The untold story from Mboroma: A commander’s view

LAST week, Comrade Gomba Midson Mupasu whose Chimurenga name was Cde Norman Bethune spoke about the meeting the ZANU leadership held about two hours after the death of chairman Chitepo in Lusaka, Zambia in 1975. It was a fascinating narration.

However, in the interview last week, Cde Bethune mixed up the dates when the Malta Conference was held and he also mixed up the dates when Cde Edison Sithole was abducted by the Smith regime. In his narration last week, Cde Bethune made it appear as if the Malta Conference on Rhodesia was held in 1975, yet the conference was held at the beginning of 1978. Also he made it appear as if Cde Sithole was abducted early 1975, yet official records show that Cde Edison Sithole was abducted from Ambassador Hotel on October 15, 1975. We sincerely apologise for failing to rectify this mix up before publication last week.

In this week’s interview, Cde Bethune tells our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike how Zambian soldiers gunned down some ZANU cadres at Mboroma. He narrates how after this shooting incident, ZANU moved its rear operations to Mozambique.

Read on. . .

SM: Last week you had narrated your story until the time when the Zambian government had sent one of their commanders to come to Nampundwe farm in Lusaka after the death of chairman Chitepo. What went on to happen?

Cde Bethune: Like I told you, Tongogara had told me not to leave the farm as the overall commander. His instruction was that if I was to be arrested, just like other ZANU leaders, I was supposed to be arrested together with all the comrades who were at the farm. So when this Zambian commander came, I asked him to tell me where he wanted to take me and my comrades. He said his instruction was just to take me away and I told him that without knowing where I was going, I was not going to leave the farm. I told him handiende kwandisingazive.

I told this commander that my commanders had briefed me about what was likely to happen after the death of Chitepo. We argued for some time as I insisted that he should tell me kuti tiri kuenda kupi. I told him that we already knew that the Zambian government was supporting ZAPU and that they were accusing ZANU of refusing to unite with ZAPU. We exchanged harsh words.

SM: The Zambian government was accusing ZANU of refusing to unite with ZAPU. . .

Cde Bethune: Yes, that is what the Zambian government was saying and we were saying the Zambian government had no right to speak about ZAPU and ZANU unity. That was none of their business. Why was the Zambian government so interested in the politics of Zimbabwe?

SM: You were living in Zambia. Zambia was hosting you.

Cde Bethune: So what? It was not yet the time for unity and you cannot force me to do what I don’t want. Zambia was our host and their role ended there.

SM: So what did you finally agree to do with this Zambian commander?

Cde Bethune: He later consulted his bosses and he was told to tell me the truth. That is when he told me that they were taking us to an area called Mboroma. I then asked him for what reason? What is the logic because wherever they wanted to take us, we were still on Zambian soil? He told me he just had instruction to take us to Mboroma.

I then agreed to leave. He then gave me permission to carry whatever I wanted. I was with Cde Kenny Ridzai, Cde Tsuro and many others. We carried all our food stuffs nemabhero embatya and our medicine. We left two tractors, nemagejo maviri, a planter, roam disk nechibage chatakanga tarima pa45 hectares chakanga chava pastage yekufurura. I am told that chibage ichi chazoibva chakadyiwa nemacomrades eZAPU because ndivo vakazoenda kunogara paNampundwe farm. That pained me a lot because my comrades had worked hard at the farm and we were removed just like that.

You know as I was speaking to this Zambian commander, Nikita Mangena from ZAPU was there together with other comrades from his party. They were also accusing us of refusing to unite. But our point was how can we talk of unity when the leadership of ZANU was being arrested? These comrades had been misinformed by the Zambian government to think we were stooges. Of course we later proved to them that we knew what we were doing. You know even ordinary army officers in the Zambian army told us that we were refusing to unite with ZAPU. We told them that while ZAPU was training its comrades, we were already in Rhodesia fighting the Smith regime. What happened after the death of chairman Chitepo pains me up to this day.

Kaunda was playing double standards. We suffered. The Zambian government was being used by the British government because they never fought for their country. It’s a shame. The Zambian government without any proof just arrested ZANU leaders. You know they took us to a place that was a jungle. Musango without any sanitation. That was Mboroma. Right in the middle of nowhere.

What even pains me more is that the white man who killed chairman Chitepo was staying in Zambia. He was staying with a certain white farmer. Why couldn’t their intelligence pick that up? Why didn’t they protect Chitepo and JZ Moyo? There was information to the effect that these two were being followed, what measures did the Zambian government take?

SM: How did you know that this white man is the one who killed chairman Chitepo?

Cde Bethune: We later got to know about this when this white man wrote some paper confessing. But all along we knew it was the Rhodesians. I can’t remember the exact name of this white man but he later wrote a book about it.

SM: Let’s go back to Mboroma. How was the situation?

Cde Bethune: Like I told you this was right in the middle of the bush. There were tents of different sizes. There were Zambian and ZIPRA comrades staying close to Mboroma. The demarcation between us and these Zambian and ZIPRA comrades was a fence. The Zambians knew that we had issues with the ZIPRA comrades and so they erected this fence so that we would not mix with the ZIPRA comrades.

SM: At Mboroma you were still the overall ZANU commander?

Cde Bethune: Yes, I was still the commander until we were repatriated in September 1975 to Mozambique.

SM: So you were not arrested as what happened to the other ZANU leaders?

Cde Bethune: This was an arrest of some sort. Why did they take us from Nampundwe farm to Mboroma which was in the middle of the bush? This was some house arrest. At Mboroma we continued with our physical fitness exercises which included a road run. Because of the tension that was between ZAPU and ZANU, some of my comrades vakanga vatogadzira some spears as they anticipated a clash with the ZAPU comrades. I want to tell you that during this time, takanga tisingawonani nanasahwira vedu ava veZIPRA. The situation between us was very, very tense.

SM: How long were you at Mboroma?

Cde Bethune: From March up to September 1975.

SM: We heard that while at Mboroma, there were clashes that left some ZANU comrades dead. Tell us more about this.

Cde Bethune: Like I have been saying, the Zambian government kept on accusing us of refusing to unite with ZAPU. We told them kuti you talk about unity nevana vemunhu maparents acho ari mujeri. Does that make sense? Now what triggered the clashes you are talking about was that my comrades got irritated by these continuous allegations by the Zambian government. They told the Zambian soldiers at Mboroma that if they continued talking about unity, tinokurovai. So many vulgar words were exchanged. Macomrades angu because takanga takawanda, nehasha they pushed the demarcation fence ikawira pasi. When the fence fell, the Zambian soldiers shot in the air as warning shots. I was standing at the far right side ordering my comrades to stop advancing towards the Zambian soldiers. They kept on advancing and the Zambian soldiers opened fire, killed five of my comrades – three male and two female comrades. After this shooting, my comrades vakabva vaita wild, kupenga chaiko. I later calmed them down. We later moved about 2km from Mboroma and found another place to stay.

We had gotten information that some ZAPU comrades who were with the Zambian soldiers at Mboroma wanted to poison our food. Like I told you there was Nikita Mangena and Mazinyane, I can’t remember his Chimurenga name. I remember during this incident, this Mazinyane akanga akuda kubata one of my comrades anonzi Marble. She is still alive this Marbel. Ndiye aiwacha mbatya dzangu naNyemwererai. They even captured one of our female comrades who spoke Ndebele. We demanded that this female comrade should be brought back to us but all our efforts were in vain.

SM: As overall commander, don’t you think you failed to lead your comrades, leading to the shootings?

Cde Bethune: I don’t think I failed. I tried my best but the provocation was just too much and my comrades had had enough. If I had a gun that day, I would have shot the Zambian soldiers.

SM: When they started shooting at your comrades, what did you do?

Cde Bethune: Ndaigoita sei? I actually took cover. We all didn’t have guns.

SM: Do you know the names of the comrades who were killed?

Cde Bethune: There was Farai, Pedzesai, Tsitsi. I can’t remember the names of the other two male comrades. Pedzesai was one of the senior female comrades. She was in the same generation with Cde Dadirai.

SM: So what did you do to these five dead comrades?

Cde Bethune: We had an ambulance, a VW that was being driven by Cde Gwauya. So these bodies were taken to Kabwe mortuary. I think it was about 100km from where we were. They were later buried at Kabwe cemetery. Before this, Ndabaningi Sithole was told about these shootings and we were told by those who were there that he refused to see the dead comrades, saying he was rushing to America where one of his daughters was not well. As comrades zvakatibata zvikuru. I briefed my comrades about this and vakarwadziwa about the decision that Sithole had taken.

You know it started as a joke kuti “pasi naSithole” and it later became a reality. This got to Mgagao where the Mgagao declaration disowning Sithole was written.

SM: As overall commander, were you not the one who planted this anti-Sithole sentiment into the people?

Cde Bethune: Look, five comrades had died and he decided to go see his daughter. What kind of a leader was he?

SM: But Cde Bethune, he had already bought a ticket?

Cde Bethune: Surely, he could change his bookings. He couldn’t even come to see me at Mboroma.

SM: After this shooting incident, did you try to engage the Zambian soldiers?

Cde Bethune: No, not even. Hatina kuzomboita hukama. Then later William Ndangana and Richard Hove came to Mboroma but we told them kuti dzokerai kuLusaka. Through these two comrades we established a link with the Lusaka office where Cde Muzenda was now in charge.

When we moved about 2km away, they didn’t follow. The OAU later got wind of what had happened and they came to investigate. The Zambian government killed innocent people and they should be answerable.

You know if as ZANU we were not strong, what happened in Angola could have happened in Zimbabwe. You know in Angola, UNITA under Savimbi is the one that had done all the donkey work but some people were bribed at the last minute and MPLA got into power. That is why Savimbi did what he did after the independence of Angola.

I am very glad that in Zimbabwe we later had the Unity Accord. Very glad because it brought peace. But some people should not think we don’t see what’s happening.

SM: From Mboroma where did you go?

Cde Bethune: We were taken to the Zambian International Airport from where we were flown to Chingodzi which was in Tete province in Mozambique. The OAU organised our repatriation.

SM: Why were you moving to Mozambique?

Cde Bethune: Hukama hwakanga husisiri right. The Front Line States decided that we should move to Mozambique. In Mozambique, Samora Machel welcomed us and ZANU felt at home. Samora Machel told his people through the radio that “hondo yeZimbabwe ihondo yedu. We are dying together.”

Cde Rex Nhongo and Cde Elias Hondo had already laid the ground for us to settle well in Mozambique. They had already sent word to comrades at the war front that they were no longer supposed to go to Zambia but were supposed to go to our base called Chitima in Mozambique. From Chitima there was another base called Shangara. These were the two bases kwaisvikira macomrades during the first years in Mozambique.

In Mozambique I was assigned to be the commander at Battaliao Base in Tete province. By this time, thousands of recruits were joining the liberation struggle and most of them passed through this base. Some of the comrades who were injured at the war front received treatment at Battaliao.

Cde Bethune’s exploits in Mozambique are well documented. He was the commander at Chimoio Camp when Rhodesian forces massacred thousands of people. Last year we published his exploits in Mozambique and his heart-rending story was well received. This is the last instalment from his interview which lasted about 17 hours.

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