COMRADE Gomba Midson Mupasu, born 6 March 1942, whose Chimurenga name was Cde Norman Bethune, has in the past given us narrations about the role that he played as they ferried homwe yaMbuya Nehanda from Tsokoto to Chifombo. He has given us a narration of the Chimoio massacre as he was the overall commander at the base at that time. Following these narrations, we have been inundated with requests from readers who want to really know more about this veteran freedom fighter.
This column belongs to the people and so below is Cde Bethune giving his long journey during the liberation struggle. Cde Bethune grew up in Chipuriro in Guruve South, but his family is originally from Buhera, kwaNyashanu. He says, one day he had a misunderstanding nemwana wemurungu and that incident changed his life forever.
In this interview with our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike, Cde Bethune narrates how he was recruited to join the struggle in 1968 while waiting for a job opportunity at Lever Brothers, his journey to Francistown and to Lusaka. He talks about his training at Mgagao and gives revolutionary teachings from Chairman Mao’s little red book.
Read on …
SM: Cde Bethune, after your narrations about Mbuya Nehanda and the Chimoio massacre, people have been asking lots of questions about you. Tell us how you joined the liberation struggle?
Cde Bethune: I came to Salisbury in 1968 and I used to stay in Lusaka in Highfield. My idea was to look for a job. Ndakabva papurazi ndarova mwana wemurungu papurazi remurungu. I had finished my Standard Six. One day we had a slight misunderstanding, mwana wemurungu achibva andirova nembama. I looked at the little boy and clapped him back. He fell down. His face became red. I locked him in the office and went to the workers’ compound. I took my bags and left going to Salisbury. I knew that because I had clapped this white little boy, I was in serious trouble. This was a serious crime because murungu haaifanirwa kurohwa. You know kuti baba vangu inini vaibisira hat kamwana kemurungu? Now that I had beaten this little boy, I knew I was going to jail. I was later told that Rhodesian police looked for me for days. I stayed for days in Salisbury. One day I thought of looking for muzukuru wangu ainzi Wise. I had been told that anoshanda kuSalisbury. I later met with Wise. He is still alive. I stayed at his house for about three days. One day I got lucky and was taken to do a temporary job as a loader at Lever Brothers.
On another day, while waiting outside the gate at Lever Brothers, some guy who I think was in his 20s, came. I think his name was Philip. He was holding a newspaper and I asked him if I could read the paper just for a few minutes. When he gave me the newspaper, I discovered that inside the newspaper there was some folder. One of the papers inside this folder was boldly written: “Zanu Mwenje! Let’s rebuild Zimbabwe! We are our own liberators”
When Philip saw that I was reading this paper, he asked me kuti ngatisuduruke pane vanhu. Philip then said to me “do you know the stuff you are reading can get you arrested?” I didn’t know what he was talking about and I asked him why? I asked him kuti ndosungwa ini ndiri kuverenga sei iwe uri kufamba nazvo usiri kusungwa? I was in the dark. After this conversation, we went back to the Lever Brothers gate. The next day, Philip asked to talk to me on our own. He asked me whether I had understood what I had read the previous day. I asked him what he was talking about. He then explained to me what this was all about.
SM: What did he say?
Cde Bethune: He explained to me that this was about politics. He explained to me that Zanu was a political party. I didn’t know about Zanu because we grew up knowing about Zapu only. He then told me that if you are interested to hold a gun, you will be trained for six months in Zambia then come back to Rhodesia to fight whites. I couldn’t believe what he was saying so I probed him further and he explained things in detail. On the third day, I told Philip that I wanted to go for training. I later discovered that Philip was part of a network of people who were recruiting people to go for military training in Zambia. That is when I understood why everyday Philip was always holding his newspaper. This is how I got to know about Zanu Mwenje being led by Ndabaningi Sithole.
On that third day, I met Philip at Railways and he bought our tickets to Bulawayo. We went to Bulawayo. Around 7pm, we got into a bus which was going to Plumtree. I think this bus was called Pelandaba Bus Service. At 10pm we got to Plumtree at Dingimuzi terminus. All the way, Philip was looking after me very well.
SM: So you never said goodbye to your relatives in Salisbury?
Cde Bethune: I never told them anything and I never took anything to show I was going away. So when we got to Plumtree, we walked during that night and all I did was to follow Philip. I think around 2am, we had crossed the border, we rested for a while. We started walking again and just before dawn we got pane umwe musha. Philip went to one of the houses and knocked on the door. Some old man mupositori opened the door for us. This madzibaba was the Zanu contact person in the area. Philip handed me over to this madzibaba and he didn’t really tell me that he was going back. He just said, “chimbosara pano.” I remained behind. This madzibaba was fluent in both the Tswana, Ndebele and Shona language. I have to tell you that still by this time, I didn’t really know what I had gotten myself into. All I knew was that I wanted to go for training but wasn’t even aware of the dangers. I only got to know the full story when I got to Francistown.
Madzibaba later that day drove me to Francistown. I was handed over to the Zanu Mwenje representative Phibion Shonhiwa. I overhead Madzibaba telling Shonhiwa that “nhasi tangokwanisa kuuya nemukomana one.” Shonhiwa then sat down with me and for the first time I was called comrade. He explained to me what was going to happen. But before this, he vetted me asking lots of questions. He told me that the situation in Botswana at that time was too tense and so I was to remain at his house for a while. He told me that the Botswana government knew about his role at a Zanu representative. Shonhiwa gave me literature on politics written by people like CheGuavara, Lenin, Mao and so on.
After some days, Shonhiwa said the system was that I was supposed to be handed over to the Botswana police. He explained that this didn’t mean I was under arrest and he told me that he would be coming to see me everyday. Indeed, he took me to the police. He told me that once I got to the station, I was supposed to tell them that I wanted to go to school in Sierra Leone. He told me that this was being done because the Rhodesian Special Branch had planted its people in the Botswana police. I stayed at the police station for two days. On the third day, Shonhiwa came after processing some papers and took me back to his house. I stayed at his house from March until November. During these months, he gave me serious political orientation and by July, vakanga vava kutondinonokera. Two more recruits, Jairos Ruredzo and Peter Dandajena came while I was still staying with Shonhiwa.
In November, we flew to Livingstone in Zambia where we met Cde Felix Rice Santana and Cde Gava. They drove us to Lusaka in a Landrover. We were taken to House Number 93 kuKamwala. This is where I met Cde Mayor Urimbo, Cde Kurauwone, Cde Justin Chauke, Cde Chinamaropa, Cde Enerst Kadungure, Cde Kumbirai Kangai and others. Cde Tongogara would frequently pass through the house. I don’t even know where Peter Dandajena and Jairos Ruredzo were staying but we later met during training. After a few days, I was ordered to write my life history. This was later compared with information that had come from Shonhiwa. This is the way they checked to see if someone was really genuine.
SM: How long did you stay at Number 93?
Cde Bethune: The whole year. The whole of 1969 I was there. Again these comrades I mentioned above explained to me that I was now a comrade waiting to go for military training. They gave me political orientation. These comrades gave the foundation to understand the liberation struggle. I later went for military training, but these comrades had really turned me into a comrade ready to sacrifice for his country. They told me that I would go for military training in Tanzania. They told me tiri kumirira kuti mumbowanda. In January 1970, that is when we were taken to Tanzania for military training. We passed through Intumbi, Mbeya, Iringa going to Mgagao. At Mgagao we were handed over to some Chinese instructors.
SM: Cde Bethune, before we go to Mgagao, let’s talk briefly about the relationship between Zapu and Zanu in Lusaka. We hear at this time there were clashes between the two parties.
Cde Bethune: It’s true, relations between Zanu and Zapu at this time were bad. But personally I got to know about these bad relations after our training. When I was at Number 93, I was not allowed to go around a lot so I didn’t know much about what was happening. This was also for our security became the Rhodesians Special Branch had its people in Lusaka. When I was now a commander at Napundwa Base that’s when I got to know and see the clashes. I remember the Zanu and Zapu representatives sometimes would clash over recruits at the Zambian airport. Recruits had to quickly indicate the party they had come to join. But I know of incidences where recruits who had come thinking they were to join Zapu were kidnapped byZanu. Zapu also did the same.
SM: Who were your leaders at Mgagao?
Cde Bethune: There was Cde Cuthbert Chimedza, Cde Elias Hondo, Cde Mlambo and others. Cde Tongo, Cde Mupunzarima, Cde Fox Corner would come sometimes to see how our training was going. We were trained by Chinese instructors and one of our interpreters was Cde Enerst Kadungure. By the time we finished training, we were 45 comrades. Our group is the group that later made the world to recognise Zanu.
SM: Who are some of the comrades who were among this group of 45?
Cde Bethune: I can’t remember all the comrades but there was Cde Kenneth Gwindingwi, Abel Sibanda, Josiah Ziso, Mugwagwa, Josiah Tungamirai, Dick Moyo who later died after being kidnapped in Botswana. He was the Zanu representative by that time in 1972. He was beheaded by the enemies. Nyaya yaDick Moyo up to this day inondirwadza zvikuru (long pause). He was educated but akanga azvipira to fight for his country. Other comrades I received military training with include Cde Tumai, Gordon Shiri, Cephas Tichatonga, Timothy Shangara, Mike who on deployment, crossed and joined the Rhodesian forces. Our training including how to use different guns – AK 47, semi-automatic rifle, Light Machine Gun, rocket launcher (bazooka, RPG 7 and RPG 2), 60 mm motor bomb, 81 mm and 82 mm motor bombs. We were also taught first aid, we were taught politics – how the country was colonised and the situation in Rhodesia. We were taught how the colonialists had brainwashed us so that we abandon our customs and traditions. The Chinese instructors always told us that “you as Zimbabweans, the biggest weapon to fight a war is to understand what the colonisers have done to your country.” They told us that without an identity, you are not a human being. Wakabviswa pahunhu hwako. The instructors spoke about our history as if they once stayed in Rhodesia. These Chinese instructors were part of the Chinese Revolution. The hardships they went through during their war, they taught us how to overcome them. They taught us war tactics and they taught us how to read the mind of the enemy. They would always tell us that “you should know you are fighting for your identity. Zimbabwe is for black people, it’s not for white people.” They would tell us that whites were colonisers and it was important to understand why they came to colonise us. Vakachiva zvakapihwa Zimbabwe naMwari. That’s why varungu vakauya kuzotipidigura pfungwa kuti tifunge kuti vakanaka.
We were also trained to lead others as commanders. They were looking ahead because they wanted us to be instructors in future. We used to read this little red book entitled; “Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse Tung.” This book covers vast areas including zvakaitika and zvichaitika. I still have this book after I got it at Mgagao. It really opens one’s mind. Let me read you two sentences from the chapter entitled The Mass Line (reading) ‘The people and the people alone are the motive force in the making of world history.” The people of Zimbabwe are the one who build their country’s history. Let me continue reading ‘The masses are the real heroes while we ourselves are often childish and ignorant. Without this understanding, it is impossible to acquire even the most rudimental knowledge.” (smiling) Unotovhurika pfungwa chete. This book rakandidzamira up to this day. This is my Bible. You know in this book, Chairman Mao told us that vanotamburira kurwira nyika will not enjoy the fruits of that country. We knew this a long time ago. So my generation we understood what this book said and we applied this during the years at the war front during the early years of the struggle around 1972 and 1973. We were operating in Mash Central at that time. We would not just come to the area totanga kuridza pfuti. Taitanga tataura nevanhu. We would explain to the masses what the war was all about and we told them kuti war means some people will die. Ini ndichafa, ivo vachafa but they should understand the cause.
SM: How difficult was the training?
Cde Bethune: I remember Cde Gabarinocheka took a long time to master how to use the gun. Aitya. We would poke fun at him saying, ukasangwara you will be captured. Hindava kubva watya zvakadaro? Saka kuno wakavingei? We would ask him kutiko inferiority complex yakadai yakabvepi? For some of us, we were saying “varungu vachationa.”
During training we were even taught to endure torture after being captured. You know our generation we were taught kuti comrade haanzi afa during a battle. When a fellow comrade was killed during a battle, we would never say “comrade afa.” We would say “comrade akuvara, or comrade asara.”
When a comrade was wounded, we would only say “comrade akuvara.” Speaking openly kuti comrade wafa, zvaiita sekuchichidzira mamwe macomrades. Such language would create fear and we would avoid it. As comrades we understood what we were talking about. During our time, varungu vaiti kana vauraya comrade, they would take his body. They were looking for popular comrades such as Kid Marong’orong’o and James Bond 007. Varungu vaida kuona kuti ndiye here munhu anga achitinetsa uyu and they would also show povo the dead person. The Rhodesians were cruel even to a dead body. Vaisungira a dead body pahelicopter and fly over villagers for people to see vachitaura a lot of bad things to instil fear into the masses. But then hondo haina kumira.
The way they were treating our dead comrades zvaitotipa chivindi to go after them. Their efforts to instil fear into the masses failed because of the political orientation we had given the masses. Later they resorted to protected villages, they called them maKeep, but still taipinda into those Keeps and the masses vaitipa chikafu tichidya.
SM: During training you were taught guerilla warfare. Why guerilla warfare?
Cde Bethune: The instructors chose guerilla warfare because it’s difficult to contain. We were trained to fight in small groups of seven comrades. They used to call it sparrow warfare. You know kashiri kaya kanonzi kanyenganyenga? That bird is difficult to catch because of the way it flies. They also taught us about urban warfare, kupinda mumaguta hiding my AK 47 in my big jacket. Haikona zvatava kuona mazuvano munhu anozviti ndewe intelligence achifamba showing off pfuti. Hakuna intelligence dzakadaro. Intelligence is about disguise. Iva munhu wekuti unokwanisa kupinda kana papi. Especially vakadzi can be deadly.
You know after our training, we were given money kuti chimboendai mutown. They wanted to see kuti can we mix and mingle with the people in such a way that we would not be noticed as outsiders. We were supposed to dress in a way that made us look like ordinary villagers. A good example is Comrade Kenny Ridzai. He stayed pane umwe musha for a long time trying to find a way to escape the Rhodesian soldiers. He fitted perfectly into the family that he was staying with. Varungu vakamusiya vachitofunga kuti kamwana kepamusha ipapo, yet he was a well-trained freedom fighter. We were taught all that. By giving us money, they also wanted to see kuti kana taita mari how do we behave and when drunk how do you behave. Uchazvibatisa here or what? Our group was taught all that. This didn’t happen kune vakazouya kumashure, the ones we later trained. Even my understanding of the war was totally different from the comrades who joined the struggle later. The comrades who came later havana kuzowana dzamiso. Havana kubikika zvakanaka. Time yakanga yava kuita pfupi.
We were taught kuti ukasvika pane vanhu, you should know those people’s tradition and culture. When you know that, make sure you fit in.
The Chinese instructors had encountered this during their war. We were also blessed when we went to the war front because Mbuya Nehanda and other masvikiro aititungamira. They would warn us of impending danger. Some of us we saw this happening. It’s not like we were told. For example, the first female comrades who went for military training stopped going for their monthly periods. Havaifanirwa kuyeresa zvombo. Chombo chainzi hachifanirwi kubatwa nemukadzi anogeza. That’s why vakamiswa kugeza.
There is also a bird called hungwe or chapungu. Shiri mbiri idzi dzine zvadzaitaura kwatiri. Chapungu chaitidzidzisa kuti kana muchifamba, chikachema chichiuya kwamuri, chichiita sechirikuda kukumharai mumusoro, hapatori nguva before an attack. This was a sign that you have entered enemy territory. Asi ukaona chapungu chichi tenderera chiri kumusoro, the direction it goes ndiko kuri kuenda varungu. Chikatenderera at one place, its telling you kuti varungu vakamira. All that Mao Tse Tung aizvitaura in his theories in this little red book. We had been told by Mao through his teachings that we were supposed to follow our culture in fighting the war. We were told kuti munoziva here kuti muri vanhu vatema and tsika dzenyu munodziziva here?
SM: Can you shed more light on this issue where you said the first female comrades stopped going for their monthly periods?
Cde Bethune: We had been told about it naMbuya Nehanda. Like I told you we took Mbuya Nehanda from Tsokoto to Chifombo before we started fighting the war. So she conducted some ritual with these female comrades. It was during that ritual that she told us that imi sevarwi kuti hondo ikasire kupera, hamufanirwi kusangana nevakadzi.
Hamufanirwi kudya chikafu chinobikwa nevakadzi vachiri kugeza. Munofanirwa kudya chikafu chinobikwa nevakwegura. Mbuya Nehanda also told us that hondo yedu was not supposed to take many years. She then said mukurwa kwamuchaita munhu wese mutema achava nekutambura.
Vakapedzisira nekuti gonzo nenzungu hazvingagarisane. Gonzo haringaregi kuruma nzungu. In simple terms, she was talking about varume nevakadzi during the war. She said kurumwa kwenzungu negonzo ndiko kuchaita hondo yenyu irebe. She told us that because female comrades were going to have the task to ferry war materials from Chifombo to Zambezi, they were going to stop going for their monthly periods.
Next week, Cde Bethune will narrate how they were deployed to the war front as the famous Group of 45 and the battles he fought. It’s a reverting read.
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