Tongo’s words two hours after Chitepo’s assassination

In the last edition, Comrade Gomba Midson Mupasu, whose Chimurenga name was Cde Norman Bethune, had no kind words for Nhari and Badza. His comments on ZIPRA touched a raw nerve and we gave former ZIPRA commanders an opportunity to express their reservations. This is what this column is all about our aim is to democratise and liberate liberation war discourses. And so all voices and views matter.

In this interview, with our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike, Cde Bethune continues shedding more light on Nhari and Badza. For the first time, Cde Bethune speaks about the meeting that was chaired by Cde Josiah Tongogara about two hours after the assassination of Cde Herbert Chitepo on March 18, 1975. In that meeting, Cde Tongo the military strategist was at his best as he and other ZANU leaders prepared to be arrested by the Zambian government. But how did Cde Tongo know that some ZANU leaders were to be arrested and arrested for what crime? Read on . . .

 

SM: Comrade, let’s continue your fascinating story you called Badza and Nhari cowards. Can you explain further because your accusations sounded a bit unfair?

Cde Bethune: I was at Nampundwe Farm in Lusaka when they carried out their rebellion, but I knew that Nhari and Badza had issues. I can tell you that our generation, we didn’t want to move around with Badza and Nhari. They were commanders but they had issues. They ended up vava kufamba vari four. You see a commander used to have an assistant. So it was Nhari and his assistant and Badza and his assistant.

SM: Do you remember the names of these assistants?

Cde Bethune: I can’t remember their names, but I felt pity for those assistants.

SM: Looks like you really hated Nhari and Badza?

Cde Bethune: No, not at all. Not at all. It was just their behaviour and character that I didn’t like. I am telling you that comrades from my generation said we can’t operate with Nhari and Badza. Yakanga iri nyaya yemadumwa. Some comrades vakasvika pakuvatiza. Later the two of them knew that many comrades were not comfortable working with them. Actually, later we were told that vakanga vava kutofamba nevakadzi. It’s unfortunate I can’t remember the names of these female comrades.

SM: But when the rebellion took place, some comrades actually supported and sympathised with Nhari and Badza?

Cde Bethune: Ndivanaani ivavo? I am telling you that my generation is the one that worked with Badza and Nhari and we are the ones who discovered kuti vanoshandisa madumwa. Remember during this time, there were few comrades at the war front. We were comrades in arms. Shamwari dzeropa that is why when Nhari and Badza came trying to intimidate us, we stood our ground. Taitaurirana chokwadi. That’s why I told you that I told Nhari kuti ukandirova I will shoot you.

SM: Were you serious?

Cde Bethune: Aikaka! (pause). I was very serious. Kundirovera chii?

SM: Why not fight back using your fists?

Cde Bethune: I didn’t have that time to waste. Kana wandirova you are now the same nemurungu. Hausikuziva cause and I will shoot to kill. These two comrades used madumwa to prove that they were good fighters. Akanga ari madumwa ekusaruka. This meant that tikasangana nevarungu, ivo vana Nhari and Badza vakatanga kuridza pfuti murungu hapana munhu waanowuraya, but if any other comrade akatanga kuridza pfuti paifiwa. But then muhondo is was difficult to know kuti achatanga kuridza pfuti ndiani. We were taught during training kuti atanga kuona murungu ndiye anotanga kuridza. Not kuti commander. Whenever a battle starts, mese munenga matofanana. Motorova pfuti kwete kuti tombomirira commander. During a battle hapana rank. What if the commander runs away, what do you do?

SM: Wotizawo following the commander?

Cde Bethune: Izvozvo that is what we didn’t want. Ukatiza urikupa murungu chance yekunyatsokurova. That’s why the principle was that kana pfuti dzarira, you dash down, change the position and if possible return fire. Depending on the concentration of firepower, iri pauri here or not. If you get to a favourable position, cover for other comrades by firing back at the enemy. Kwete kufunga dumwa pakadai.

So you see I don’t buy this story that Nhari and Badza wanted more ammunition from the rear. That’s a lie. That’s not valid.

SM: We have interviewed Cde Chemist Ncube, who was accused of being part of the Nhari-Badza rebellion and he expressed different views?

Cde Bethune: What views? If he worked with them he is the one who knows how their relationship was like. If he has his own views, that’s him.

SM: We are also told that Badza had been demoted?

Cde Bethune: Like I told you, Badza and Nhari vakanga vava kugara nevakadzi. We got those reports from the comrades in the security department. We also continued to get reports that Badza was beating up other comrades. This contributed to his demotion.

SM: But why keep someone at the war front after demoting him? Wasn’t this a recipe for disaster?

Cde Bethune: These comrades were now hostile and like I told you vakanga vava kufamba vari four. There was a need to come up with a practical plan to neutralise them. But before that plan could be put in motion, the two then became rebellious and started killing other comrades. They came out in the open that they were now rebels. Like I told you by this time I was now at the rear at the farm, but I saw them pavakauya vakasungwa nemahandcuffs. Badza was brought to the farm akaiswa muchitokisi chedu chegomba, chikaribotso. Can you imagine when he saw me he actually said “Bethune iwe you are very lucky. Dai ndakasangana newe I was going to shoot you straight.” Just like that. I then told him kuti ngwarati zvaiwana. I told him straight up.

SM: Comrade, it’s coming out very clearly that you and Badza were enemies?

Cde Bethune: Not exactly. I was one person who never kept a grudge. I was just an open person. Very, very open. Even today I don’t keep grudges but I tell you the truth. I later realised that Badza had catergorised me. He was a Manyika and I am Zezuru. He thought I was in their tribal fights, but I was and up to this day I don’t believe in tribalism. You know after the attainment of independence, some young man came to me and said they had carried out a research which showed that the Nhari-Badza rebellion had been caused by tribalism. I told that young man kuti ummm, vapfana imi makadzidza muri kuita mareseach enyu nani? I told him that was not the cause of that rebellion. Ndakamurambira.

SM: Ok, so Badza was in this Karibotso for how long?

Cde Bethune: He was there for a week. During that week, as I told you I was the overall commander at the farm, so sometimes ndaimuti buda from the Karibotso. Abuda ndaimuseka kuti nhaiwe Badza, shuwa shuwa wakanga uri serious kuda kurwa hondo or all you wanted was power? Simba rezvinhu zvausiri kuda kuita.

SM: What would he say?

Cde Bethune: What could he say as musungwa? He was very radical. He could say all nonsense such that you could become angry and beat him up. He was later taken to Lusaka mutown.

SM: What about Nhari?

Cde Bethune: I don’t know. He was never brought to the farm.

SM: So how did the Nhari-Badza rebellion affect the war?

Cde Bethune: I can’t say it affected the war that much. Those comrades just killed innocent souls. Many comrades were killed as Nhari and Badza looked for commanders like myself that they wanted to eliminate. I know they were also looking for Jimmy Mangwende. They wanted to kill him but they couldn’t find him. I vividly remember that these comrades killed Cde Lovemore Chikadaya in a very gruesome ways. Cde Chikadaya vaifamba negroup remafemale comrades. They instructed Chikadaya to dig his own grave as they were advancing to the rear in Lusaka. As he was digging his grave, vakamufutsira akamira ari mupenyu in that grave. Vakasiya only his head out. So he couldn’t breathe and he died akamira like that. Chikadaya joined the liberation struggle as a Rhodesian spy but he had reformed and so the leaders said asati ayenda kufront, he should carry materiel to Zambezi together with some female comrades. He had reformed.

SM: So sad. So when did you leave Nampundwe Farm and where did you go?

Cde Bethune: I left the farm on 19 March 1975 after Cde Chitepo had been killed in a car bomb at his house.

SM: We understand that during that time, some ZANU leaders were rounded up and arrested by the Zambian government. What happened to you?

Cde Bethune: It’s true some ZANU leaders were arrested. Cde Chitepo had died on March 18 in the morning. He died around 7:45am because we heard the explosion at the farm. The farm and Lusaka town were about 40km apart. That very day, around 10-11am, an emergency meeting was held at Nampundwe Farm. There was the late Tongogara, Mayor Urimbo, Ernest Kadungure, Justin Chauke, Mupunzarima, Cletus Chigohwe, Daulamanzi, myself as the camp commander, Kenny Ridzai, Rex Nhongo, Elias Hondo, Cde Dadirai, Teurai, Tsitsi and Tracy. The people who got into this meeting were members of the High Command and General Staff.

The message that was being conveyed was that vaChitepo vafa in a car bomb. The other message was that as leaders of ZANU we were going to be arrested. It was then planned that Rex Nhongo, Elias Hondo, Dadirai, Teurai and Tracy were supposed to go to Mozambique. The message from Tongo was “you people you are not going to be arrested. You are going to use the new Land-Rover that is outside and by end of day today munofanirwa kunge masvika kuChifombo inside Mozambique. Chitorai mota iri panze iyo muyende. Your role from Chifombo is to re-organise macomrades to launch the war from Mozambique.”

On top of this message, these comrades were given a khakhi envelope which contained information that they were supposed to give to Samora Machel. This letter was confirming to Samora Machel what the leadership had agreed regarding the re-organisation and relaunching of the war from the Mozambican front. The instruction was that in the meantime, these two – Rex Nhongo and Elias Hondo – were to lead the operations. Cde Tongo chaired that meeting. Indeed these comrades did not waste time. They collected a few of their belongings, got into the Land-Rover and left.

The last word from Cde Tongo came to me. He said, “Iwe Bethune, hauna kwaunoenda. Kana uchisungwa sezvatichaitwa, ndiwe uchasungwa pamwechete nemhuri yese iri pano pafarm. The Zambian government knows you are the commander here, so don’t go anywhere.” I did exactly that and continued with my usual routine at the farm. This meeting was on the 18th of March 1975.

At around 4am the next day, a convoy of soldiers from the Zambian army came to the farm. Their commander was driving a Land-Rover. When he came, we had a control gate which was a few metres away. When he got to the control gate, he came with one of my guards who was at the boom gate. He left his convoy outside the gate.

He came and explained that he had been sent by the Zambian government to come and take me. I asked him kuti tiri kuenda kupi and he said munozowona tava ikoko. Takabva tambonetsana ipapo. I told him kuti iwe unotumwa usingazive kwauri kuda kunotiisa why and how? Do you want to take us to Rhodesian kune varungu or what? Why do you want to remove us from here? Takanetsana kusvikira azofona to his bosses telling them that I was resisting because I wanted to know where we were going. I told that Zambian commander kuti iwewe uri mudiki paissue iyi. I told him that I knew what was happening. I told him that I knew more than him about this issue. I told him zvauri kunditaurira that’s a petty issue.

I explained to him that this issue started after the failure of the Victoria Falls Conference. There was a conference that was held in September 1974 in Victoria Falls. Our nationalist leaders who were in prisons were released to attend that conference including puppet nationalists like (Abel) Muzorewa. During the conference the talk was that they were talking about ceasefire. That meeting was to be followed with another meeting on 22 March 1975. That is why Chitepo was assassinated before 22 March 1975.

Chitepo was viewed as the obstacle to the ceasefire during the Victoria Falls conference. Do you get me? So the arrival of delegates to the 22 March 1975 talks was supposed to start on the 10th of March. Each party was supposed to send its delegation. If my memory serves me well, on the 13th of March it was inside Rhodesia when Edson Sithole was abducted at Ambassador Hotel. Up to this day we don’t know where his remains are. After that, former president Mugabe was released from prison that same month together with Edgar Tekere. They later crossed into Mozambique together with Sekuru Rekai Tangwena. While there was still confusion regarding the disappearance of Edson Sithole, the Rhodesians were targeting Tekere or Mugabe. This was the ZANU leadership they were after.

SM: Can you explain this Victoria Falls conference at bit?

Cde Bethune: During that conference, a train wagon was stopped on the Victoria Falls Bridge. Half of the wagon was in Zambia and the other was in Rhodesia. Leaders of each party were released with the intention to talk about ceasefire. The parties were asked to discuss about this ceasefire. ZANU’s Dare reChimurenga and Ndabaningi Sithole, who was our leader then, met at Victoria Falls. When the parties met, ZANU through chairman Chitepo asked who exactly was asking for the ceasefire and why? The other issue is that ZANU asked the Rhodesian government to release all political prisoners. The Rhodesian government discovered that ZANU was not going to be a pushover. After dis- agreements, ZANU then said saka hapana ceasefire. We think this is where the issue about the Unity Accord started. Joshua Nkomo was there and he worked with ZANU.

By this time, ZANLA in terms of war operations had covered the whole of Mashonaland Central, stretching now to Manicaland. So the Rhodesians discovered that they had to talk to the ZANU leadership because we had covered a lot of ground. Following the disagreements, the conference was adjourned. This was in September 1974. The conference was adjourned to March 22, 1975. The 22 March meeting was supposed to be held in Lusaka.

The masterminds of the Victoria Falls conference and the ceasefire plan were Lord Soames, Lord Carrington, Lord Marven and Henry Kissinger. We knew that they were trying to see which political party could serve their interests. Before this Victoria Falls conference in 1972 there was the Pearce Commission which was another attempt to stop the war. They wanted blacks to come together but with power still in the hands of the whites. Blacks voted against the proposed fake unity government.

SM: Comrade, let’s go back to the meeting that was chaired by Cde Tongo a few hours after the assassination of Cde Chitepo. What was the mood like and how did you know the Zambian government was going to arrest some ZANU leaders? And why didn’t you escape?

Cde Bethune: Escaping was a sign of cowardice.

 

SM: Our question remains we want to know how you knew that after Chairman Chitepo’s assassination, some ZANU leaders were going to be arrested?

Cde Bethune: There is something called top secret. This top secret in an organisation is received every minute and every day. Kune zvinotaurika koita zvisingataurike. Our top leaders had gotten this top secret about the moves by the Zambian government and that is why they organised this meeting urgently. They knew kuti tiri kusungwa. Maybe within the Zambian government kune vaitidawo who leaked information? Like I have told you, the Zambian government I am talking about from Kaunda himself and Foreign Minister Vernon Mwaanga, they didn’t want to hear anything about ZANU. They could not do anything because the OAU had accepted us. But they didn’t like us. They favoured ZAPU. I saw this with my own eyes. Those two were an obstacle to our struggle.

SM: How was the mood in this meeting?

Cde Bethune:  Hondo kana comrade akafa haufanirwi kutya. It should give you encouragement. We were not afraid of being arrested. Tozotya kusungwa isu tisingatye kufa muhondo? Our leaders told us that the Zambian government was going to arrest us and we waited. They were accusing the ZANU leadership of killing Chairman Chitepo but who was responsible for providing Chitepo with security?

Chitepo had bodyguards, but outside the gate who was supposed to provide his security? They started talking about tribalism, but they never produced evidence to show that. What I know is that Josiah Magamba Tongogara used to preach about unity saying you cannot tell us to unite here in Zambia. He used to say we know that we are the only two strong political parties in Zimbabwe fighting for independence and so when we get home, uniting won’t be a problem at all. So he would say don’t force us to unite now.

More about this explosive meeting next week

 

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