The untold story of ZAPU and the late VP Nkomo

LAST week, Comrade Bulukani Masola (born 13/05/1959) ,whose Chimurenga name was Cde Peter Scotch narrated how Rhodesian forces machine-gunned 226 ZIPRA comrades at Freedom Camp in Zambia during the liberation struggle. The details were gruesome and horrific.

In this interview with our Deputy Editor Munyaradzi Huni, Cde Peter Scotch narrates how they masterminded the attack of Mana Pools, Kariba and Chirundu in 1979 as the Lancaster House talks started. He narrates an incident where he went to Zimbabwe House in Lusaka, Zambia and found the late VP John Nkomo and Cde Arkim Ndlovu literally crying. He then goes on to speak frankly about the ZAPU shortcomings as they prepared to hold elections in 1980. Read on …


MH: Comrade, you spoke about the battle at Mana Pools. Can you briefly tell us about this battle?

Cde Peter Scotch: In 1979, the whole issue of negotiations started Lancaster House and so on. What we saw was that our role had to ensure that the negotiating team at Lancaster House had to speak from a position of strength and the only way that could happen was if in the field we were working. We then came up with a plan – Rodwell, who was the Northern Front commander had at his disposal a whole 6 000 guerilla detachment, well trained. There were also the four battalions that were ready for deployment. So we came up with a plan together with our comrades from the artillery department, where we decided to create a mobile artillery unit. Its task was to start by engaging the enemy on the Zambian side and where possible we would have an infantry on the Zimbabwean side to attack and overrun certain selected targets.

So the idea was that we start with Mana Pools. There was a garrison there. So we moved the artillery unit which was in three groups. We had a unit that was supposed to attack Kariba, another unit from the Zambian side which was supposed to attack Chirundu and another unit that was supposed to attack Mana Pools from the Zambian side. But then on the Zimbabwean side, we also would have another artillery unit with mortars and so on and then the infantry whose task was to move in and overrun the camp after the artillery attack. This was the first plan.

The reason why we wanted Kariba, Chirundu and Mana Pools was that we didn’t want any of them to provide reinforcements. After this, our next target was Livingstone. We wanted to do the same. But immediately after the attacks, the artillery had to quickly move back to the gorges. The idea was to move towards liberated zones. After attacking Livingstone, the idea was to go back to Kanyemba after creating more liberated zones.

So the first attack was at Mana Pools. This attack had to be well-coordinated among the infantry, artillery and communications. So my role as Northern Front communications commander in charge of signals was to make sure that I availed the necessary communications equipment and personnel. Coordination of this attack was of upmost importance. We did and it worked.

We hit the three areas – Mana Pools was overrun but unfortunately, Rodwell got injured. He was hit by a grenade and he lost his two fingers. He was sent to Soviet Union for further treatment. Richard Ngwenya became the acting Northern Front commander. Unfortunately also for us, this was the first time we had deployed a 122 mm artillery piece which forms the building bloc of a Katusha the famous Russian Katusha. We used that one for the first time in Kariba and even the Boers commented that the ZIPRA communist terrorist for the first time had used a weapon they had never used before. Interestingly, about 12 hours before zero hour, a report was made to the then chief of staff Maseko this is the operation we are going to conduct and this is the weapon we were going to use. He went to see Joshua Nkomo and briefed him this is what we were planning and the order was “withdraw those weapons.” We said we can’t because this was the appropriate weapon. Anything else, we were going to be killed. It’s like they wanted to expose us to the enemy by stopping us from using this weapon. So after the attack, the artillery units withdrew to the gorges, the infantry pressed on into the country and Mana Pools was totally overrun. We had a Russian adviser, some Colonel. The leadership called me and questioned me why we had conducted this operation. My answer was very simple – I told them “I am the Northern Front signals commander, I work with my Northern Front commander. If we decide on an operation, we execute it because from where we are we know this is the best strategy. If somebody thinks otherwise, you can take over. As long as I am the Northern Front signals commander, I will not hesitate to take decisions.”

MH: Can you clarify, who exactly was now questioning the decision to attack these targets?

Cde Peter Scotch: You see when this structure was put into place, our command, I think people didn’t realise the power they had given us. So this was like a wake-up call for them to say hey varume vava kufamba nehondo. We were now the buffer between the front and the commanders. We were only three in the Northern Front command. It was myself, Rodwell and another guy we used to call him Conary – he is now retired from the army. After realising our power, our Northern Front command together with the Sothern Front command were collapsed around mid-1979.

The regions were now sub-divided. This is where I ended in the region around Kariba where vana Asaf and Mangena had died. This is where we had also deployed our third and force battalions. By this time Cde Philip Valerio Sibanda was now the commander. Before this, he was the deputy in operations but now he was the commander and I was working with him. I was still in the signals department all the way up to ceasefire.

MH: In one of his books, Serving Secretly, the former intelligence boss during the Smith regime era, Ken Flower wrote that it was easy to fight ZIPRA because they operated in big numbers. What is your comment to this?

Cde Peter Scotch: No, no, no that wasn’t true. We had our guerilla formations where people moved in sections. We never operated in big numbers. The only big numbers was when we had our regular units the battalions but those never actually came into the country. Otherwise the formations that we adopted were your normal guerilla formations sections where necessary platoons and so on. The size of the units would be mission specific.

MH: You also indicated that at one point you gave instructions to ZIPRA comrades to fight together with ZANLA comrades?

Cde Peter Scotch: Ohh, yes. That was around mid-1978 when I was in Feira. Rodwell was in the country. He had crossed into Rhodesia. I had some guys coming from the Mt Darwin area. The issue was that they had come across ZANLA comrades and the question was, what do we do? The issue to me was very simple. I said you talk to the ZANLA commanders and fight together. There is no way you can fight ZANLA comrades because if you do that Smith will just come okukandai mumasaga. You can’t fight them. I never even referred this issue to Lusaka. I didn’t need to. Those are some of the decisions that people make in the field. I think those joint operations were conducted for a good three to four months. This happened until the comrades started fighting against each other. It was very sad. There are some ZANLA guys I have spoken to who remember those days.

MH: What caused the fights between ZIPRA and ZANLA? What were the differences?

Cde Peter Scotch: Very interesting question. You know Munyaradzi, by the time I finished training in the Soviet Union, I had three enemies. We went to Zambia in 1976 after incidents in Tanzania following the failure of ZIPA after fallouts in Morogoro and so on. The animosity between ZIPRA and ZANLA was very high. When some of the ZIPRA comrades told us about their experiences, it was very bad. They told us one of your enemies is Smith, but there is also “chim-chim” which was the code name for ZANLA. Then from there you went to the Soviet Union. The relations between the Chinese and the Soviets were really bad. Now by the time you start fighting, you have to fight ZANLA, you have to fight the Chinese and then Smith. To me the fighting ZANLA and the Chinese didn’t make sense at all.

To come back to your question I think this is typical of liberation movements. Everything filtered from the politicians and inevitably to the fighters. All the fights emanated from the politics. The formation of ZAPU and ZANU. You see the only thing that brings people together in any liberation movement, which by the way comprises of nationalists, intellectuals, potential revolutionaries who understand your Marxism and so on, peasants, workers, students, youths and so on. One way or the other that fight was inevitable. The only thing that brings these people together is the need to free their country. What happens after that is something else. It really depends then on who among these different people comes out tops after freeing the country. The direction that any country takes after a liberation war leans towards the dominant group. Before this happens, there is always some power play. So in our case it was inevitable. This was part of our training.

MH: There was also the issue of Zambia. In most of my interviews, the ZANLA comrades allege that Zambia was more close to ZAPU. In fact they say Zambia favoured ZAPU. What is your comment?

Cde Peter Scotch: Ummm, we found this there. Those are some of the things that happened before us. I would not be saying the truth if I say categorically why it was like that. I think there are other people who would be better positioned to speak about those issues.

MH: Now, let’s go back to your journey. From ceasefire what did you do?

Cde Peter Scotch: When I was coming home that was in April 1980, I was involved in an accident just before Chirundu Bridge. I think this was on my 21st birthday. I was then moved back to Makeni where we had our clinic. I was there for about two weeks. Later I was sent to Ndola where we had our tank brigade. There was Cde Devine, his real name was Clever Mtetwa – he was the head of this tank brigade. We had ten tanks, four mobile workshops and so on. There were five commanders there and I was attached there to become the sixth. My role was to service the communications equipment. I was there for six months. I later came home in September 1980. When I came I was with Cde Siziba from Ndola. Our train went up to Victoria Falls where the Zambians us over to their Zimbabwean counterparts who included Cde Makosi from ZIPRA. It was 34 wagons with all these tanks and so wherever we stopped people would rush to watch the train. We went up to Hwange and left the train there overnight. I went to Gwai Assembly Point and spent the night there. The following morning we got a platoon, got back into the train and were taken to Mpopoma Railway siding in Bulawayo. This journey took us about three days. After this I went to Bready Barracks where I saw the commander there Charles Gray. I told him that I am back but I want to quit. He said, no you need to go to KG6. I came to KG6 and the first thing I demanded was my back pay from Cde Thomas Ngwenya. I think the total pay was around 1 200 to 1 300.

I was given the money but was told to go and report to Tshinga Dube. I then asked for what? He then called Tshinga and he came. He told me that they had been waiting for me and they wanted me to join the army. I said no. They then called Jervan Maseko and he came. The three of them tried to convince me to join the army but I said no. I told them that I went to war and made a decision that when I come back home, I will not join the army but go back to school. They tried to persuade me but I had made up my mind. And so I left. I didn’t sign any documents. I just walked out through that Borrowdale gate and that was it. About two months later, I got a job at Backlays Bank as a Savings’ Clerk, but I didn’t like it. So in March 1981 I joined the Post and Telecommunications Company (PTC) as a trainee telecoms mechanic. In August 1982, I got a scholarship to go to Cuba for further studies.

MH: When I spoke to Cde Dumiso Dabengwa some time ago, he told me that soon after independence there were some issues that were not handled properly and some ZIPRA comrades were not happy leading to the dissent era. By choosing not to join the army, some people may think you were not happy about something?

Cde Peter Scotch: No, not at all. I think my case is very straightforward. Nobody forced me to go to war. At 17 years I decided on my own that I was going to join the liberation struggle. And I decided even before I went that when I am done liberating the country I was going to go back to school so that I could prepare myself to come back and be part of rebuilding the country. There was no issue of being disgruntled and not disgruntled.

However, there are two other things that reinforced my decision. The first one was, towards the Lancaster House there were some omissions and additions in terms of the people who then came into the country from the ZIPRA side as commanders. We saw people who were nowhere near the command, the front coming in as the Brigadier Generals and so on. The people who were really at the forefront being sidelined. I felt that was not on.

The second one, when the idea to go for elections as Patriotic Front failed and ZAPU and ZANU were going for elections separately, it was inevitable that there was going to be some friction. I knew that these problems would eventually permeate to us the soldiers. And Munyaradzi, the last thing I was prepared to face was a situation whereby I would find myself in combat with my colleagues from ZANLA. I knew this was going to happen I did not want to be part of that. I wanted to focus on rebuilding myself and the country. But these two reasons were just additions to a decision I had already made before joining the war. Others could have been disgruntled. Not me.

MH: As a former ZIPRA cadre, it would be amiss to finish this interview before asking you about the late Vice President Joshua Nkomo, who was the leader of ZAPU. Can you briefly describe to us this man who was your leader?

Cde Peter Scotch: Cde Joshua Nkomo and others came out of jail and came to Zambia when we were already at training. I remember Josh actually came to visit us during training. During that time everyone worshipped the old man. However, after my further training in the Soviet Union, I will be very honest with you, I then became very analytical in terms of viewing our leaders both military and political. For me, it was mostly their appreciation and support of what the military wing was saying. I told you that when we established the signals department, I used to liase a lot with people like Mangena, Zvafa my immediate commander and so on. These are the guys I believed in. These are the guys that I appreciated what they were doing for their country. These are the guys who really motivated us.

I felt that when Josh came to Zambia, I think there was now a bit of a disconnect between the political leaders and the military leaders which I think had a negative impact on the war effort. This to a point where even when Mangena died the speech that Josh gave was very lukewarm. This is there for the records you can go check. Remember I told you that the day we wanted to attack Mana Pools and other targets, Maseko actually told me that Josh wants you to withdraw those soldiers. I told him we can’t. It seemed like we were being curtailed by the leaders. For what reason, I don’t know. In other words, I had some of these reservations. I just felt the political leadership was not giving the military the necessary support.

Coming back into the country, on Independence Day, 18 April 1980, I was at Zimbabwe House in Lusaka. Present there were the late VP John Nkomo and Arkim Ndlovu. I had gone to Lusaka to get replenishments for our supplies. I found these two comrades crying.

MH: You mean literally crying?

Cde Peter Scotch: Yes, literally crying. They were crying that ZAPU had lost. My question to them was; did you think ZAPU would win? ZAPU was never going to win those elections.

MH: Why?

Cde Peter Scotch: You see, you could not divorce or underestimate first and foremost ethnicity in our politics. It was inevitable. I think people’s expectations there were misguided because they didn’t analyse our situation with sufficient depth in order to position themselves correctly. The way we campaigned we positioned ourselves as the disciplined forces. There was hardly anybody out there campaigning when the other parties were out there campaigning.

When you look at some of the finer details of the strategies and tactics, which should have come from the political leadership, you could see there was something lacking. This not necessarily because of an individual but collectively. I think people were more historical in their assumptions kuti we were ZAPU therefore. Not realising that there was a very big change in the political dynamics prior and after independence. People were caught napping. To a point where even after the elections, I think there was a possibility of Josh literally being the first President. He was offered and he rejected it. He then went for the Home Affairs portfolio.

MH: Are you saying it was a bad move by ZAPU not to accept the presidency at that time?

Cde Peter Scotch: These are my personal views. There was no doubt that Josh was the Father figure and probably a non-executive Father figure then would have had a positive effect. You see, when Josh became Minister of Home Affairs, they created room for conflict. Josh should have played a supervisory role where he was not directly involved in the running of any ministry. You see, this was inevitable because when people decided to go separate ways, not as Patriotic Front for the elections, the stage was set for some kind of power play games. The approach was supposed to be different and people needed to understand that. What could be the possible outcome? I feel that from the ZAPU side not enough attention was paid to all these issues. These are the views of a cadre. These are the views of a fighter. I went to war on my own and I played my part and I think I am entitled to my views. This doesn’t mean my views are the correct ones, but those are my views. I strongly feel that if Josh had accepted to be President, the rest of the people would not have felt threatened. You couldn’t have two bulls in one kraal and so one had to withdraw tactically for the sake of the bigger picture.

Now, coming back to your question – Josh as the commander in chief, when they came out of prison and found the war machinery running, there are some personality they probably didn’t agree with. Some of these comrades were put on the sidelines. So all in all, I think Josh had his positives and negatives. For me it’s not where you start. It’s where you end that matters most. You can be brilliant at the beginning, but if you sleep on the job in the middle, your ending leaves a lot to be desired. For political leaders that becomes very crucial because many people have trust in you.

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