How ZIPRA intercepted Rhodesian communication

COMRADE Bulukani Masola (born 13/05/1959) ,whose Chimurenga name was Cde Peter Scotch, is one ZIPRA comrade who speaks his mind. In this interview with our Deputy Editor Munyaradzi Huni, he speaks about abandoning school and joining the liberation struggle from Botswana. He talks about the establishment of the communications department in ZIPRA and how this department intercepted vital Rhodesian information during the liberation struggle.

He talks about the first incursion by the Rhodesian forces into Zambia where they killed quite a number of ZIPRA cadres and gives details about the death of Cde Nikita Mangena. This is a fascinating narration.

Read on …

 

MH: When and how did you join the liberation struggle?

Cde Peter Scotch: I did my primary education at Tekwana Primary School in Plumtree and my secondary education at Fletcher High in Gweru. That is Form One to Form Five. When I went into Form Five my idea had been to study subjects that would allow me to study accounts at university. I wanted to do a combination of Maths, Geography and English. I couldn’t do this combination at Fletcher because it was strictly Science or Arts. I requested to be transferred to Tegwane but this was rejected by the principal. He forced me to continue my studies at Fletcher where I was forced to do English, History and Geography which I didn’t want.

During the second term as I was doing my Form Five I decided to go to Botswana where I knew I could get a scholarship to go to different countries. With my good results at O-Level I knew I could get a scholarship. I left even though I was in the process of being appointed vice-captain of the school. I decided I was not going to do what I didn’t want just because somebody had said so.

When I got to Botswana, it was on the 30th of June 1976. I started mixing with the other refugees and yes there were many opportunities to go to school – the Commonwealth, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Australia and even the UK. But that was the time when a lot of people had come from South Africa after the June 16 Uprising in that country. Around July and August I interacted with a lot of people from South Africa who told me about apartheid in South Africa and so on. Somehow I felt that it was the same thing we were going through in Rhodesia, although it was a bit subtle. I then decided that I had to go and be part of the liberation struggle.

When I got to Botswana in June and I declared myself as a refugee, I was asked which party I belonged to. I then said I don’t belong to any party. I was then told that if you don’t belong to any party we are sending you back to Rhodesia. I then said to myself, well my father was ZAPU and so I am ZAPU. So when I decided to join the liberation struggle I decided to look for the ZAPU representative who at that time was a Cde Jabulani Mthuthuki. He then made arrangements for me to go to Francistown. I left Francistown in September 1976. I was directed to go and see the late Bhuka Ngwenya, who was in charge of recruitment of refugees and facilitating people to go to the liberation struggle. After two weeks I was sent to Zambia.

MH: Who are some of the comrades you went with to Zambia?

Cde Peter Scotch: When I went to Francistown, unknown to me, Bhuka was actually an uncle. He had left when I was still very young and he never told me who he was. My aunt had gotten in touch with him trying to persuade me to return back home. Some of the people I met in Francistown were the late Thabiso Dube, whose Chimurenga name was Moses Takavarasha. He was a cousin of mine but we had last seen each other in 1969. We later trained together and went to the Soviet Union together. He later rose to the rank of Deputy Artillery Commander in ZIPRA High Command. I also met the late Major Fortune Moyo. We used to call him George. When I met him he was already operating on the Western Front. So you can imagine here I am in Francistown with Bhuka, who is so keen to send me to the liberation struggle, and my cousin who wants to go to the liberation struggle and Fortune Moyo, who is already coming from the front. There was a lot of discussion around Marxism and so on. This made my resolve to join the liberation struggle even stronger. These were the people I interacted with a lot in Francistown.

In Zambia, the first port of call was Nampundwe Transit Camp. We were around 300 to 400 comrades with the likes of the Retired Major-General Standford Khumalo. We then started our training in Zambia. I think the camp commander at that time was Sigoge. Among our instructors was the current Commander of the Zimbabwe National Army, General Philip Valerio Sibanda, who we used to call Ananias then Rtd Brigadier Colin Moyo, whom we used to call Rodwell Nyika. Amongst us the trainees was the late Andrew Ndlovu, who had trained as an architect in Poland. When he was at the University of London, the late Nikita Mangena persuaded him to come and join the liberation struggle. He came and trained with us. We later went to the Soviet Union together. When he came back he was tasked to establish the ZIPRA artillery department. He became the first head of that department with Thabison Moyo as his deputy.

Our training in Zambia was from September 1976 to around March 1977. After this I was part of the group that was selected to go for further training in the Soviet Union. We were a group of about 200 comrades. We were later divided into sub-groups of 10 to 20. I was selected to go for training in signals, that is military communication. Others did military intelligence, artillery, ordinary infantry, engineering and so on. In our group, we were 10. Of those 10 the one I still remember very well is Colonel Maphisa. Our group was taken to this place near the Black Sea. It’s now part of Ukraine. We were there for a good six months. Early November 1977, we came back to Zambia. I must tell you that the training both in Zambia and the Soviet Union was very, very thorough.

MH: When you came back to Zambia, where were you deployed?

Cde Peter Scotch: When we came back to Zambia in November 1977, we were welcomed at the Freedom Camp. We were then sent to different heads of department in the areas which we had specialised. In our case we were sent to meet the head of ZIPRA Signals then, the late Cde Moyo whom we used to call Cde Zvafa. I later discovered that he was the late brother to the Commander of the Air Force of Zimbabwe Elson Moyo. Cde Zvafa interviewed all of us. The idea was to establish the ZIPRA communications within the units in the various camps and all the various crossing points along the Zambezi border.

MH: What was the importance of Signals during the liberation struggle?

Cde Peter Scotch: Signals is all about communication. When you have units deployed, in terms of communication of day-to-day routine, it was very important. Talking about requirements of the different units, movements, and transmitting alerts to the various units about pending attacks, instructions from the command,   coordinating new deployments, and logistics and so on. When we started, there had been people who had been trained communication before us, but there was no functional communication at that time. When we came in, our task was to re-establish the communication department so as to function and serve its rightful purpose within our military establishment.

After the interview with Cde Zvafa, I was chosen to be at the Headquarters to set up the ZIPRA communications headquarters. The operations side. So the communications department there was Cde Zvafa as the head, then Cde Timothy Mawira, he is now late. The second deputy was Flemming Mkhandla. I came in to head the department at the operations level. The rest of my colleagues were then deployed in the various fronts at Feira, Chirundu, Kariba and Livingstone. Some of the comrades were deployed to the different training camps. After about two to three months, the communications department was up and running. As the head of the ZIPRA communications centre it was my role to relay all messages and information to different heads of the department. The army was so organised that you had different departments – there was operations, logistics, transport, training, engineering, intelligence and so on. You find that in all our units, most of these departments were represented. So at times there would be communication from the various units relevant to the respective heads of departments. It was my responsibility to channel all those messages to the different heads of departments, and solicit the necessary responses and relay them back. All the communication had to be relayed to the Army Commander who was then Cde Nikita Mangena and the Chief of Staff, who was Cde Ambrose Mutinhiri. So I had the privilege for the next six months of talking to these senior comrades. I found myself at the centre of all these activities. This was my first exposure.

I interacted a lot with people like Mutinhiri, Mangena, General Maseko who was in operations, the likes of Mazinyane, who was in intelligence, the likes of Sam Mfakazi who was in logistics, Thomas Ngwena, who was in the transport department, and so on. I literally dealt with everyone. This was until about February 1978.

MH: After February 1978, where did you go?

Cde Peter Scotch: There was one region where we had failed to get the communication started. This was in Feira – on the border between Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique. I was sent there to establish communication. That was February 1978. While there I trained two, we used to call them prontos – the communication guys. I then deployed one in Mt Darwin and one in Hurungwe. So what used to happen is that every day around 8pm the Rhodesians used to publish what they used to call the Communique saying we have killed so many terrorists and so on. In our case, by 6am, if any of our units had been involved in any attack, we would have the details of exactly what would have happened. I would have transmitted that information to HQ. Our command would have the true picture of what would have transpired. As a result, the necessary decisions were taken. This was the first of its kind. I did this until mid-1978.

MH: Was this department responsible also for intercepting information?

Cde Peter Scotch: Yes. At the headquarters, we had the operations side which dealt with sending and receiving signals from the various units. But we had a dedicated unit, we had a guy called Roy whose job from 6 to 6 was to operate two or three radios, just intercepting information. We had gotten to a point where we had identified that certain regions like Kariba, we could identify the Rhodesian networks either from the bases or from the operations.

So every day we would intercept some of their communication. Some of the information with so much detail that prior to some of their attacks we would know that the Rhodesians were now preparing to attack because of activities within certain areas, especially areas like Kariba, Thornhill, Livingstone and so on. Sometimes we would intercept information where they would have been hit during operations and they would be giving instructions openly. This became part of our intelligence gathering. This was compiled and sent to the command.

However, we also knew that the enemy was working with some people within us. We also were working with some people within them. So I can say for most of the attacks, there was always some warning in advance. Our responsibility then was to ensure that we knew when an attack was imminent. Almost all our attacks, we would warn our comrades. We wouldn’t know where exactly, but we would know when an attack was imminent.

MH: Where were you when the Rhodesians attacked ZIPRA right in Zambia?

Cde Peter Scotch: When I was in Feira in 1978, we had the first incursion into Zambia by the Rhodesian forces. We had about two to three platoons. The regional commander was Rodwell, that’s Colin Moyo. We were the first people to be attacked on the Zambian side. There were 15 warplanes involved – five jets, five helicopters, three spotter plans and two Dakotas.

MH: How did this attack start?

Cde Peter Scotch: The bombardment started early. I remember it was a Thursday. From morning up to about 2pm. They went away and came back from 2pm to 6pm. The following day, they came back. From morning up to about 12pm.

MH: Why such a heavy bombardment?

Cde Peter Scotch: Like I told you this was their first incursion into Zambia and they were making a statement. That was also the area where guerillas were going into the Mt Darwin area, Hurungwe and so on. So I think they just wanted to totally cut us from that area.

MH: You must have lost quite a number of comrades?

Cde Peter Scotch: We lost about 25 comrades. The bombardment was intense. The only defence we had was one old 12,5 anti-air craft. We tried to use it but in no time it was taken out.

MH: You lost 25 comrades out of approximately how many comrades?

Cde Peter Scotch: I think we were around 75-80.

MH: Yeah, heavy loss but how did you survive?

Cde Peter Scotch: In my case, I had a bit of luck. The previous night I had gone to Feira to charge my batteries for the communications department. When I was coming back from Feira that is when I saw this attack. So the attack happened when I was outside the sector but I could see the heavy bombardment. I could see that I was very lucky. I later got the real details from the comrades who were inside the sector, including Rodwell who was actually inside the sector.

MH: So watching from a distance, what did you do?

Cde Peter Scotch: Nothing. There was nothing you could do. When you have 15 war planes in the sky it’s like birds in the sky. There was nothing anyone could do. We were powerless. Even the Zambians, they tried to come in and fight on our behalf but nine Zambian trucks, the whole convoy was blown up – two land rovers and seven trucks – they were blown up. There was nothing we could do. We didn’t have enough air defence. This was in March 1978. Around June-July, we were attacked again. But this time it was not by air.

MH: What happened?

Cde Peter Scotch: We had shifted from where we were and created several bases over a wider area. The Rhodesians then did a guerilla warfare on us. We knew they were on the Zambian side for reconnaissance so from our part, we started doing a few patrols, laying some ambushes here and there. However on this fateful day, when I was about to start my session with headquarters, one of the guys went into the bush and met some white Rhodesian soldiers who were advancing towards us. So I dismounted my radios, gave them to my assistant to take them to some place which was about 5km away where we kept our generators. I was the most senior comrade in that area, I ordered a formation to confront these Rhodesians.

MH: As head of operations (communications) you also had the powers to order an attack?

Cde Peter Scotch: What used to happen is that there was a regional commander, regional signals guy, regional logistics and so on. So yes, I could make the command.

So I then ordered the comrades to get into a formation to confront these Rhodesians. Unknown to me, these Rhodesians were actually sitting and watching us. So the first bullet hit me on my shoulder. Automatically I went to the ground and rolled. There was a volley of bullets.

The unit that I had was very ill-equipped because this was the unit composed of people who had been injured and were not going out for those patrols. Even in terms of armament, I think I was the only one with an automatic rifle. Others had semi-automatic rifles. We were no match for those guys. So the only thing was just to withdraw. But, fortunately, this had alerted our other comrades.

I then withdrew to where I had sent my assistant with the radio equipment. This was out gathering point after an attack. As we withdrew, we could hear that there was a fight going on. I knew our guys now had the upper hand because we knew how our guns sounded. About two to three hours later, I met up with Rodwell. He told me that what had happened was that when they heard the first gunshots, they laid an ambush. As some of these Rhodesians were advancing towards us, Rodwell told me that he hit one of the soldiers right on the forehead. He told me that they killed between seven and nine Rhodesian soldiers. When this happened, the Rhodesians called for air reinforcement. When the helicopters came, we had no chance. In those encounters from my side, I lost one guy. Rodwell’s side also lost one guy. We then withdrew but for us this was a victory because they lost more people than us.

This was also the time I think that we lost Nikita Mangena, our Army Commander. He died somewhere in the Kariba area.

MH: How exactly did he die?

Cde Peter Scotch: I actually went to the scene afterwards. From what I gathered, they had an ambush. One of the deputy of operations, his name was Asaf, he was taking about two or three platoons for operations. When they got to this area, around the Kariba area between Choma and Livingstone off the road from Kalomo, in these areas there are mountains and gorges, they fell into an ambush. I think we lost about 75 comrades. These figures need to be verified, but we had massive loss including Asaf himself. I am told he was actually seated on the bonnet of the first truck. They were hit by a bazooka.

So Mangena went there to go and assess the situation. What these Boers used to do just like what we used to do, its procedure that when you attack, to ensure that no reinforcement comes, or that those who come are harmed, you always put landmines. That was standard and we used to do that.

When Mangena came, they parked their car some distance away and walked. They surveyed the scene and saw everything. Remember this was the time that Mangena had survived an assassination attempt and had just come back from the Soviet Union where he had been treated for the wounds, including one wound that was on one of the legs. So as they were walking, he started complaining that he was tired.

By this time, the guys understood the role of communications. In all that, Mangena had his young man who had a radio and another man who was in the car with a radio. Mangena instructed the young man to contact the other young man with the radio in the car so that he could bring the car to pick him up.

I know some of the commanders who were there. There was Jevan Maseko, there was a guy who was a deputy in logistics, we used to call him Donki-Donki (I didn’t know his real name). I am told Donki actually offered to carry Mangena. He knew that there were high probability of landmines in the area. But then Mangena refused. There was also Sigoge, there was also Jack Ngwenya. Some of these guys got into the same car with Mangena.

When the car came, just a few metres after boarding the car, they hit the landmine. Like I said, I went to that area. I believe that the injuries from that landmine were such that Mangena could not survive.

MH: Really sad . . .

Cde Peter Scotch: But from my knowledge of the way the Boers operated, I think Mangena’s car was the fifth. Asaf said there were three, if my memory serves me well, I think there was another one then Mangena’s was the fifth ambush in that area. Later on, I went to that area and stepped on some mine but we will come to that later.

 

Next week Cde Peter Scotch will narrate the re-organisation of ZIPRA at the headquarters after the death of Cde Nikita Mangena and tell us of the new structure that was put into place.

 

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