Vp Phelekezela Mphoko
I first met Father Zimbabwe, Dr Joshua Nkomo, when I was a child in 1952; I was 12-years-old then.
I used to work with my uncle Aaron Dhlomo, commonly known as Ndabambi. They worked together at Rhodesia Railways, so I used to visit my father, my uncle, and then that is when I first met the Old Man.
To me, Dr Nkomo was like a parent, not a politician or trade unionist, because he was very close to my uncle.
I was going to school, and after finishing my course in 1960, I came back to Bulawayo and that time it was NDP and under NDP it was Mawema who was president.
When Zapu came in I also met him; we were not very close at that time.
We later (became) closer when I became one of his bodyguards along with Albert Nxele, Walter Mbambo, Winston and some other guys from Harare.
(One of them) Abraham used to say, “Follow your leader like a shadow.”We were bodyguards at that time and that is when we started moving with the Old Man during the time of Zapu.
When Zapu was banned, he went to Semukwe, that is where he was restricted.
I was now working at Dunlop. At Dunlop I started a collecting some money for Dr Nkomo and that is when the management identified me as politically-minded. So the money we collected we gave it to a certain Charles Nyathi who would take it to Semukwe. I also went to Semukwe to see the Old Man.
When he came out of restriction that is when we travelled extensively as bodyguards of the Old Man.
The drivers included Boniface Malowa Gumbo, uncle to the President, and Fibian, and quite a number of people who were bodyguards, up to the time we went to Cold Comfort Farm.
At Cold Comfort Farm it was agreed that we should now pursue an armed struggle. (There was) a special affairs committee led by James Chikerema, including Marembo and somebody else whose name I have forgotten, who were supposed to be leaders of that organisation. Now, I was personally recruited by the Old Man himself.
All of his bodyguards, Albert Nxele, Walter Mbambo, Sam Dumaza, Edward Mzwazwa, myself and then Peter Madlela, we were directly recruited by the leader, Joshua Nkomo.
Specifically in my case he came home. On the night of the 4th of April we were supposed to leave Bulawayo and we left on that day in 1964; the six of us.
So we went to board a train in Luveve for Northern Rhodesia and that was the last time I saw the Old Man.
We went for the military training and after that we came back to form the military wing of Zapu where in 1965 I would become chief of logistics; Ambrose was in charge of training; Abraham Nkiwane was in charge of transport — transporting weapons between Lusaka and Tanzania; and Godwin Buche became part of the training with Walter Mbambo; Robson Manyiwa was the chief-of-staff and Akim Ndlovu was the commander.
That was the first military establishment of Zapu.
Then came 1965, I remember very well that is when Buche and myself crossed into Rhodesia (with the help of) the local fisherman.
There was one we used to call Shorty and we bought a boat for two pounds.
We had by then established the crossing points.
So, that was 1965; then 1966 we started having people coming for training.
The ‘65 group was the one already in Zambia; the 1966 group is the one which included Tshinga Dube, David Moyo and other people.
But I was already in the command and in charge of logistics.
Then 1967, we had a joint military command which had then been established in 1966 with the ANC.
So, in the joint military command, I was in charge of logistics, co-chief of logistics with Masondo from the ANC and there was Akim who was the commander and his counterpart was Joe Modise.
Around May-June 1967, we were preparing for the Wankie operations.
I was commander of combined logistics and became commander of Nkomo Camp and then I moved to Danang which was at Luthuli Camp.
I commanded the joint rehearsal in preparation for the Wankie operation, I was the commander deputised by Jexe, an ANC guy.
So, after the training, which was one month, you talk a month’s rehearsal, it was very hectic. Joe Modise was one of the people in the camp, Chris Hani and John Dube were also from our side.
The joint training at Luthuli base was under my command.
After deploying for the Wankie operations, we went to Sipolilo. Sipolilo was also a joint military host and deployment for the ANC and us.
The plan was very ambitious.
We were supposed to cross the fighters under the command of Moffat Hadebe then the commissar was Masuku and other ANC comrades.
So we were supposed to cross the comrades which we did, then we crossed the weapons, then the donkeys for transport and the finally the Land Rover.
We created a raft with eight drums each side and it was very big and could sustain that weight. I think we had over 100 boxes of weapons, ammunition, medication and other logistical items.
Our plan was to cross the raft and tie it on the other side, deploy a platoon across, another platoon remaining on the Zambian side.
Once the raft had crossed, they would pull it back.
Unfortunately the rope was so big as the platoon went deeper into the water, the rope started sagging and it went into the water and became very heavy.
As it was now almost at the centre of the river where the current was powerful, and with a very heavy rope which was now wet, it sunk along with everything.
The seven guys who were rowing also fell in the water but they managed to survive; but all our equipment sunk there and I believe that equipment is still there up to today.
So we proceeded, the guys had their weapons — personal issues — and we crossed into Sipolilo.
There were four commanders; Abraham Nkiwane, Dumiso Dabengwa, Joe Modise and myself. We operated in Sipolilo and worked with the people, we were very close to the villagers.
Then we came back after almost a month, it was now 1968.
When they (Dr Nkomo and other leaders) were released in 1974, I remember I was in Czechoslovakia with President Sam Nujoma attending a World Peace Council. They were released and they went to Lusaka.
I went to see the Old Man and it was after a long time he remembered me; I was still very slim those days.
And then from there he was going in and out frequently.
One of the most important activities that took place at that time in 1974 when the leaders were there under the leadership of Muzorewa’s UNC and then from there we went to Victoria Falls for peace talks on the bridge together with South Africa and Zambia. Mozambique sent a delegation it was led by Monteiro; Tanzania as well.
At that time Zanu was having a lot of problems; in fact it was the time the leaders had been arrested.
Now the Old Man was there at Victoria Falls together with others, then the negotiations continued. They went back to Rhodesia because the discussions had to go to their logical end.
From there we went to Mozambique under Zipa.
What I remember is that in Mozambique it was different from when we were in Zambia. We first formed our Joint Military Command where we were serving together with Josiah Tongogara; Mangena was chief-of-staff, Tongogara was chief of operations, I was chief of logistics, Mataure was in charge of training, Munyanyi was in charge of intelligence, Robson Manyika was political commissar.
That is the command where we served with Josiah Tongogara.
The difference with the joint command of before was, it was led by political leaders — Jason Moyo and Herbert Chitepo where the leaders at the time.
When we moved to Mozambique in 1975 for the Zipa command the most senior person from Zanla was Webster Gwauya, who was a member of the Central Committee, the rest were junior people; very junior. Some had never had the opportunity of leading.
Rex Nhongo was among them, but had not been a leader in the true sense and that is why we had serious problems within the movement.
There were quite a number of things which happened; we don’t rule out infiltration because when the leadership of Zanu was not there people were just flocking both to us and Zanu.
But in our case at least we were there as leaders, we could screen: but what about Zanla where there was nobody?
That is why there was so much commotion — there was no leader.
We were the summit: President Mugabe was not there, Mudhara Joshua was not there, nobody was there because it was an intention by others for different purposes.
However, we went to Mozambique to try and rescue Zanu from collapse, in the process we had serious problems.
So the group of people who came after the closure of the border on the 3rd of February 1976 when President Samora Machel closed that border were the commanders.
That same day after addressing us, all Zipra cadres who had come to rescue Zipa were arrested by the Mozambicans on the instigation of Zanla comrades.
They were all sent to Tete, including Thomas Ngwenya, who is making so much noise about himself as if he was above us.
I sent my wife to see them in Tete; she travelled all the way to Chimoio. When she got to Chimoi she used her brother who was in the army to send the communication to those people who were there.
Then from there in 1976 sometime in August, I was arrested myself with the instigation of these guys — Zanla. I was arrested and thrown into a prison at an island.
My wife is the one who did the best and got me released.
My arrest coincided with the time when the British wanted to help the Geneva talks. But they took my car and they wanted to kidnap my wife only to discover she was Mozambican although she spoke Zulu.
When I was released, in the command General Odala was my counterpart from the government — he was in charge of logistics, I was in charge of logistics for Zipa.
Under my command I got a number of guys including Mhaka, Brig Kanhanga who were under my command for logistics.
All the materials which we got was kept under Frelimo, because you couldn’t keep weapons in a foreign country.
When I was released from prison I stayed at Kadoso Hotel, President Mugabe also came and we stayed together for three months at Kadoso Hotel.
The president was in room 21 and I was in room 19 and we were there together for three months before we were allocated houses. That was the time when we went to Tanzania to dismantle Zipa.
We flew together with the President to Tanzania.
The President was there, the Old Man was there, Muzorewa was there, and that was the first Frontline States meeting attended by President Augustino Neto of Angola.
The decision was to be made that the leadership whether it is Zipa or the leaders, who would go to Geneva. There was a heated argument.
There were people like Dzino who were challenging the leaders, that the leadership of Zimbabwe was not a monopoly.
It was finally resolved that leaders come back to their leadership positions and then the young fellows like Dzino and others were supposed to fall under the leadership.
They argued until they got arrested.
But the most critical point is that I talked to Dr Nkomo and told him that the situation in Mozambique was hostile because Frelimo was close to Zanu and, yes, I had been arrested.
Then the Old Man said to me: “No one owns anybody. If somebody can own somebody then you can also own that somebody. Go back to Mozambique and make sure that that situation favours you and favours us.”
I went back to Mozambique; that is when I became a representative of Zapu after the collapse of Zipa.
In Mozambique I had a responsibility to co-ordinate President Mugabe as leader of Zanu and president Nkomo as leader of Zapu. I also had the responsibility to co-ordinate president Nkomo as leader of Zapu and President Samora Machel.
Those were the roles which I had.
And during my stay there from 1975 up to 1980 we had so many delegations from Lusaka, the Old Man coming with his delegations all the time and I had all those years to develop a relationship with the Old Man.
The biggest lesson I learnt from the Old Man is that nobody owns anybody. One other thing is the biggest lesson also is that Old Man Josh was not a tribalist, never!
That is one thing I learnt from him. He was allergic to tribalism.
You can see by his own fellow leaders in Zapu, there was himself as the president, Josiah Chinamano, Joseph Msika, Samuel Munodawafa, Aaron Jirira, Dan Madzimbamuto, Willie Musarurwa, George Silundika, Edward Ndlovhu and others.
The majority of the people were all from Mashonaland; so the fact that Zapu was a Ndebele outfit is a fallacy of the Rhodesians.
He was a unifier and he worked under anybody including Muzorewa. Muzorewa felt so big and fired Nkomo at one time and Nyerere reprimanded him.
So those are some of the lessons I learnt from the Old Man.
A fortnight ago, Zimbabwe marked the 18th commemoration of the death of Vice-President Dr Joshua Nkomo. Our senior reporter Lincoln Towindo spoke to Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko, on how he worked closely with the late Father Zimbabwe.
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