go to the war front one more time together. He had been told that Chief Chafurama from Mt Darwin ari kutengesa zvegore rese. There was also a school in the Chesa area called Nyajenje pana headmaster anotengesa zvegore rese anonzi Zvichawo. So Cde Badza said Cde Davie, let’s go in and deal with these people. We went together. This is the Badza of the famous Badza-Nhari Rebellion.
So we got to Nyajenje School at a time when school children were being dismissed. We ordered all the school children back to the school. We started grilling the teachers asking where Zvichawo was. We were told that he had gone to Harare. We told them that he was a sellout and his days were numbered. We went to his homestead and found the wife there. We told her amai tanga tauya kuzowuraya murume wenyu nekuti mutengesi. Now that haapo tava kunowuraya mombe dzenyu dzese. We went to the kraal and killed all his cattle.
SM: How many?
Cde Todhlana: Haa, don’t ask me that. I can’t remember but what I can tell you is that we killed all. We gave an order that mombe idzodzo hadzivhiyiwe. Anovhiya chete, you are in trouble. Dzinofanirwa kuwora dziri mudanga.
From this homestead, we proceeded to Chief Chafurama’s area. He was also not there. We left a warning with the wife. After this we went back kubase rekwaChamboko. That’s where Cde Badza then said Cde Davie you can now go to Mgagao. This was December 1973. I went to Mgagao.
SM: How was it at Mgagao at this time?
Cde Todhlana: This was my first time at Mgagao. At Mgagao I met Cde KG – Kenneth Gwindingwi who was the camp commander. I was actually surprised to see KG at Mgagao because we had been deployed together at the war front. There was also Dzinashe Machingura who was popularly known as Dzino who was the political commissar and other junior officers like Parker Chipoyera and others. I had been told that I was going to Mgagao to bolster lectures by these comrades with live experience at the war front.
Comrades like Dzino were not comfortable giving me that platform to speak to the recruits. Instead, they ordered that I work under the medic department. By the way, when we were deployed as the Group of 45, I was their medic. I had trained as a medic. So the comrades at Mgagao said I should revert to that role of being a medic at Mgagao.
I wasn’t happy at all because my aim was that if I had been given the opportunity to meet the recruits, I wanted to reproduce myself in them. I wanted kuti vane pfungwa sedzangu vawande. But then I was ordered to work as medic and I had no one to complain to because Cde Tongo was in Lusaka. I was frustrated but couldn’t do anything about it.
From December 1973, 1974 until 1975 I was at Mgagao. Even when Cde Chitepo died in March 1975, I was still at Mgagao. When Chitepo died, I was selected to go and attend his funeral in Lusaka. Cde Webster Gwauya, who was the Zanu representative in East Africa, based in Dar es Salaam came through Mgagao and picked me and Dzino to go and attend the funeral. When we arrived in Lusaka, that night we were rounded up by the Zambian police. We were put in some prison, way out of Lusaka. From 18 March until 6 June 1975, we were in this prison.
On June 6 we were released, myself, Dzino and Gwauya. We were taken to Mboroma which was a camp meant to accommodate all Zanu fighters who were within Zambia. By that time, Kenneth Kaunda had a bone to chew with Ndabaningi Sithole who was the Zanu leader at that time. Kaunda didn’t like Zanu and he wanted to seize this opportunity to weaken Zanu and prop up Zapu. I am not even sure why Kaunda preferred Joshua Nkomo. At Mboromo I assumed commandership of that camp because I was more senior to all commanders who were there.
SM: What about Cde Gwauya and Cde Dzino?
Cde Todhlana: Cde Gwauya was senior to me and so was Cde Dzino. But in terms of being overall in charge, I was given the responsibility. I was running the day-to-day operations at the camp. There was also a small pocket of recruits from Chikerema’s Frolizi. These were fighters who had crossed from Zanla.
From Zanu side, it was bambazonke at Mboroma from children kusvika kunana Sekuru Chiodzamamera, Chidyamauyu and others were there. Zambia was trying to weaken Zanu. At Mboroma we were giving our people political lessons. We were telling our people that this was time for détente. Détente was a time that our enemies, the British and Americans wanted to seize the opportunity to start dialogue among stakeholders from Rhodesia, inclusive of Ian Smith, Bishop Muzorewa, Joshua Nkomo, Ndabaningi Sithole and others. They wanted to open dialogue so that we could win our country with minimum loss of property and life. They wanted us to stop the war so that we could get our country through negotiations. The conditionality was stop fighting. Voster from South Africa was supposed to manage Ian Smith, Kaunda was supposed to manage Zanu and Zapu while Andrew Young was the front for the British and Americans. Muzorewa’s UANC was formed internally in Rhodesia to manage the internal wings of Zanu and Zapu. And indeed the war stopped thanks to Kaunda who rounded up the Zanu leadership.
SM: Let’s go back to Mboroma.
Cde Todhlana: At Mboroma we were around 1 200 from Zanu. We would clash with Frolizi and Zipra comrades who went out of their way to provoke us. You know some of the Zipra comrades would come vachibata vasikana vedu mazamu just to provoke us. But the Frolizi comrades were more provocative because they were once part of us. The Zambians did nothing about it. We complained to the Zambians and all they did was to promise to improve our security. One day I told Cde Dzino and Cde Gwauya kuti lets leave this camp. We mobilised people at Mboroma that we were going to leave Zambia for Mozambique on foot. The Zambian army threatened us and even went to the extent of shooting into the air to intimidate us. That didn’t scare us. We walked about five kilometres away and some of the children couldn’t keep on walking. We looked for a source of water and camped.
The Zambian army came the next day to persuade us not to leave Zambia. They persuaded us to stay at this camp. We would go to the original camp to get our food. We had a lorry and an ambulance that we used to ferry our food. One day when our team went to get our food, they found some Frolizi comrades waiting for them. I can’t remember the names of these comrades from Frolizi.
Our team that had gone to get food included Cde Revai and others. These comrades were rounded up by the Frolizi comrades. When word reached us that our comrades had been abducted, we walked from our camp to the main camp. Vamwe vane matombo vamwe tsimbo and so on. We wanted to go and force Frolizi to release our comrades. When we go to the main camp looking for our comrades, the Zambian regiment opened fire. Live ammunition firing at us. They killed 14 of us that day. Among the 14 was Cde Pedzisai who was the first woman commander under Zanla.
SM: We hear your wife during that time, survived this attack?
Cde Todhlana: Yes, Cde Revai Mabhunu she survived. She later gave birth to my son Lovemore Ranga Mataire. After this incident, we selected two comrades to go to Lusaka and report to our President, Sithole what had happened. We asked him to come so that he could help us. All the dead bodies were taken to the nearest town by the Zambian police. To our shock, we were told that Ndabaningi Sithole said he was booked on a plane to go to the USA. He said he would fly to the US and come back to attend to us after the trip. I have no evidence of the exact words he used but what I know is that he said he would come to attend to us after the trip.
SM: When he refused to come, what did you do?
Cde Todhlana: That is when we started denouncing Sithole. We started saying “Pasi naSithole!” How could he tell us that he could not come? He had shown us that he was not a good father. The comrades who were at Mgagao heard about what had happened and we later heard about the Mgagao Document that was denouncing Sithole. That is how Sithole was removed as the Zanu leader. Unfortunately, up to 1976, the war stopped. The OAU and the Front Line States then said the war should resume but Zanla and Zipra comrades should unite under ZIPA. The other condition was that the leaders of Zanu and Zapu were not supposed to interfere with ZIPA, which was a military wing. The OAU and Front Lines States were saying let the fighters continue the war then you deal with your politics after the war. Nine commanders under ZIPA came from Zanla, the other nine came from Zipra. Our commander was Rex Nhongo, his deputy was JD Dube. The commissar was Nikita Mangena with Dzino as the deputy. Dr Mudzingwa from Zipra was in charge of medicine with his deputy as Tendai Pfepferere, Kaka. Under training there was Parker Chipoyera. These are some of the comrades I can remember off head.
As Zanla, we agreed to go into this arrangement with a grain of salt. This arrangement had been forced down our throats by the OAU and the Front Line States. As Zanla, we were prepared to go it alone but it was a take it or leave it situation.
The interview continues next week. So many versions have been given regarding the Vashandi Group in Mozambique. Cde Todhlana will next week give a reverting version that is set to change the course of history.
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