Meet Joshua Nkomo, the military strategist

Standing: Ambros Mutinhiri (Chief of Staff), Dr Joshua Nkomo, Alfred Nikita Mangena (Commander), Harold Chirenda (Chief of Training), Gordon Munyanyi (then Chief of Military Intelligence), Cephas Cele (Chief of Personnel) and Sam Mfakazi (Chief of Logistics) in Dr Nkomo’s office in Zambia in 1977
Standing: Ambros Mutinhiri (Chief of Staff), Dr Joshua Nkomo, Alfred Nikita Mangena (Commander), Harold Chirenda (Chief of Training), Gordon Munyanyi (then Chief of Military Intelligence), Cephas Cele (Chief of Personnel) and Sam Mfakazi (Chief of Logistics) in Dr Nkomo’s office in Zambia in 1977

Brigadier Abel Mazinyane (Rtd)
Before joining the armed struggle, I and most of my colleagues in training at Morogoro, Tanzania, had not met any of the Zimbabwean nationalists. James Chikerema, George Silundika, Edward Ndlovu, George Nyandoro and JZ Moyo were our first.

At Morogoro, we had among us some who were coming from Smith’s detention centres in Rhodesia. These were Jevan Maseko, Ben Maphosa, Hwadalala Nyathi, and James Sakupwanya. These people had met Joshua Nkomo before, lucky for them.

In 1974, we all got our chance to meet this great man, Joshua Nkomo, in-person, and other nationalists who had been incarcerated in Rhodesia when they visited Zambia.

After the death of JZ on January 22 1977, Joshua Nkomo returned to Zambia, this time not to visit but to lead the armed struggle. The party promoted him from commander to supreme commander of the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZPRA) and Alfred Nikita Mangena was also promoted from chief of staff to commander of ZPRA.

Joshua Nkomo’s first task was to tour all the camps and officiate at all ZPRA pass-out parades. Addressing guerrillas who had just completed training, his orders were: “As you go home (Zimbabwe), remember you are not traditional chiefs so do not establish kangaroo courts.

“You are not ‘sangomas’ so do not start sniffing out witches. Your first port of call is the local party leadership. Annihilate the enemy; preserve your life and that of the people of Zimbabwe.”

Those were always his parting words. Joshua Nkomo was hands-on on ZPRA issues.
In 1997, he was the reviewing officer at a pass-out parade in Boma, Angola, where a force of 2 000 ZPRAs had just completed training. He demanded from the Russian and Cuban trainers that the pass-out include a mock attack.

Accompanying him was Alfred Nikita, Elliot Masengo (chief of training), Abel Mazinyane (chief of military intelligence) and Asaff Ndinda (deputy chief of operations). The Russian and Cuban instructors together with Zimbabwean instructors unleashed 2 000 armed men with heavy and small arms for this exercise.

I registered my security concerns to Mdala because the exercise was going to use live ammunition. The old man brushed the concerns aside.

I had never witnessed such fire power and up to today have yet to see anything to match it. As ZPRA chief of intelligence, nothing could convince me that within the 2 000 that were passing out, there was no enemy spy.

I felt as if the struggle for Zimbabwe had been placed on my tiny shoulders. However, the exercise ended without mishap; the only casualties being Josh’s lady secretary who collapsed and our eardrums. Josh watched the whole exercise and later inspected the soldiers. He visited every camp after bombardment, sometimes personally, and supervised mass burials.

Mdala Josh had an office at Zimbabwe House in Lusaka, the party headquarters outside Zimbabwe.
He, however, established a separate defence headquarters about 500 metres from ZPRA headquarters. This headquarters fully equipped him to keep his fingers on the pulse of the army.

A defence council was also created to put in place a forum for all stakeholders to sit down and formulate a strategy for the whole struggle.

This overarching strategy would then guide strategies of various departments to work towards fulfilling the grand objective.

Joshua Nkomo was always concerned about the welfare of the children living at our camps that he introduced programmes under which they would interact with Zimbabwean families based in Zambia.

A day was set when families would be invited to visit Victory Camp.

Games would be organised.
“Victory Camp children will interact with children living a normal family life so that they do not forget to be children,” he said.

In 1979, as the supreme commander, Joshua Nkomo issued orders for “Turning Point” to ZPRA forces. ZPRA had deployed forces in every corner of Rhodesia. All these forces were involved in guerrilla warfare.

This type of warfare had exhausted the enemy, but not firmly secured territory.

Turning Point focused on permanently securing the ground for ZPRA and denying it to the enemy. To achieve this, ZPRA was to deploy in large units (regular battalions) and attack big targets (economic and military installations).
This was targeted at turning semi-liberated zones into fully-liberated zones that would be run by people‘s committees.

Ground captured by ZPRA would be denied to the enemy.
The “Forward Ever Backward Never” slogan was being put into practice. Guerrillas would continue to harass the enemy, forcing him to operate in bigger units that formed prime targets for ZPRA’s regular units (battalions)
Under Joshua Nkomo’s leadership, ZPRA became a formidable force that General Walls said: “Given ZPRA, I can conquer Africa.”

  • Brigadier Abel Mazinyane (Rtd) is a former member of the ZPRA High Command

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