LAST week, Cde John Munodawafa Gwitira whose Chimurenga name was Cde Kenneth Gwindingwi (KG) narrated how he grew up in Nyanyadzi and later joined the liberation struggle in 1970. He narrated how he became the first provincial commander for Chaminuka Sector.
In this interview with our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike, Cde Gwindingwi narrates his first battle, his war strategies and beliefs. Without mincing his words, he talks about the sellouts in Mutoko and Murehwa and how they dealt with such people. “We would shoot to kill,” he says. Read on …
SM: Cde KG, let’s talk a bit about the early days of the liberation struggle. What was your strategy as the commander?
Cde Gwindingwi: The first strategy was to make sure that we travelled in small groups of about three to five except when we were going to take weapons. We would also make sure that taifamba during the night from Mukumbura to Chesa, to Madziva and other areas. Before going to any area, we would first send comrades for reconnaissance. These comrades would go appearing like ordinary villagers but hiding weapons, especially pistols under their clothes. These comrades knew who our contacts were in all the villagers and they would go there to source for information. They would be assisted by people like Cde Chinodakufa vatakanga tapihwa nemasvikiro.
SM: You have spoken about Cde Chinodakufa quite a number of times. When I interviewed him, he said he was in Zapu not Zanu during these days. So how did you work with him as you were Zanla and not Zipra?
Cde Gwindingwi: Yes, he was Zapu but they had discovered that Zapu kwaingova kutaura basi. Too much politics. I told you earlier on that Zanu was more militant than Zapu. This was felt even on the ground and when the people saw us with guns, it was easy for them to work with us. They discovered that we were not all about talking only. We really wanted to fight the war. These people were not loyal to Zapu. They were loyal to the war and to the people of Zimbabwe.
Our other immediate task was to politicise the people. We were telling that tauya kuzotora nyika. You know at one time Chief Chiweshe and others told us that “yes, we hear what you are saying that you want to fight the war, but pfuti dzenyu tudiki pane dzemabhunu. So vanhu varikutya kuti munozogona here to fight these heavy armed Rhodesian forces.”
These people told us that the Rhodesian forces had big guns, had vehicles and helicopters. You know we had to demonstrate that we could fight the Rhodesian soldiers by shooting mombe dzavo. We wanted to show them kuti pfuti inesimba. Takarova mombe dzavo dzikabova vakati, hiiii, hiii mirai mirai chiregai kudaro munotipedzera mombe. Tikati ndiro simba repfuti iri. Murungu haamiri. The povho started believing in us. Also, the spirit mediums in the areas were very powerful and they told the people that we were going to fight and win the war. That is when many chiefs told their people kuti chiendai kuhondo. That’s when we got quite a number of recruits.
SM: What would you say were some of the challenges you faced during these early days?
Cde Gwindingwi: The normal challenges of guerilla warfare. Sometimes there was no food and sometimes the Rhodesian forces were in full force and all over the place. The Rhodesian forces would deploy their people at all the points that they knew we could go to, to look for food. So we had to make sure we liberated these points using the bullet otherwise taifa nenzara. Make the Rhodesian forces run away and kill them. Take your food and go back kwamunogara. We also had problems kutsvaga mbatya but we soon discovered that at each farm shop, there were clothes that the white farmers sold to their black workers. We would break into these shops and povho would help us to carry clothes and food kuenda musango. Sometimes once we got the food, we would set the shop on fire. The white farmer would hear some of his workers screaming for help isu tarova pasi kare. Sometimes we would set the shop on fire and wait for the whiteman to come out of his house. During these days, some of the white farmers vaifunga tiri kutamba not knowing taitopfura to kill. When they discovered that we were shooting to kill, they were now not coming out of their houses even if they could hear their workers screaming.
SM: These were early days of the struggle. Didn’t you face challenges of sellouts because many people still thought the white man was superior?
Cde Gwindingwi: There were many sellouts but we were assisted nepovho. But we had to verify the accusations because there were people with grudges in these villages and they would want to settle their scores using us. Vanhu vainyengerana vakadzi and so on and they would then lie to us that so and so is a sellout.
SM: Did you verify always?
Cde Gwindingwi: Yes, we did but I can comfortably say as the war went on throughout the country, sometimes there was no verification. Some people died for nothing. Ndiyo inotaurwa iya kuti collateral damage. There was nothing we could do. That’s why war is an evil thing. I see vanhu vachitukana and so on but hondo siyanai nazvo. Hondo chinhu chakashata. It’s evil.
SM: Why do you say that?
Cde Gwindingwi: War is evil because it kills innocent people. I hear some people saying endai munosungirira nyika kwamakaisunungura tonoisunungura, I just say, oohhh, these people, shame stereki. Shavi rehurombo chairo. Do these people know what they would be saying? I don’t think so.
SM: You obviously fought in many battles, but tell us one battle that you vividly remember?
Cde Gwindingwi: I remember one of the first battles. We were seated paMupfubve. The spirit mediums had warned us that mabhunu awuya akawungana in this area. We were told that pane munhu akanga abatwa kwataitora chikafu. Akanga ari mupositori. Mupositori uya then came nemabhunu. I discovered that mabbhunu ari kuuya ndikaridza yainge pito kumutsa vanhu. Some people actually said muri kutimutsirei husiku huno. I said comrades lets wake up and leave this place. Some of the comrades said they were tired of moving from one place to the other. They said handiti tine pfuti here, kana vakasvika pano tinorwa navo. As we were talking as commanders, it was myself, Josiah Tungamirai, Thomas Nhari and Badza. Teddy who was on guard was listening to music using earphones. I remember he was listening to the song which something like this; “Have you ever seen the rain coming down…” Mabhunu arikuuya. At one point he just stopped listening to the music because he had realised that mabhunu akanga ava kutosvika. He just threw away his earphones and ran towards us. The Rhodesian soldiers quickly took cover. Teddy akasvika patiri achifemereka. “Comrade, mabhunu!” Ndikati varipi zvikanzi avo vahwanda apo. That’s when people realised we were in trouble. I tell you there was pandemonium.
Pfuti dzakabva dzatanga kurira. We took positions firing back and in no time helicopters came with search lights. The helicopters were also dropping more ground force. This was a fierce battle.
SM: As the commander when the fighting started, what did you tell your comrades?
Cde Gwindingwi: There was no need to tell anyone anything. There was no time for all that. Everybody knew we had to fight or we were going to die. That is why it was called guerilla warfare. You don’t wait for orders dzekuti “fire!” No. Kutamba kuya kudedzera. Uri kuti chiiko iwe comrade? Ndezve mumafilm zviya zvekuti “fire!” Iwewe kana zvatodaro, I told you your gun is your God. Wotoridza kwawawona enemy ikoko. You fire and retreat. Bullets will be flying all over the place. You don’t have to be told to fight. Unofa wakamirira instruction. Fire the bloody gun. So the helicopters were our big problem. Fortunately I had an LMG, Light Machine Gun inomira nemakumbo. We had been trained how to hit an aircraft using the LMG. I lied down kwakusimudza pfuti iya yakatarisa mudenga. You know helicopter inomira mudenga. I could see the gun man in the helicopter from my position. He was firing at me but missing. I fired back ndichibva ndamurova. Dambu ndamurova achibva arembera muhelicopter. Pilot akaona kuti gunman arohwa and he flew away. That’s when we got time to retreat. We lost one comrades during this battle, Cde Mapudege. We never saw him again. Whenever we were attacked, we knew our gathering point where we would meet after the battle.
SM: How would you choose these gathering points?
Cde Gwindingwi: We would choose a place a bit far away from the battle ground. A place that we thought would be safe. Sometimes we would have two gathering points. We would survey these areas first. We always made sure that we surveyed our surroundings so that we could map escape routes and so on. Mukasadaro maibatwa sehwiza. After this battle we then moved to Mutoko area and hey, there were many sellouts in that area. Even kwaMurehwa, many sellouts.
SM: What would you do to this sellouts?
Cde Gwindingwi: There were some people that we realised were determined to hand us over to the Rhodesian forces for their own benefit. These people tairidzira pfuti. Shoot him. There were some people who were convinced that munhu mutema haakundi murunguba. There were such people. Even today variko such people. We would shoot and kill such people. Sometimes we would shoot such people right in front of all the villagers to demonstrate to people that we were not joking. After this some of the sellouts vaitiza kutomboenda kutawindi. There were many sellouts and like I told you, this battle where we lost Cde Mapudenge, we were sold out. After this battle, the Rhodesian forces realised that we were serious about fighting the war and povho in that area was tormented. I remember that is when Jack Madungwe was killed. Cuthbert Marufu had to run away. When the Rhodesia soldiers discovered that there were many comrades around Mutoko and Murehwa, they dispatched many sellouts. They would give these sellouts money to inform them about our whereabouts. You know sometimes I say vanhu vatema tiri mapenzi. Some of these sellouts we killed, ainge asina kana pfuti. Just kabanga and nothing else. Kufira mahara.
SM: After such a battle when you were resting at your bases, what would you talk about?
Cde Gwindingwi: All the time, we would be talking about war. Giving each other encouragement to continue fighting. We would also talk about our strategies. Sometimes we would argue among ourselves. Debating over issues until we agreed on one position. Of course sometimes we would talk about zvekumusha and laugh about it. Kunyepera kufara.
SM: As the commander, didn’t you sometimes send your comrades kunokutsvagirai vasikana?
Cde Gwindingwi: You would die. I can tell you, you would die. Hondo ikauya, yainanga pauri.
SM: How and why?
Cde Gwindingwi: Hapeno, but you would die. Maybe mudzimu. But later when the war was all over the country, yes, people were now womanising. I also can tell you that many vakaita zvevasikana died. Many causalities. During these early years, you could not womanise if you wanted to live. People died.
SM: Can you briefly tell us some of the war strategies that you believed in?
Cde Gwindingwi: I used to say, whenever someone fired at you, you were supposed to quickly fire back otherwise you would develop cold blood. Also, I believed that we were supposed on most of occasions supposed to be the attackers and not the other way around. Draw the first blood even if you were not sure of hitting someone. Fire first so that the enemy knows that usauye kuno kune zvikara.
You know after four months at the war front, when the other comrades later joined us, we were getting tired. You can ask Cde Bethune, he will tell you what I am talking about. When the reinforcements came, we were so, so happy. Takanga taneta.
These comrades who joined us were really dying for some action. I remember there was Jeff Ridzano, Sam Chawanda and so on. After seeing us alive they realized that they could also fight and hit mabhunu. When they arrived, there were so high on morale that they would sometimes dance and sing as if they had come to a party. This also boosted our morale. That is when we realised the value of numbers. The other reinforcement came after about nine months. I think by this time, trained comrades we were now around 400. You know after a year of combat as Zanla we declared victory. We could feel that we were going to win the war.
SM: How did you know that?
Cde Gwindingwi: We could see kuti yasvika panyuturu. Hondo kusvika paya pekuti mava kuzivana neenemy. By this time, the Rhodesian forces knew that we were serious and they would not just wander around. We also knew kuti tikadai uku kune mabhunu. Takanga tisisa hwandirane. We were now sizing each other. We were now waiting for each other to make mistakes. The Rhodesian forces knew kuti umm, group riri uku mukangoendako vamwe venyu havadzoki. You know we got to a point where the Rhodesia forces knew that there was comrade KG. They even dropped pamphlets from helicopters with our pictures. Mabhunu akanga asingaite zvekutamba. They went all the way to Nyanyadzi to get my pictures. They would put our pictures and a prize. So much money for the capture of KG. I think the highest prize was put on the capture of James Bond. He was a top marksman. Look ndairidza pfuti but Bond akanga ari pamberi pedu. James Bond was my junior but munhu wese aingoti eehh, eehh, iwe mupfana. Even inini commander wako, he would say mupfana. Ndaingodaira. Munhu wese akanga ari mupfana wake. Sometimes kana kusina hondo he would put on a very nice suit yakatorwa kuvarungu. Very smart right in the middle of the bush. Kwanzi ndizvo zvandinoda kuita ndava Harare.
Unfortunately he later died. I think we made a mistake of exposing Bond to the war for too long. He was at the war front for too long. We should have sent him back to the rear kuti ambozorora.
SM: These white Rhodesian soldiers you were fighting against, were they courageous soldiers?
Cde Gwindingwi: Some of them were very courageous. But the Portuguese soldiers in Mozambique were more courageous. Sometimes they would fight vakadhakwa but you would feel their presence. Even after ambushing them, sometimes you would end up retreating. You know at one time we ambushed them and killed quite a number of them kukasara about seven of them. Those guys put up a strong fight. You could see them spinning around taking cover. They fought until we realised that we were now losing some of our comrades. We had to retreat.
Next week, Cde KG continues narrating his fascinating story. As the commander he got involved in many battles at the war front. Make sure you get your copy of The Sunday Mail to hear how Cde KG terrorized Rhodesian forces.
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