Comrade Kenny Constantine Mabuya, whose Chimurenga name was Cde Kenny Ridzai (born 1952), was deployed to the war front in Rhodesia in 1972. He fought many battles and was at one time mistaken for a sellout by Frelimo comrades who went on to torture him. Despite the torture, after he was released, Cde Kenny refused to be sent to the rear in Zambia.
In this interview with our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike, Cde Kenny narrates his several battles at the war front around Centenary area. He narrates how he was later shot and sent to the rear. A few weeks after his arrival at the Zanu farm near Lusaka, the Nhari-Badza rebellion started. Cde Kenny says he was not surprised at all because he had worked under Nhari and Badza at the war front. While at the war front, he had seen enough such that when the rebellion started, he knew it was always coming.
Read on . . .
SM: Last week you indicated that after you met some of your comrades, you refused to go to the rear to rest and was deployed around the Centenary area. Tell us of your operations there.
Cde Kenny: Like I told you when it was suggested that I should go to the rear to rest, I said I was not injured and handisati ndanyatsorova hondo. Of course I had been tortured by the Frelimo comrades and I was skinny but I wanted to go back and fight the struggle. So on deployment, we were put in sections. A section would have seven comrades. Our commander at this time was James Bond. There was also Cde Mabhonzo, Kid Marong’orong’o and others. We were instructed to go and open the war front around Karuyana. This area borders with Centenary, where there were some commercial farms. We were deployed in three sections, I was leading one of the sections, the other two were being led by Cde Tamai and Cde Christopher. Our mission was to mobilise povho. We were supposed to educate povho about the war. However, if we met Rhodesian soldiers, we were supposed to ambush them and plant landmines along roads that the Rhodesians were using. So around that area, we had only two ambushes – one at Karuyana bridge where all the three sections converged for this offensive. We planted a landmine close to the bridge. We had been told that every Monday, Rhodesian soldiers would drive past the bridge. So we planted a landmine, an anti-tank mine and waited. Around 9:15 am, the Rhodesian soldiers came. They had a mine detector vehicle at the front, but for some reason they failed to detect this landmine. I think there were about five Bedford trucks. The first truck yakabva yatsika landmine and exploded. We then started firing.
SM: Did the Rhodesian fire back?
Cde Kenny: Yes, they tried to fire back, but they were just too confused to know what was happening. They quickly retreated but takavarova kwete mbichana. But this was guerilla warfare so immediately after this ambush we escaped. We knew that in no time the Rhodesians would call for airpower. So we escaped. We planted quite a number of landmines around this area. We would tell povho that such and such an area is now a no-go area. Some didn’t heed our call and chikochikari chairohwa nelandmine chichi simuka mudenga. Even some buses aiputikirwa but we would warn people against using roads where we would have planted the landmines. This was around 1973.
The other battle happened when Rhodesian soldiers spotted us at our base. We were actually having tea when suddenly we saw mujiba achisvika achimhanya. He told us that varungu vari kuuya and we quickly took positions. Someone had sold us out and so the Rhodesians wanted to take us by surprise but we quickly took positions and got ready for them. We actually moved a bit away from the position we were. Takaswedera in the direction that they were coming from so we would take them by surprise. And indeed we took them by surprise. Takarovana kusvika vatiza.
SM: How many did you manage to kill?
Cde Kenny: I am not sure because like I told you, after the attack, we had to escape quickly because we feared their airpower. After about two/three months, we would retreat to Mavhuradonha mountain to give our commanders progress reports. We then moved to Bakasa area where we had a battle with Rhodesia soldiers and we downed one helicopter.
SM: Can you briefly describe the Rhodesian soldiers, what kind of soldiers were they?
Cde Kenny: Hondo vakanga vasingainzwisisi. Hondo inoda experience. These soldiers had received military training just like us but the difference was that they were fighting for money and we were not being paid. Inini ndakanga ndakashinga kuti pasina mari ndoda kufira Zimbabwe. Ivo they were not prepared for that. The other thing is that we were young so the bravery was just something.
Because we were young, we didn’t have families to worry about. These Rhodesian soldiers would be thinking about money and their families, so they were not really committed to the war. Some of them after a battle vaitiza netsoka kutosvika pakupondwa nepovho. Slowly we started having semi-liberated zones, areas were Rhodesian soldiers could not come.
After a while, James Bond was moved to another area and our new commander was Thomas Nhari, that one wekuzopanduka. His deputy was Cephas Tichatonga. Badza was also there. So from Karuyana, we moved to Centenary. Our task was kuvhura front. Kuvhura front meant mobilising povho about the war.
SM: During mobilisation what would you tell the povho?
Cde Kenny: There were so many restrictions that were against black people. We would tell them kuti kana nyika yava yenyu munoita zvamunoda. We told them that they would have opportunities to open their businesses and even own farms. We also told them that kana nyika yava yedu, we will have the freedom kutaura zvatinoda. We told them that the people will be the government and so they will be free to say what they wanted. Smith was forcing people to do certain things and we were saying all that would stop. We said ours will be the people’s government and so inofanirwa kuita zvido zvevanhu. We were fighting for the people, fighting to free the people. But first we had to remove Smith and his soldiers. Remove his system.
SM: Were you as freedom fighters inspired by other African countries that had attained their independence?
Cde Kenny: For me not quite. Remember I was now living in Zambia. Yes, Zambia had fought some war but it was totally different from our war. In Zambia it was mainly talks between vana Harry Kumbula, Welensky, Du Pont, Kaunda and others. Of course living in a free Zambia was different from living in a colonised Rhodesia but in terms of the war, ours was completely different.
So we went to Centenary which was mainly a commercial farming area. There were many tobacco farms. These white commercial farmers are the ones that were giving Smith lots of support. So we knew that in Centenary, Smith akanga akabata. Our first mission here was to destroy the tobacco and kuita maambush. Of course, later we had to mobilise povho in these farming areas. So we did this in Centenary. By this time, I was now the commander of the three sections. The other task we had to carry was to burn makomboni.
While in Centenary, one day we had problems with a spotter plane which kept on flying over us. On the ground, we could see Rhodesians on horses moving all over the place. We really couldn’t move on this day. We then sat down in the evening and said mabhiza aya and that plane zvinorara kupi? We then planned to go and hit the camp where these horses and the spotter plane were kept during the night.
We discovered that this spotter plane yaigara about 500 metres from the homestead yeumwe murungu. There was a small airstrip at this farm. In the evening, my group went to hit that spotter plane. We were told that at that homestead there were Rhodesian soldiers so we used a mortar, which we used to call kaduri kambuya Nehanda to throw bombs onto the homestead. Before all this we captured the soldier who was guarding this spotter plane. This soldier then showed us around and we went for the attack. We destroyed the spotter plane while the other comrades attacked the homestead. Everything was timed to make sure that the Rhodesian soldiers would not have a chance to fire back. The surprise element was important.
So we destroyed the spotter plane, killed the Rhodesian soldiers and killed all the horses during this night. We then escaped into the mountains. This was our way of sabotaging and weakening Smith. When we went back to give reports to our commanders, Nhari and Badza, they complained that we had not burnt makomboni. I then said, it was not advisable to burn makomboni because this is where we were getting information and food. I told them that the farm workers were assisting us to destroy the infrastructure at the farms.
SM: But you were putting the farms workers in trouble?
Cde Kenny: Yes, but we devised a plan where we would leave the farm workers nemakasha emabara so that they could show the white farmers that magandanga anga ane pfuti so they forced us to destroy fodya. This trick worked to a greater extent. The farm workers would show the white farmers makasha emabara to indeed confirm that we were in the area.
So when I told Nhari and Badza that it was not necessary to destroy makomboni, they accused me of not following orders. They then said I was no longer a platoon commander. They demoted me and they actually wanted kuti ndirare pasi vandirove. This was common punishment during the war but some of my comrades vakaramba kuti aiwa hamungamurove. They supported me. So I was demoted from platoon commander to section commander. They also said hauchadzokeri kuCentenary. I was deployed around the Guruve area.
SM: So much have been said and written about Badza and Nhari. What kind of people were these comrades?
Cde Kenny: I first met Nhari and Badza at Intumbi in Tanzania. I don’t know how they had joined the liberation struggle. We were however told that vakanga vatiza kuZipra. I think they had committed some crime kuZipra and they came to join Zanla. Both of them vakanga vari vanhu vane hasha nehumbimbindoga. Zviya zvekuti zvandataura ndizvozvo.
So I was deployed in Guruve and continued with our usual operations of mobilising the masses and ambushing the Rhodesian soldiers. This was now around 1974. Then kwakazouya maScuzapo, these were black Rhodesian soldiers who would pretend to be freedom fighters. Some of them were fellow comrades who had joined the Smith regime, vapanduka. These comrades knew our operations and our bases. They were hired by the Smith regime to pretend to be freedom fighters.
One day while at our base, mujibha came saying kune macomrades akabva kuMozambique. I asked this mujibha kuti how did you know these are freedom fighters and he said vane pfuti maAK and so on. He said these “comrades” had pamphlets written “Pamberi nehondo” signed by Cde Tongogara.
I suspected that there was something wrong. We sent one of our comrades to pretend to be povho to establish who these people were. It was not possible for reinforcements to come from Mozambique without any communication so I suspected there was something wrong. This comrade went in the evening and came back saying these comrades looked suspicious. He said uuuum handifungi kuti macomrades. He showed us the pamphlets and my suspicion even grew. I then said let’s see what will happen tomorrow. During the evening, these fake comrades went pamba pasabhuku saying show us where the comrades are. Sabhuku akaramba for a while. He then got into his house pretending to be changing his clothes. He then sent one of his sons to quickly come and alert us what was going on. As this boy was trying to sneak out of the homestead, kakabva kabatwa kakabvunzwa kuti uri kuenda kupi?
Around 4am, I woke up to go and relieve myself. I saw something that was looking suspicious. As I was trying to establish what was going on, pfuti dzikati dzarira. We were under attack. That battle was intense. We later learnt that as they were advancing towards us, these mascuzapo vakanga vakaisa sabhuku pamberi. Before getting to our base sabhuku actually called saying “pamberi nehondo.” I actually heard him from where I was trying to relieve myself. Immediately after this, that’s when the battle started. This sabhuku was shot and killed ipapo. I was shot in the leg. We lost two comrades but I managed to escape. Others got injured. After running for a while, I saw a helicopter coming. This is when it really dawned on me that these mascuzapo were under the Rhodesian forces. These were fellow comrades who had been captured and were now working for Smith.
This was my third time to be shot and injured, but this injury was troubling me. That is when I was ordered to go to the rear for treatment. This was 1974 around October, I went to Chifombo. I didn’t stay at Chifombo for long. I then went kuZanu farm that was near Lusaka. I was the security aide waCde Chigohwe. In no time after my arrival at the farm, we were told that there were disturbances at Chifombo. We were told that Nhari and Badza were behind the disturbances. These comrades had arrested all the commanders who were at Chifombo. They were now saying they had taken over as commanders. This was sort of a coup.
SM: As someone who had worked with Nhari and Badza, were you surprised to hear this?
Cde Kenny: I wasn’t surprised at all. You know I am convinced that the death of Chitepo later, the problems started at the war front. When Nhari and Badza ordered me to move from Centenary to Guruve, there were so many suspicious things that were going on.
SM: What suspicious things were happening?
Cde Kenny: Kungorova macomrades zvimwe zvisina tsarukano. Also nyaya dzevakadzi. You could see kuti vanhu havasisina shungu nehondo.
SM: What do you mean nyaya dzevakadzi?
Cde Kenny: Ahh, Nhari had a wife, Badza wake and Cephas wake. They were going around with these girls. This was not allowed but they were doing it openly. We would recruit female comrades, ivo votora vovaita vakadzi vavo. When I got to Chifombo, I actually told the commanders there kuti zvakuitwa nemacommanders enyu kufront hazviiti.
I wasn’t surprised at all when they tried to take over the struggle. Vakanga vatopanduka kudhara. So when we were told of these disturbances at Chifombo, we said hazviiti. We waited for them to come kufarm. We were ready to fight them but they never came. They actually went to Lusaka hoping to capture mashef vana Tongogara, Chitepo, Hamadziripi, Gumbo and others. These rebels were heavily armed. They were about 33 and if I am not mistaken there were three female comrades in this group.
Next week, Cde Kenny will narrate how the Nhari-Badza rebellion was dealt with and how the liberation struggle continued after this dark episode. Don’t miss your copy of The Sunday Mail
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