Joshua Nkomo’s Turning Point

COMRADE Elison Mupamawonde (born 1950 in Bikita), whose Chimurenga was Cde Soft Magarasadza last week spoke about how ZIPRA out-gunned Rhodesian forces at Chirundu during the liberation struggle and how they started night operations around Hurungwe area.

In this interview with our Deputy Editor Munyaradzi Huni, Cde Soft Magarasadza narrates how they conducted operations to disrupt tourism in Kariba. He speaks about how the Rhodesian forces crossed into Zambia, leading to the death of 13 ZIPRA forces in an intense attack that started around 4am until 12 noon. Read on. . .

 

MH: Let’s continue your journey comrade. Tell us, as regional commander, how many comrades were under your command?

Cde Soft Magarasadza: Just to give you a rough idea, during ceasefire my Assembly Point was Romeo which had over 8 000 comrades. This assembly point was at Makonde.

MH: You were commanding so many comrades. How disciplined were these comrades?

Cde Soft Magarasadza: From Platoon Commander to Section Commander I made sure these were responsible of their comrades. Kana vanetseka they would then come and report to me. If I couldn’t handle the issues, I would hand over the issues to our leaders like Jarvin Maseko. Sometimes I would punish the comrades.

MH: What kind of punishment was this?

Cde Soft Magarasadza: For example I would take away one’s gun, wofamba usina pfuti. Those comrades were used to moving around with their guns akafamba asina pfuti aitya because you never knew when the enemy would attack. Vanhu vainyanya kundinetsa were drug smokers, vakomana vembanje. So what I would do I would group such comrades together and choose one of them to be the section commander. I would then give them an area to operate from. They would go to this operating area wonzwa pfuti dzarira. After a while you see some of them rushing back and you ask, “Where are the others?” Wonzwa kuti “they have been shot.” This would teach others a lesson that this is wrong. You see others kana vaputa mbanje vanoita zvivindi others ndeve kungodya sadza chete.

MH: Did you face problems with sellouts?

Cde Soft Magarasadza: In any revolution, you find sellouts. These people are sent by the enemy to come and spy on you. Others are sent to cause disorganisation. You see a certain comrade being so indisciplined and you think maybe imbanje but no, he wants to cause disorganisation. As a leader you had to be on high alert to fish out such people. Once you discover that someone is a sellout, you hand that person over to the leaders who will interrogate him. Yes, we had lots of sellouts but we dealt with them.

MH: Were you involved in any battle where you lost quite a number of comrades?

Cde Soft Magarasadza: In my area, after hitting Kariba Country Club – we brought down that country club and the hotel. The idea was to disrupt tourism in the area. So the mission was to hit down electricity poles from Charara area and we did that. We blew a bridge near Charara and at the same time we bombed a Rhodesian camp. We were using our Gun 75. We really managed to destroy all these targets and after this the Rhodesians mounted a vicious follow up. After hitting these targets we retreated into Zambia.

The Rhodesian forces crossed into Zambia following us. They arrived around 4am in helicopters. There were about three helicopters. There were also more than four jet fighters. They started hammering our bases that were close to Zambezi River. The bombardment was massive and they were swift. We lost 13 comrades in that attack. This was the biggest number that I lost as a commander. I know where these comrades were buried. I remember there was Josphat Mandla, Nyoni and others.

MH: Did you manage to fight back?

Cde Soft Magarasadza: We failed to fire back because of the firepower. The bombardment was intense. They even deployed their ground force. From my side, we tried to engage these Rhodesian forces but our other comrades who had escaped from the bombardment advised us not to fight back. They said don’t fight otherwise the firepower will be directed to us. That bombardment was terrible and it went on until around 12 noon. Nikita Mangena ndipo paanga achafira ipapo.

Nikita came with Richard Ngwenya to see the casualties after the attack. Ngwenya used to understand how we operated. When they came I told Nikita that we should not move around in a vehicle because the Rhodesians had planted landmines. Nikita turned to me and started shouting “iwe mupfana, who are you? You can’t tell me anything! You are a coward! What, what!” He said lots of things but I said, no, no, no, this is dangerous ground and I know it.” I insisted that ngatifambe netsoka zvikanzi naNikita iwe mupfana shut up!” Richard Ngwenya chipped in supporting me.

As we were arguing, some Zambian soldiers after hearing the bombardment came in our direction. They got to where we were and left us arguing. Their armored car didn’t go far. About 50 metres, the vehicle was blown to pieces. Nikita Mangena akanyarara kuti zii. I just looked at him and he said, ok, let’s go on foot. And so we left Nikita’s vehicle under cover. Some Zambian forces came to assist their fellow comrades. After touring the bombed camps, we buried six comrades in one grave then the other seven in another grave.

MH: As you were burying these comrades as commander, what was going through your mind?

Cde Soft Magarasadza: I just said, tomorrow it could me.

MH: Didn’t such incidents instill fear into you?

Cde Soft Magarasadza: Not at all. You know you get to a point where you get used to death. About two minutes after such an incident, unotokwanisa kuridza radio to distract yourself from thinking about the deaths. You don’t even cry. Kutoridza radio kana uchida wototanga kutamba saying tomorrow I am going also. You know up to this day, I sometimes dream helicopters hovering over me. Hondo yaramba kubuda mumusoro.

MH: As you were burying these comrades, did you conduct any rituals?

Cde Soft Magarasadza: We just buried them because we were not sure where the enemy was. The enemy could bomb you again. We buried them quickly without any rituals. Also remember this was between very big mountains and it was very possible that the Rhodesian forces were monitoring us from a distance using binoculars. We knew that the Rhodesian forces had an observation point nearby. We buried these comrades in the presence of Nikita Mangena.

Years may have gone by but I am constantly troubled by the death of Cde Nyamukapa. He was among the 13 comrades we buried. He was a brilliant comrade and very dependable. He was also very courageous. During that operation I spoke about that led to the Rhodesian forces crossing into Zambia, I was with him hitting electricity poles from Kariba to Salisbury. We destroyed the bridge together and shelled the hotel together. He was a dependable comrade and when I saw him dead, my heart sank.

MH: How did you survive?

Cde Soft Magarasadza: It’s God. You know one of the days, I was in Zambia so I sent one group to cross into Rhodesia to with some supplies. I gave these comrades to go and hide the supply at a certain place where the other comrades who were at the war front would come and collect the supplies. On their way back, these comrades about eighteen of them decided that they wanted to eat nyama yembavala. They saw this animal just close to Zambezi River and they shot this animal and killed it. They were still on the Rhodesian side and I was on the Zambian side. I got into my small boat to go and collect them. Unknown to all of us, some Rhodesian forces were watching us. I got to the Rhodesian side vakati regai zvizare in that boat tozopfura.

Out of the 18, I managed kutora nine into the boat and started rowing back to the Zambian side. When we were right in the middle of the river, one of the comrades who was seated next to me was hit by a bullet and he fell into the river. That bullet up to now I don’t know how it missed me. I quickly instructed all the comrades to leave their guns in the boat and swim to the Zambian side. You know I had actually instructed these comrades to put on their life jackets but some refused. They said tiri kuenda padhuze, just across the river.

The Rhodesian forces started firing at us and do you know we were rescued by one of the comrades who couldn’t swim. On the other hand, the other nine comrades on the Rhodesian side started returning fire to these Rhodesian forces. This comrade who couldn’t swim refused to jump out of the boat. He took cover inside the boat and as the Rhodesian forces were focusing on the nine comrades who were on the Rhodesian side, this comrade took one of the bazookas in the boat and aimed at the Rhodesian soldiers. Akanorova exactly paibva Rhodesian fire pachibva panyarara kuti zii. The other nine comrades went on to finish these Rhodesian forces. After swimming to the Zambian side I shouted to them that musabve ipapo ndichauya kuzokutora.

One of the comrades was struggling to swim to the Zambian side and I shouted “resistance comrade! Resistance comrade!” He later managed to swim to the Zambian side. I later went back to get the other nine comrades. It was now very dark and we crossed back to Zambia. You know whenever I look back to this day, I always say mwari vakapindira. That bullet was meant for me but somehow it missed me.

MH: So this comrade who was hit by the bullet, he fell into the river and that was it?

Cde Soft Magarasadza: Yeah, there was nothing we could do. All we could do was that one day we ambushed Rhodesian soldiers as they were rowing along the river and that day takavarova and they all died. This was our response.

MH: So you operated at the war front for how long?

Cde Soft Magarasadza: Like I told you I was the Provincial Commander around Hurungwe area from 1976 up to 1979. The war had become like any other daily chore for me. At the end, I would sleep soundly because we knew that the Rhodesian soldiers were now afraid of us. I would sleep soundly right at the war front. There were so many liberated zones by this time.

You know some comrades had become so used to the war that like Cde Ndodhla Mapulanka, he was in logistics and he is still alive, he would tell us kuti vakomana kuti kuuya ndege two hours before ndege yasvika. He would tell us kuti ndenge iri kubva neuko ngatiende takadai. That is how much we had gotten used to the war.

MH: Can you tell us briefly of your last years at the war front leading to ceasefire?

Cde Soft Magarasadza: The highlight of that period was what we used to call Nkomo’s Turning Point. This was leading to the ceasefire. If the Lancaster House talks had failed, I had been given a battalion of regular forces headed by Cde Madhliwa. He was the battalion commander of the ZIPRA regular and many in army up to now know about him. When I was given this battalion I found them a place to stay a little bit into Zambia. The Rhodesian forces attacked them but Madhliwa had dug trenches such that they managed to repeal the Rhodesians. Vairova ndege iri kure such that the Rhodesians retreated.

MH: What do you mean Nkomo’s Turning Point?

Cde Soft Magarasadza: Remember our war all along was guerilla warfare. Now we were entering a phase of regular warfare. Nkomo had told us that if the Lancaster House talks fail, we were supposed to abandon guerilla warfare and use regular warfare to fight the Rhodesian soldiers. We had comrades who had trained regular warfare in Zambia and were ready to surprise the Rhodesian forces.

That turning point showed me that Nkomo was a brilliant and talented leader. He was already planning ahead. He also loved his forces. You know during the Unity Accord, he called me saying I was supposed to go and integrate my forces in Mashonaland Central. To me he was a very nice and caring person. During ceasefire I went to Romeo Assembly Point. Later I was moved to another assembly point in Chitungwiza.

MH: When you look at the journey you travelled during the liberation struggle, do you have any regrets?

Cde Soft Magarasadza: I have no regrets at all. I played my part. We were fighting to take the means of production to the majority and we did that in our own way.

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