COMRADE John Munodawafa Gwitira whose Chimurenga name was Cde Kenneth Gwindingwi (KG in short) was born at Nyanyadzi Clinic on 17 October 1949. He went Nyanyadzi Primary School up to Standard 4 proceeding to Mutambara Mission for Standard 5 and 6. He then went to Mt Selinda to do Form 1 and 2. While in form 2 in 1964, his father was arrested and put under restriction at Hwahwa Prison where the young John got his first political orientation during visits to see his father.
After causing political havoc at Chikore Secondary School and at Chibhero Agricultural Training College, Cde Gwindingwi was expelled and he decided to join the liberation struggle in 1970. During training at Mgagao in Tanzania, he was promoted to become a detachment commander. He also became a member of General Staff. On deployment, he became the first provincial commander for Chaminuka Sector while Cde Rex Nhongo was commander for Nehanda Sector.
Without mincing his words, Cde Gwindingwi tells our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike that “hondo tairova kwete mbichana.” He earned himself the nickname “Cde KG” and so this is Commander KG speaking. Read on …
SM: Tell us briefly about your background before you joined the liberation struggle?
Cde Gwindingwi: During the early 1960s, my father was already involved in politics under Zanu and by this time, I was a Zanu youth. I remember there was conflict between Zanu and Zapu during these days. At Mt Selinda, it was predominantly Zanu because this is where Ndabaningi Sithole used to stay. We were with people like Arthur Maramba, who later commandeered the famous Chinhoyi 7 Group. Arthur was however older than me and he was into carpentry. So we used to go to Hwahwa to see our father, the whole family. We would also meet other families from Nyanyadzi whose parents were also at Hwahwa. I remember the Mutezo family, Gwinya family, Nkomo family, Mugidho family, Dhliwayo family and others. So there were many families that came from Nyanyadzi to Hwahwa.
SM: Why were so many people from Nyanyadzi in prison?
Cde Gwindingwi: What caused the arrest of so many people was the attack of Upholster in Chimanimani by the Ndangana Group. That group was carried to Chimanimani nababamunini vangu, Solomon Gwitira. They actually used my father’s vehicle to go and drop these comrades.
SM: Who are some of the comrades who were in this group?
Cde Gwindingwi: I don’t think I can remember all of them but I know there was Ndangana, Dhlamini, Mlambo, Master and Sipho. Sipho is still alive. This group was later called the Crocodile Gang. If you want to know more about how this group operated, one of the comrades from that group, Sipho is still alive. I think he is in Chinhoyi. If you ask Cde Marashwa in Chinhoyi, they will direct you to him. Sipho was physically there. Although I was young, I knew about this group because my father was actively involved in politics. He was chairman of Zanu in Manicaland at that time. That is why he was arrested and put under restriction. So we grew up in that politically charged environment.
After the attack by the Crocodile Gang, mabhunu akawuya kuNyanyadzi and they caused serious havoc. They arrested Mutezo, babamunini Solomon and others. These comrades were saved by Cde Herbert Chitepo who was a barrister by that time. He would go around defending black politicians whenever they were arrested. Mabhunu akaita kunge vari kutora mhuka. From Nyanyadzi to Changadzi river, vakanga vari vanhu vakokorodzwa nemabhunu. They thought they could arrest some members of the Crocodile Gang. Dhlamini and Mlambo had crossed into Mozambique. They were arrested when they came back into Rhodesia thinking that the Smith regime could not identify them. They are the ones who were later executed. Ndangana sneaked and escaped to Malawi. At that time there was Kamuzu Banda as President in Malawi and he used to support Zanu a lot. That’s how Ndangana escaped to Malawi. He later went to Zambia where he was taken together with other comrades that include Cde Joseph Khumalo and went for military training in Ghana. They became the first group to receive military training under Zanu.
SM: So when did you finally decide to join the liberation struggle yourself?
Cde Gwindingwi: I went to Chikore Secondary School. It’s a sister school to Mt Selinda which only had Form one and two. So I went to Chikore to do my Form three and four. I was put in class 3A because ndairova chikoro kwete mbichana. At Chikore, Zapu was dominating but we went on a campaign to recruit people to Zanu. During this time, there were sharp differences between Zapu and Zanu but we managed to convince many people to join Zanu. Zanu was more dynamic. It was more revolutionary. Ndabaningi Sithole was really firebrand at that time.
SM: But we are told that during this time, Zanu was being accused of being too elitist?
Cde Gwindingwi: Yeah, that’s true there were those accusations but those were just perceptions. Zanu was more militant and this excited many people.
SM: You were at school yet it seems you were focusing too much on politics?
Cde Gwindingwi: Life was not that simple. You see mabhunu anga aine cruelty yakashata stereki. You know on our way to Chikore coming from home, we would pass through one farm owned by some white farmer called Rice. He could stop our bus anytime and harass us, taking our belongings. There was a rule that no one was allowed to cross his farm on foot. If you did, waichiona naRice. Aiva nemazibhiza nemazimbwa akakura. Waitobatwa chete. Wairohwa kwete zvekutambiswaba. There was a lot of cruelty all over.
From that time, there were many people from Nyanyadzi who were thrown into mass graves that were identified a few years ago. Nyanyadzi Police camp was a centre of cruelty. Paiva nemajoni aipenga kwete mbichana. I remember paiva nemurungu ainzi Juden. Ummm, that man was cruel. I can’t even describe his cruelty. He was terribly cruel. At one time he came to our homestead. My father was fixing our ceiling. He shouted; “Samson, come down!” My father asked him; “What do you want?” My father had gone to school so he could speak English. Juden then said; “I don’t care about you. Why are you talking my language? I said come down!” My father came down the ladder. As he got to the ground, he was clapped. “What the hell do you think you are doing?” my father asked in anger. Inini naJoshua takanga tatotora matombo kuda kumutema.
There was no reason for him to beat my father, but he thought he could get away with it. He discovered that we were serious about attacking him and he left. We had received political orientation since the days when our father was at Hwahwa. You know when my father was at Hwahwa, that’s when I got to know President Mugabe. My father was a restrictee at Hwahwa while President Mugabe was a detainee. Those under restriction were a bit free than those who were under detention. Up to now when President Mugabe sees me he says “John is that you?” The next time I met him was in Maputo. He was surprised to see me in Maputo.
So back to Chikore. While at Chikore, I was then expelled from school in 1966 when I was in Form Four.
SM: Why were you expelled from school?
Cde Gwindingwi: Musikanzwa chaiyo yekutukana nemateacher. I could see that some of the teachers, white teachers, were sellouts. There was one missionary called Markham, uumm, that man was terrible. Akanga akandimarker because of politics. Kungondiona, “wakadhakwa iwe.” I would say “no handina kudhakwa.” He would say, “mira negumbo rimwe tione.” He would then rush to the principal to report me. That’s how I was expelled. I started corresponding O-Level from home. January 1967 that’s when I wrote my O level examinations and passed. I then applied to go to Chibhero Agricultural College because I wanted to be a land development officer which was the highest position for a black person at that time.
So I went to Chibhero for the interview in 1968 and passed. I went with a number of comrades including Benjamin Madondo, he is in Mutare now. There was also Flavian Charumbira and others. While at Chibheero I continued my involvement in politics. Taigara takamutsana nemabhunu because apa pakanga pane mabhunu akawanda. My rage and hatred of these mabhunu continued growing because they continued their cruelty.
During my second year around 1969 to 1970, I was expelled again from Chibhero. I remember Robbie Mupawose was the first black lecturer at Chibhero. When I was expelled he cried but I told him not to worry because I had made my mind to join the liberation struggle. I told Robbie that I was going to join the liberation struggle. I said enough was enough. And mabhunu akanga ava kuziva kuti this one hot head. I was expelled together with Joel Ngorima and Thembinkosi Khumalo who was Zapu. I told these comrades that I was going to join the liberation struggle.
I first went back to Nyanyadzi. Very few people knew that I had been expelled from Chibhero. So a day before the opening of the next term, I think it was the last day of September 1970, I left. I just took my small bag with a few belongings and left. I crossed Nyanyadzi river and waited for a truck that took me to Mutare. I got into a train to Salisbury. I then went to Cold Comfort where I was given lots of newspapers because I was told that comrades outside the country vaida kuverenga news from home so that they could understand what the Smith regime was up to. The following day, I got into a train to Bulawayo. From Bulawayo I went to Tekwani to see my brother Joshua. Ndiko kwaaidzidza. I had written a letter asking him to survey the route I could use from Tekwani to Francistown in Botswana. They had done that and I crossed into Botswana. I got to Francistown and saw Thomas Deka. I had been given all the directions and contacts while in Salisbury. I gave Deka the newspapers I had got at Cold Comfort. This is where I was given the name Kenneth Gwindingwi. That day the name John Gwitira died. All my school certificated varnished ipapo. I had to reclaim my certificates after independence. So from this time ndakabva ndatoita gandanga straight.
SM: So after becoming this gandanga what happened next?
Cde Gwindingwi: Deka then told me that Cde Phibian Shonhiwa was coming to take me the next day. When Shonhiwa came, I immediately remembered him from the days we would go to Hwahwa. He then said to me “eeh, eeh, iwe mupfana zvekuda kuziva vanhu siyana nazvo.” Of course we later spoke and I told him that I wanted to go for military training. The system in Botswana at that time was that the safest place to be kept was in prison. By this time, Botswana didn’t have an army or police and so mabhunu from Rhodesia would cross into Botswana patrolling willy-nilly. So it was very dangerous moving around in Francistown. Many of our comrades were actually kidnapped in Francistown, driven towards the Rhodesian border and killed.
So Shonhiwa took me to one of the prisons in Francistown. While in this prison, I discovered that the majority of the people there were from Zapu and Frelimo. After about a week, Shonhiwa came and took me. He told me that he had bought me a ticket to fly to Lusaka. So I flew to Lusaka and formally joined the liberation struggle.
SM: Who are some of the comrades you met in Lusaka?
Cde Gwindingwi: I met Cde Chihota and Cde Mutambanengwi. They were waiting for me at the airport. They took me to Chitepo’s house. On arrival I was interrogated why I wanted to join the struggle and so on. Later I was transferred to Tongogara’s house. After three months, we were taken to Tanzania where we got our military training. This was in 1970. We were first taken to Intumbi. I remember I was with some comrades including Abel Sibanda, Themba and many others. Cde Tongo later came. Cde Chigohwe was in charge of security and when he heard that I was coming from Chibheero College, he said regai ndimbonyatso vheta mupfana uyu. He could not understand how one could leave Chibhero College to join the liberation struggle. He was always saying “kuhondo ndekwevanhu vasina kufunda.” I almost got messed up here but my visits to Hwahwa saved me because I knew quite a number of comrades from that time. I told Chigohwe my history and later he understood. I remember I also met Cde Godfrey Savanhu. During this time, there were very few recruits.
I was shocked when I arrived at Intumbi. You see I was expecting to see properly dressed soldiers takasviko pihwa makhakhi. I said what is this? Cde Tongo had already returned to Lusaka. I couldn’t understand what was going on. Intumbi was a former German mine which had been abandoned in 1947. So the buildings where dilapidated. I was given two uniforms and the first training was to make us run seven kilometres to and from. During the first days, ndakamborwadziwa. Ndakasvuuka kwete mbichana. Some of our instructors were Chinese.
SM: What was the main role of these Chinese instructors?
Cde Gwindingwi: They taught us political orientation. They believed that you should not hold the gun before you know what you are going to use it for. So they would pump into our heads all the teachings by Mao. This was a complete transformation. We were asked to talk about our grievances and later we were taught how to overcome these grievances. We were told that the only way was to fight the war and that we were our own liberators. We were taught how the Chinese fought their war.
SM: What are some of the lessons you learnt that you still remember?
Cde Gwindingwi: We were taught that this was a people’s war. This was a war for the people and not for us. Maybe that’s when after independence genuine war veterans never thought of grabbing power. We understood that this was a people’s war. We were fighting for the people. There was a very popular quote which said; “People and the people alone are the makers of history.” So after independence we were not surprised at all. We said, “ndivo vanhu vacho ava, ngavachivhota.” That’s why in 1980, many war veterans went and campaigned for other people, because people are the makers of history. It’s unfortunate that some in the political leadership, were hypocrites, they then told povho that vanhu ava vakatopedza basa ravo rekurwira nyika. They said they can’t rule because havana kufunda. During the 1980s, it was a big struggle for many war veterans to get into government and party structures because the people had been told that we could not rule because takanga tisina kufunda. It was as if takanga tine kasmell kataiva nako. But this was the aftermath of the war. Let’s go back to the war.
SM: Yes, indeed let’s go back to your journey. You will have the opportunity to speak about the aftermath later.
Cde Gwindingwi: So after political orientation, that’s when we were allowed to carry a gun. We were taught how to dismantle and assemble different types of guns. We were required to know different guns the way we know our fingers. We were taught to dismantle and assemble the guns takatsinzinya.
We were told that during war, your dearest and nearest companion was the gun. So you must respect your gun. Your maximum defence is your gun. You have to know kuti pfuti is next to your God. You should never lose your gun. Never, never, ever. The more you know your gun, the more chances you have to win the war. Later we were taught how to shoot to kill. From Intumbi we later went to Mgagao. While at Mgagao at a later stage that’s when we were trained to be instructors. Very few of us. We were trained to be commanders of the war. I was very lucky to be a commander from the word go. Vana comrade Bethune I was their commander. Cde Joseph Khumalo had gone to war earlier but when I went to the front, I became his commander. The training at Mgagao was to perfect us. To know how to shot to kill moving objects. How to cross flooded rivers and many obstacles. We were about 28 during this training. Others joined us at Mgagao and when I left I left alone. I was now a member of the General Staff and I was already a detachment commander. We arrived at Mgagao in 1971 and I left the camp around the end of that year.
SM: Who are some of the comrades you trained with?
Cde Gwindingwi: I can’t remember all the comrades, but I remember there was Cde Dzino, Kenny Ridzai who I later operated with at the war front for a long time and others. After training, ndakunzwa kuti ndaibva, I was ready for war. I was ready for bush life. That’s why when we were deployed in Mt Darwin during the early days, many people thought taiva nemushonga wekunyangarika. Taiva tisina mushonga but we were just following war tactics we had been taught. The hit and run concept. Whereas the Smith forces were used to regular warfare of marching towards the enemy. During those early days taifamba tiri about three, or four or five only. Like I told you, Kenny Ridzai was my assistant for about two and half year kufront.
SM: You said from Mgagao you were already a member of General Staff. How were you promoted?
Cde Gwindingwi: My performance during training. I was enjoying my training and even ndaenda kuhondo kwacho, tairova hondo kwete mbichana. You see mabhunu were ready for us and so we had to be very ready for them. The good thing with Rhodesian soldiers were that they would sort of announce that they were coming. They did this to instil fear, but because this was a people’s war povho would have told us already that mabhunu are gathering kwakati. We could not do without povho, especially vana mujibha nanachimbwido. That’s why today if I met some who were vana mujibha vangu, it hurts me kuti hapana kana zvavakazomboitirwawo. Those comrades worked. I would actually say they worked more than me and you know why? They didn’t have a gun to repulse. I had a gun and had receive military training so I could easily repulse the enemy by firing but vanamujiba didn’t have all this. So I can say they were more brave than me if you look at it closely. Inini I could not be captured by anyone. The best they could do was to shoot me, but never capture me. I could protect myself but not vanamujibha.
The other tactic was when someone fires at you, by the time you get on the ground to take cover you must have fired back kwazvabva. The idea was to put fear into whoever would have fired the gun. Put fear into your enemy and he will run. When he is running, he becomes easy target. I could use all guns from the AK 47 up to a bazooka. Look, I am not bragging but hondo ndairova that’s why povho and fellow comrades ended up calling me KG. That was my brand name.
When I left Mgagao, there were some comrades who were at Dhodhoma which was a transit camp. There were Cdes Joseph Khumalo, Jimmy Mangwende, Vhuu and others. Some of the comrades I found here and came from Zapu because there were some problems there. Some of the comrades who were originally in Zapu include Cde David Tondlana, Rex Nhongo, Thomas Nhari, Dhunanga and John Walker. When these comrades came to Zanu, many politicians didn’t trust them but when we went to the war front, we discovered that indeed these comrades were now part of us. When we were deployed to the war front, I was part of the famous Group of 45. Cde Bethune and Cde Khumalo were part of this group together with Cde Jimmy Mangwende and others. Before we crossed into Rhodesia, the Portuguesse in Mozambique, Smith forces and whites in South Africa formed a tripartite army to stop us from crossing into Rhodesia. The idea was to restrict us in Mozambique which was the route we used to cross into Rhodesia from Zambia. Ummm, hondo yakabaka. Pfuti kutsvuka nekurira.
Our biggest challenge was crossing Zambezi River. My first time to cross Zambezi was around April-May 1972. The river was full. Mozambicans living along Zambezi would assist us to cross tiri muzvimwadiya and up to this day I salute those villagers. They played a very important part of the struggle. Zambezi was scary. Even ini chaiye I was afraid of Zambezi. You know when I crossed Zambezi into Rhodesia, ndakarambira kufront because ndaitya to cross Zambezi going back to the rear. I was now a commander so ndaingotuma vanhu kuti endai munotora zvombo. I preferred facing mabhunu than crossing Zambezi River. I could fight mabhunu but mumvura you are almost defenceless. The Mozambican villagers would not allow you to shoot at the hippos even if they were advancing towards you. It was a taboo to shoot at the hippos. So I stayed at the war front.
After crossing Zambezi, we had to walk to Mukumbura for about three days. There was no water all this way. I tell you macomrades akawanda akaperera ipapa. That area is very hot, kuita kubaka chaiko. Many died of malaria because taigara nemamosquito acho makuru.
SM: When you crossed Zambezi River going to Mukumbura, what was your rank?
Cde Gwindingwi: I was now a deputy provincial commissar for MMZ (Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe) province. My commander was Cde Rauya who later died near Mukumbura River. He died before we even started the war in earnest. I then became the provincial political commissar. There were many comrades operating under me. At some point, we took a decision together with Rex Nhongo to divide the comrades so that each commander would have fewer people under him. Our first task was to recruit many people so that they could join the struggle because takanga tiri vashoma too much during these early days.
When we divided these comrades, we deployed some comrades kuNehanda Sector led by Rex Nhongo while others vakaenda kuChaminuka and I was commanding them. On the way, we were recruiting some people who were not trained who joined us. We trained them along the way. Mt Darwin must be respected in terms of supporting this country’s liberation struggle.
SM: How did you train these comrades at the war front?
Cde Gwindingwi: Umm, kwaiva netuvanhu twakangwarisa kuDarwin. Vakomana vekuDarwin, uumm, vanga vakaipa. I always say dai hondo yakatangire kuno Harare, dai takanzwa nevatengesi but Darwin, they really supported the war. I remember Cde Chinodakufa, ndakatozoita wekuti chibvai pano muende kutraining. He was our guide takanga tamupihwa nemhondoro. Mhondoro gave us all the courage and guidance to fight the war. Hapana kana musi one watakavhura Bible. Takapona ngekubeliever nekuseenza nemhondoro totally.
SM: When you went to Chaminuka sector, before you started the war, did you conduct any ritual?
Cde Gwindingwi: First was reconnaissance. Taipinda mupovho and address them. Mhondoro would give us the people to lead us. In every society there are people who were given the spiritual gift. So mhondoro would give us these people and these people ndivo vaiwombera kuvadzimu. Ipapo zveucommander tsvee pasi. All I would say was, “Cde Chinodakufa tava kuda kusimuka chiitai tinzwe.” We would gather, votora shisha ravo voisa fodya vowombera vachiti “tava kusimuka, kuenda kwamambo nhingi, chititungamirirei munzira.” Towombera tese rwendo rotanga. We had to have these spiritual guides. After this, I would take over as commander. “Handei vakomana, handei.” Up to this ndinongoterera hangu vanhu vachiti ngatinamate, ndinongoti ahh, ngatiitei but takararamiswa nemudzimu nguva yehondo.
SM: When you were commander of Chaminuka sector, who was your deputy?
Cde Gwindingwi: It was the late Josiah Tungamirai. Tusu takavhura Chaminuka sector. This was a very difficult task because there were many farms around this sector. Too many open spaces. Sometimes we would spend the whole day takarara pasi under cover. The Rhodesia forces would drive by close to where we were hiding. We could actually see them from our positions.
SM: Tell us exactly, how you started the war in Chaminuka Sector?
Cde Gwindingwi: The Rhodesian forces got wind that there were strangers roaming around the area. I told you these were farming areas and some people saw us. We would hold pungwes but during these days pakanga pasinganyanyo imbwa. It was more about political orientation. We would go to the Chiefs and announce our presence.
Next week, Cde Gwindingwi will continue his story narrating how they caused the Rhodesian forces sleepless nights. It sounds like a movie but this is real. Make sure you have your copy of The Sunday Mail next week.
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