Comrade Chrispen Tapfuma Mataire (born February 24, 1945 in Chivhu), whose Chimurenga name was Cde David Todhlana, is one of the few very frank former freedom fighters. He speaks his mind and does not mince his words.
In this interview with our team comprising Munyaradzi Huni and Tendai Manzvanzvike, Cde Todhlana narrates how on February 11, 1967, he on his own crossed Zambezi River and went to Lusaka, Zambia, hoping to go and further his education. As a Shona-speaking comrade, he talks about the discrimination in Zapu during these early stages of the liberation struggle. He talks about being sent back to Zambia, from the Soviet Union after “insulting” Lenin, he talks about the thorough beating he received from Robson Manyika at Zimbabwe House in Lusaka and without flinching his eyes, he reveals that “Rex Nhongo was my junior during training at Morogoro.”
Read on …
SM: Thank you for your time, Cde Todhlana. Can you tell us how you joined the liberation struggle?
Cde Todhlana: I was in From Two at Hartzell Secondary School in Mutare in 1962. We were youths under Zapu. When Zapu was proscribed in 1962 we held demonstrations as student activists. As a result we were expelled from school. We were quite a number. I remember we were expelled together with my homeboy Kush Mazhinduka. Fortunately, we were allowed to come back and write exams. After the exams we were told that the school could not take us for Form Three. However, in 1963, I went to the same school pleading with the authorities.
I remember there was Tsopotsa, who was the principal, and Gwanzura was the headmaster. Gwanzura then recommended that instead of taking me back, I was supposed to go to Mt St Mary’s. He wrote a letter to the principal at St Mary’s and I took the letter. I remember this principal was white. After going through the letter, the principal asked me to read the letter that had been written by Gwanzura. I read the letter. Gwanzura had written that take this student at your own risk. However, the white principal said in spite of this I am going to take you. Unfortunately, within 24 hours I was chased away from the school.
I then came to Harare and went to Harare Secondary to enrol as a Form Three. I couldn’t get a place. I went to Highfield and it was the same. I then decided to look for a job. I got a job at Rhodesia Wire Industry where I worked the rest of 1963. The next year I got a job as a teacher in Hwedza at Matsine School. I was at this school until 1966, when I got myself into trouble. I was accused of seducing some student at a nearby school, paGumbonzvanda. I was then fired around September 1966 and came back to Salisbury. I continued attending Zapu rallies as a youth. I was now staying in Highfield, Egypt suburb.
Quite a number of leaders in Zapu knew about me. I told one of the leaders, Chigwada, about my plight and he said he was going to help me. He then said the party, Zapu, was organising scholarships for youths in Lusaka. As so he arranged that I go to Zambia via Botswana.
SM: So you went to Lusaka, via Botswana?
Cde Todhlana: No. I changed my mind. I went to Chirundu Sugar Estates close to the border along the Zambezi River. I got to the Sugar Estates and pretended that I was looking for a job. I then got a job as a night security guard looking after irrigation equipment. During the day, I would walk along Zambezi River trying to spot any crossing point. One evening I decided it was time to leave.
SM: Where was all this determination to cross into Zambia coming from?
Cde Todhlana: I really don’t know. But I know that I wanted to go to school. Remember my intention during this time was to go to school and not to join the liberation struggle. So on this day, after a long struggle I managed to use a small boat from the estate to cross to the other side of Zambezi River. I was now in Zambia. It was around 10-11pm. I then walked until I got to the highway and got a lift from some white man who drove me to Lusaka. Before leaving Rhodesia, I had been told about Zimbabwe House in Lusaka but I didn’t know where exactly this house was.
SM: Which year was this now?
Cde Todhlana: This was 11 February 1967. When I got to Lusaka, I got into a restaurant and asked where I could find Zimbabwe House. Unfortunately, there were security forces in the restaurant and one of them said to me “Come, I will show you”. He took me to a police station and handed me over to the police. I was then interrogated at the station and I told them I was a member of Zapu and I wanted to go to Zimbabwe House. I think they didn’t believe me, so they took me to one of their prisons. I became a PI, prohibited immigrant. I was in this prison for about three weeks.
One day, I overhead some visitors who had come to see their relative who was in prison speaking in Shona. I approached them and told them my story. They promised to go to Zimbabwe House to report that I was in prison. The next day, George Nyandoro came. He asked me who I was and how I had gotten to Lusaka
I explained everything and Nyandoro went to plead with the authorities so that they could release me. I was released and taken to Zimbabwe House. At Zimbabwe House I was again asked to narrate the purpose of my coming to Lusaka. I did and was told that the party had stopped giving people scholarships and was now sending people for military training. I then said, no problem. That’s how I went for military training.
SM: You were from Chivhu but when you got to Lusaka you joined Zapu. Can you tell us where this misconception that Zapu is for Ndebele people and Zanu for Shona people came from?
Cde Todhlana: Following the split of Zapu and the formation of Zanu, many people considered Zanu as a nonentity. A small splinter group. Zapu at that time was the most popular party and at this time there was nothing about Ndebele or Shona. Even in Mashonaland we knew that musangano wedu is Zapu.
When Ndabaningi Sithole and others formed Zanu, we didn’t understand the purpose of their party. We also didn’t know the problems they had had with Nkomo and others. We were taking those who had formed Zanu as bad elements. Very bad people, dividing our struggle. They were rebels. Even here in Rhodesia, Zanu was a serious minority. In Highfield, yaingova Zapu.
SM: Let’s go back to Zimbabwe House in Lusaka.
Cde Todhlana: Like I told you, I was told kuti the party was focusing on building an army to fight the liberation struggle. In April 1967 I selected to join a group of about 28 comrades who were earmarked to go for military training in Soviet Union. We flew to Moscow. In Moscow we were told that we would be taught political science and then military science. We were supposed to be there for one and half years. We were taught about Karl Max, Lenin and that country’s October 17 Revolution, the Bolsheviks Revolution.
SM: Who are some of the comrades you were with?
Cde Todhlana: Hey, I can’t remember most of them but I know that our leader was Cde Zex Mhlanga. There was Cde Freedom who was from Marondera and others. After about six months, we were then allowed to go and mix with other people in Moscow. We were now being given stipends to spend. One day ndadhakwa, I said Lenin said “drink, drink and drink”, when in actual fact Lenin said “study, study and study”.
At that time, the Soviets revered Lenin so much that they could not understand I could joke using his name. I was reported to the authorities and I was asked to explain myself. I apologised kuti ndanga ndadhakwa. They knew that among the 28 I was among the best students in terms of mastering the theory on Marxism. At one point I was given the nickname Cde Marx because I fully understood Marxism.
SM: So you can say you were an intelligent rebel?
Cde Todhlana: I think so. However, the authorities said despite all that we cannot condone your behaviour. The next day, I was put in a plane to fly back to Zambia and was given US$100. My fellow comrades protested but it didn’t work. So I flew back to Lusaka. In Lusaka I went to Zimbabwe House and told them what had happened. I was then ordered to go to Freedom Camp that was in Zambia. I went to Freedom Camp where there was a combination of Umkonto we Sizwe (ANC) fighters and Zipra fighters. I joined them. By this time, I was already writing papers focusing on the need for unity between Zanu and Zapu. I was condemning all the officials who were standing in the way of unity. I was saying the problems between Zanu and Zapu were emanating from the fact that the leaders of these parties were worried about their positions and not the struggle. I had no interaction with Zanu at this time, but I was admitting that Zanu existed.
SM: We have heard reports that some Shona comrades who were in Zapu were ill-treated. Did you face this problem?
Cde Todhlana: Not really ill-treated. I personally didn’t experience that. What I can say there was some measure of discrimination. While we were being sent for military training, I know many Ndebeles who were sent to go and further their education in preparation for a new government in Rhodesia. It was very rare for Shona comrades in Zapu to be sent to further their education.
Even during deployment, there were allegations that vaisundira maShona kuenda kumusha, leaving many Ndebeles in camps. But like I told you, I didn’t face all that. All I witnessed was that maShona would be sent to join the army while many Ndebeles were sent to school.
Like I told you, I was writing my thesis. One comrade went to Zimbabwe House to report kuti Davie arikutaura about unity between Zapu and Zanu. The leaders sent a Land-Rover to come and pick me up. I was taken to Zimbabwe House where I was asked kuti muchinda ndeyipi yauri kutaura yeZapu and Zanu. I told them it’s true. I then showed them my papers. They then started asking how I had come to Lusaka. The next day I was taken to the Zapu office which was in town in Lusaka.
SM: Who are the Zapu leaders who were there?
Cde Todhlana: There was Chikerema, Akim Ndlovu, Nkiwane, Tshinga Dube and many others. Again they started interrogating me and I explained myself. The next day I was taken back to Zimbabwe House.
SM: Comrade, what kind of a person were you as you grew up?
Cde Todhlana (laughs): I don’t think I have changed that much. What I am is what I have always been like. When I am determined to do something, I stop at nothing. Kumusha kwedu one of my big brothers ended up giving me the nickname Chandagwinyira.
Anyway, so I was taken back to Zimbabwe House. Ndobva vatanga kuchindirova manje saying iwewe uri kutaura nyaya dzeZapu and Zanu sei? They were saying you are talking about unity kuti zvidii? The person who was beating me up excessively was Robson Manyika, our late national hero. Akim Ndlovu was the army commander while Manyika was the deputy at that time. He was a Shona like me, so he wanted to prove kuti he was tough on me. I don’t want to soil Akim Ndlovu’s name. He never beat me up. But Manyika did most of the severe beating. Akaenda kwaayenda, paanodzoka he would have some time with me. Kundirova zvebasa, kwete zvekutamba.
SM: What were you saying to him as he was beating you up?
Cde Todhlana: I would tell him that some of you are commanders over me just because makatanga kuuya. I told him that openly. Ndichirohwa zvegore rese. I remember Cde Nkiwane would protest. He would protest vehemently against the beating yandaiitwa naRobson Manyika. He was very upset. So ndaigara kune chimwe chimba kwaiva naguard.
I was also accused of being a Zanu agent. Actually, this was central to the whole thing. They were saying I was a Zanu agent. While at Zimbabwe House, that’s when I met Thomas Nhari, the one of the famous Nhari rebellion later in life. After this beating, I was told that I was going for military training. I joined a group of comrades who were going to Morogoro Training Camp.
We went together with Nhari and others for military training in Morogoro. At Morogoro that’s where I met Rex Nhongo. During the course of our training, Rex was my junior. Rex was my deputy commander. Can you believe it? (laughs) He came to join us in 1968. I had gone ahead of him in 1967.
SM: Take us through your training at Morogoro?
Cde Todhlana: Among some of our trainers were commanders like Ambrose Mutinhiri, Nikita Mangena and others. This was a group of instructors who had undergone special training in Algeria. They had received military training as commandos. They became our trainers and it really was a tough time for us. At one time, I picked a quarrel with one of the instructors. You see, there was an old man called Makandlela. I think he was in his late 60 or 70s but he was brought to the camp for military training. I condemned that saying who brought this old man here?
I was saying the army should be composed of volunteers. Kwete vanhu vekuita press ganging. Word had spread that some people vaibatwa vachimwa doro and be forced to come for military training. There was a group that was going around abducting people. I was totally opposed to that.
Cde Todhlana: Hazvisi right. Why should we compel someone to join the struggle? This was supposed to be a voluntary endeavour.
SM: Some comrades saying these were the early stages of the struggle and so it was necessary to force people to join the liberation struggle. You didn’t understand it from that perspective?
Cde Todhlana: No, I did not. I was saying this struggle should be composed of soldiers vakauya voluntarily. I know this was happening both kuZapu and Zanu, but I was against it.
SM: Do you think if they had not used this strategy, it was possible to get many recruits?
Cde Todhlana: It was going to be very difficult. But this is me speaking now. At that time, I condemned it. As I was condemning this, the instructors were very hostile to me, except vanaMutinhiri and a few others vakanga vari maShona. I think our training was for nine months.
You know during training some of the instructors would say, vanobva ku- Tsholotsho huyai apa. Vanobva kuHwedza, huyai apa. Vanobva kuChivhu, huyai apa. This was done kuti mozivana and make up your own section. They were also saying, during deployment we were going to operate in our home area. They said this was the best for easy of communication and familiarity with the terrain at the war front. This is why Rex Nhongo came to join me became we come from the same area. My group and Rex, we were meant to go and operate kuChivhu.
You also need to know that during these early stages of the struggle, both Zapu and Zanu had few recruits. I think Zapu had around 400 recruits while Zanu had plus or minus 35 recruits by this time.
Cde Todhlana will continue his fascinating story. If you think Cde Todhalana was being frank in his narration this week, just wait and for the forthcoming editions. He speaks frankly as if he doesn’t care. Without doubt, he will ruffle quite a number of feathers. Make sure you get your copy of The Sunday Mail next week.
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